Using fire-rated glazing to solve design challenges in existing buildings

In a renovated courthouse, a set of fire-rated glass floor systems connect the lower floors to the dramatic upper domed space. Photos courtesy Technical Glass Products
In a renovated courthouse, a set of fire-rated glass floor systems connect the lower floors to the dramatic upper domed space.
Photos courtesy Technical Glass Products

Breaking down design barriers

While the project’s architectural team used a fire-rated glass curtain wall system to resolve their design challenge, it is just one of many solutions. Today’s product options range from fire-rated glass doors and lites to more robust fire-rated glass wall panels and floor systems. With proper planning, there are numerous ways building teams can use these advanced systems to break down design barriers in retrofits and renovations while maintaining code compliance. Here are some common challenges today’s fire-rated glazing products can solve.

Challenge: Create large and open interiors while providing compartmentation

The subdivision of buildings into smaller compartments via fire-rated materials, known as compartmentation, is a critical safeguard in building design. It helps slow or stop the spread of fire, providing occupants with time to evacuate the building and firefighters time to arrive and extinguish the fire.

While an essential part of well-balanced fire- and life-safety plans, the act of subdividing spaces is at odds with creating large, shared spaces. Fire-rated glass has the ability to resolve this design challenge in building retrofits and renovations by providing transparent compartmentation.

See-through in nature and able to defend against the spread of fire, fire-rated glass can help create an open, airy feel while reducing air volumes. Products receiving classification as non-directional fire-resistance-rated construction, meaning they maintain the same fire-rating from both sides, further push these benefits. They are not restricted to 25 per cent of the total wall area (as is typically the case with fire-protective glass), and are suitable where building codes require an assembly designated “fire-resistance-rated” to enclose a space or separate adjacent spaces. Example spaces include stairwells, egress corridors, or other fire or smoke barriers dividing construction.

In application, building teams can use fire-resistance-rated glazing to subdivide large, frequently traversed areas while maintaining an open feel. For instance, during a retrofit, building teams can use a fire-rated glass curtain wall system to visually tie together two otherwise separate spaces. Expansive sections of fire-rated glazing within a stairwell can extend line of sight for occupants while retaining fire separations. Similarly, fire-rated glazing within a structure’s atrium can improve transparency while maintaining compartmentation.

Challenge: Support green building goals while providing fire safety

In Canada, a growing number of retrofits and renovations seek to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This has been an area of focus since the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) published “A Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada” in 2017. The report provides provincial-specific pathways for reducing GHG emissions from large buildings, and calls for a mix of actions, including deep retrofits of buildings over 35 years old.

While there are many factors to consider when reworking buildings to support green building goals and improve performance levels, from HVAC changes to system upgrades, glazing is often a part of the conversation. Large glazed areas allow for more light transfer within buildings and can increase views to outdoor environments. With proper design and careful material selection, they can also help to adequately illuminate interiors without imposing additional cooling energy loads. Due to advances in fire-rated glazing, these daylighting tactics no longer need to fall by the wayside in building areas where it is necessary to comply with stringent fire- and life-safety standards.

As discussed previously, fire-resistant-rated glass systems are tested to the same standards as walls, and can therefore exceed 25 per cent of the total aggregate wall area. They can extend from floor-to-floor or wall-to-wall, and even span multiple stories. When integrated in well-balanced daylighting plans, they can support light transfer goals while enhancing fire and life safety. Consider the benefits of placing a fire-rated glass curtain wall in line with non-fire-rated glazing system. This tactic can help bring daylight deep inside multiple building areas, improve interior environments, and reduce lighting loads.

Where codes deem it is necessary to protect against the spread of fire between buildings, fire-rated glazing systems are available that have been air- and water-pressure tested and approved for exterior use. They can extend the surface area through which light can transfer to help illuminate a building’s core while providing critical lot-line protection. Advanced systems are available with fire-rated insulated glass units (IGUs) incorporating tinted or low-emissivity (low-e) glass for more efficient solar energy management. For example, a fire-rated glass curtain wall using a variety of strategically insulated fire-rated glazing products, such as low-e and spandrel fire-rated glazing, can respond to the angle of the daylight and help reduce heat transfer. Simulations of the actual construction can be modelled, to give the designer the ability to know how the fire-rated glazing system will affect the sizing of the building’s HVAC systems.

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