Owners Beware: Building Modifications Can Void a Component’s Fire Rating

Property owners and managers usually make changes to buildings to improve their functionality or visual appeal. While these modifications are done with good intentions, they can unintentionally weaken the fire-resistant features of components like fire-rated walls and ceilings. Something as simple as adding a sign or changing the hardware of a fire-rated door can compromise its fire rating.

Installations that breach fire-rated ceilings can void the component’s fire rating. Inadequate compartmentalization in the building permits the spread of smoke through the roof space.

Structural changes like altering or removing fire-rated walls can also compromise the fire rating of affected components. Openings or penetrations in fire-rated ceilings without proper repair and sealing allow fire to advance through the gaps, which can affect the building’s fire safety.

Additionally, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system alterations can compromise a building component’s fire rating. Ducts in fire-rated walls are usually equipped with fire dampers that prevent the spread of fire through the ventilation system. Altering these fire dampers or HVAC layouts can affect how the fire-rated wall can maintain its structural integrity when there is a fire.

In some buildings, HVAC air handlers contain smoke detectors and mechanisms that shut down fans to prevent smoke from spreading through the ductwork. When replacing HVAC equipment, these components must be tested first for proper functionality.

Building owners and managers can prioritize fire safety when doing building alterations by consulting building plans with a professional. A building inspection engineer NJ can help locate the fire-rated building components through document perusal or site inspection.

A commercial building engineer NJ can also be consulted when planning building modifications, especially those that involve penetrations. Communications and cable installations usually leave unseen holes in building components like walls and ceilings. These unseen holes can be a threat to a building’s fire prevention system.

Owners can leverage a professional’s knowledge to plan modifications that do not adversely affect the fire rating of building components. An engineer can recommend alternative designs or solutions, such as reinforcing existing components and specifying new materials that comply with the required fire ratings.

Learn more about how building modifications can affect a component’s fire ratings with this infographic by Lockatong Engineering.


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