Can I install downlights, ducted air conditioning, ceiling exhaust fans or manholes in my unit ceiling?
Well yes… but you need to be very careful if your ceiling designed to have a “resistance to the incipient spread of fire to the roof space for a period of not less than 60 minutes”.
Fire rated ceilings are an fire safety measure, designed to slow the spread of fire from one part of the building to another.
In an emergency situation emergency lights should run on their backup battery for at least 90-minutes. Australian Standards require that exit & emergency lights be tested every 6 months. Exit and emergency lights have a shorter lifespan when compared to non-emergency lights.
What is Passive Fire protection?
Passive Fire protection measures are designed to stop (or slow) the spread of fire from one part of the building to another.
On an AFSS you may see the following Passive Fire measures listed:
• Fire seals
• Lightweight construction
• Access panels
• Fire rated ceilings
• Fire Doors
Most buildings have Passive Fire protection measures – even if they are not specifically listed on the AFSS. What may look like a regular wall, floor, door or ceiling, may actually be a passive fire measure, which needs to be maintained to ensure it performs in the event of a fire.
Typically, Passive Fire protection measures are built-in during construction of the building and must conform to the specifications of the BCA that was in force at the time of construction.
How Passive Fire Protection works
According to the BCA, a building will be divided into fire compartments. These fire compartments are separated from one another by walls and floors made of a fire-resisting construction which hinders the spread of fire.
The fire resistance of an element of construction is a measure of its:
• Resistance to collapse. (Structural Adequacy)
• Resistance to fire penetration (integrity)
• Resistance to the transfer of excessive heat (thermal Insulation)
The requirements for the construction of fire compartments is laid out in the BCA, and depends on several factors including building use & number of stories.
For residential buildings that have a rise in stories of 3 or more, each sole occupancy unit is designed to be its own fire compartment. A fire that starts inside a person’s unit, should be contained inside that unit for long enough to allow other occupants of the building to safety evacuate.
Any penetrations through the unit [fire compartment] into other parts of the building (eg, the front entry door, downpipes from the bathroom, exhaust fans etc) should be protected so they do not compromise the integrity of the fire compartment. For example:
• The hole to allow people into & out of the unit (the front entry door) should be protected with a fire door.
• The hole where downpipes pass through the floor should be protected with fire seals.
• The bathroom exhaust fan may be required to be protected with a fire damper.
Common types of passive Fire protection
These typically look like a ring or collar that sit around a service penetration in a floor or wall. They often contain an intumescent material that expands when heated rapidly, thus closing the penetration & stopping fire from spreading to the next fire compartment.
These are usually installed in the ducts of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems which penetrate fire-resistant constructions. Fire Dampers should automatically close on the detection of heat, thus preventing the fire from spreading throughout a building via the ductwork.
Where an access panel is provided (for example, into a ceiling or a service riser) that hole needs to be protected so that the overall fire resistance is not compromised.
Common defects with Passive Fire Protection
There are 2 categories of defects when it comes to Passive Fire protection:
1. Defects due to non-complaint construction of the building, such as:
• Failing to seal service penetrations at all or using incorrect or untested sealing methods.
• Failing to install access panel in order to inspect passive fire measures.
2. Defects after construction due to perforating fire-resistance rated walls and floors without proper firestopping, such as:
• Installing downlights or exhaust fans in top floor ceilings.
• Installing services in the building (such as NBN or new pluming)
Vigilance is key to maintaining functioning passive fire measures in your building. When any sort of building works is undertaken, you should be asking yourself:
• Are the effected walls & floors required to be fire-restricting?
• Are all penetrations in the wall & floor adequately sealed?
• Does the method for sealing the penetration have test approvals?
Ideally a building should do a full passive audit with an individual who is accredited to endorse passive fire safety measures as soon as the building is constructed. This way, any defects can be referred to the original builder who can rectify within the defect liability period.
Passive Fire Protection Specialists
Passive Fire is a specialist area of fire protection. It is technical & complex! You need to have a deep understanding of not only the BCA, but of all the technical specifications & treatment methods available to protect openings.
What may look like a suitable method of penetration protection to an electrician running new wiring, will be obviously non-complaint to an accredited Passive Specialist.
Just like your GP referring you to a cardiologist for an irregular heart rhythm, your fire protection contractor may refer you to – or engage directly – a passive fire specialist to properly diagnose & rectify passive fire issues that are present in a building.
Examples of Passive Fire Protection Specialists in Sydney include:
- Passive First
- Ash Passive
Why are repairs so expensive?
Passive Fire Protection repairs can be very expensive. A few factors are responsible for this:
- Passive measures are usually built into the construction of the building. Rectification can involve removing walls, cutting access panels, crawling though tight ceiling spaces etc.
- If measures have been installed incorrectly during construction, there may be hundreds of instances of the measure requiring repair.
- Repairs are technical. This is a specialist area of fire protection, and there are very few companies in Sydney that have the knowledge & skills to remediate. It is not unusual for the reputable companies to have a 6-month backlog of repairs.
The good news is: Once a building addresses their passive defects, the ongoing maintenance cost is usually quite low, and usually only further building lead to additional defects.
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I don’t think we’ve had contractors come through before who were so clean and tidy, helpful and responsive with ideas about how to better maintain the heritage and be compliant and generally respectful of the property.
He was so thoughtful, he stopped the really noisy part of the repair so I could answer calls. I went out at lunch, and he was on his hands and knees washing the floor in the entry because he’d brought in some debris from the street.
People are very quick to complain but slow to compliment so I just wanted to say thank you for your prompt service.