How to select the best method of fire protection for steel in your building

The vitally important issue of fire protection in buildings has arguably never been more at the centre of intense public focus than it is today, and effectively protecting steel from fire damage is a critical aspect of that debate.

Basically, fires can be divided into two main groups – hydrocarbon and cellulosic. A hydrocarbon fire is fuelled by flammable liquids, solvents or gases. A cellulosic fire is fuelled by flammable materials such as wood, paper, furniture or textiles and poses a significant risk to office blocks, hotels, shopping malls, stadia, airports and commercial buildings. 

While the temperature rise in a cellulosic fire is slower than in a hydrocarbon one, temperatures of 500ºC can still be reached within five minutes, and unprotected steel can start to lose strength in 10 minutes, putting lives and the integrity of your buildings at serious risk.

Protecting your steel from fire can therefore ultimately help preserve life. But it can also extend the time available for search and rescue and provide a vital delay in building collapse in the very worst-case scenarios.

The different types of fire protection can be divided into active, passive and reactive systems. 

Active systems are designed to smother and extinguish flames by using water, foam, powder or inert gases. They include sprinklers and deluge or halogen gas systems.

Passive systems use materials that don’t change their physical form when hot, and provide fire protection through their physical or thermal properties. They include concrete, mineral fibre boards and vermiculite cement and are more commonly used in spaces that require little or no decoration, or need extended fire protection time.

Reactive systems use materials that provide a chemical reaction or swelling to form a stable carbonaceous char when hot. Their physical form changes to provide fire protection through a thermal insulation and cooling effect. More aesthetically pleasing than passive systems, they involve the use of thin film intumescents for cellulosic protection and epoxy intumescents for hydrocarbon fires. Their use is often preferred in places that require a decorative finish such as architecturally exposed steel or where the fire protection time is normally lower than two hours.

Jotun’s SteelMaster range of light weight cellulosic intumescent fire protection, including our SteelMaster 600WF waterborne acrylic coating, provide safety to your personnel and to the structural integrity of your steel without diminishing its aesthetic look. Easy and quick to apply with third party independent fire certification and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification our SteelMaster coatings also have an Environmental Product Declaration and comply with green building standards.

As a cost effective solution to fire protection, SteelMaster allows you to show your strength without compromising on safety.