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Key Fire Tests and Standards: Guiding Safe Commercial Exterior Wall Design

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The importance of adhering to relevant fire tests and standards in commercial construction cannot be overstated. Understanding the differences between these fire tests and standards is essential. Today we will explore the critical fire tests and standards, including NFPA 285 and ASTM E136, that are essential for designing safe, effective and compliant exterior walls. It's important to note that products marketed "Fire Resistant" still need to comply with the relevant codes, standards and testing requirements. In future posts we will dig into each of these tests individually.

1. NFPA 285 - Evaluating Fire Propagation (Assembly)

NFPA 285 Fire Test

NFPA 285, a standard fire test method by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is crucial for examining the fire propagation characteristics of exterior wall assemblies containing combustible components. It evaluates an exterior wall assembly's ability to inhibit fire spread both internally and along the exterior surface. This is the definitive test for the use of combustible materials in non-combustible construction (TypeI-IV).

2. ASTM E119 - Ensuring Fire Endurance (Assembly)

ASTM E119 fire test assembly

The ASTM E119 fire test is a core standard from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). This test gauges the fire endurance of building constructions and materials, helping to prevent potential structural failures and ensuring the building's resilience against fire. Results from this test standard come in the form of an hourly rating (1, 2, 3 hr, etc.).

3. ASTM E84 - Measuring Surface Burning Characteristics (Material)

ASTM E84 Steiner Tunnel Test

Another significant standard from ASTM, the E84 test method, measures the flame spread and smoke development of materials. Although frequently applied for interior finishes,

this test also holds relevance for certain exterior applications, contributing to the overall fire safety of commercial construction. Generally speaking, exterior products are required to have a Class-A results.

4. ASTM E136 - Behavior of Materials in a Vertical Tube Furnace (Material)

ASTM E136 vertical tube furnace test

ASTM E136 is a critical standard test method that assesses the behavior of materials in a vertical tube furnace at 750°C. It is especially relevant when determining the non-combustibility of materials used in construction, further enhancing building safety. This is an incredibly difficult test to pass. Examples of materials that pass are certain fiber cements, concrete, solid aluminum, terracotta and stone.

5. Fireblocking

Tenmat Ventilated Fireblocking Rainscreen Facades

Fireblocking is required in a variety of applications in commercial construction per International Building Code (IBC). In most jurisdictions fireblocking is not required if the assembly meets NFPA 285 acceptance criteria, however, some jurisdictions, such as New York City, now require the use of fireblocking when certain combustible claddings, insulation and FRP framing are used.

In summary, these fire tests, standards and code requirements, including ASTM E136, form the bedrock of safe and efficient commercial construction. They ensure protection against fire and are critical to exterior wall design. As always, consult with a fire protection engineer or other professionals when designing a building to make sure all relevant codes and standards are met and feel free to reach out to the MBSI team to discuss your next project. Keywords: NFPA 285, ASTM E119, ASTM E84, ASTM E136, UL 263, UL 723, IBC Guidelines, NFPA 101, fire tests and standards, commercial construction, exterior wall design, rainscreen, fireblocking, fire safety.

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