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Last edited 23 Oct 2023
Fire-stopping in buildings
The spread of fire can be restricted by sub-dividing buildings into a number of discrete compartments. These fire compartments are separated from one another by compartment walls and compartment floors made of a fire-resisting construction which hinders the spread of fire from one compartment to another.
- Resistance to collapse.
- Resistance to fire penetration.
- Resistance to the transfer of excessive heat.
Approved document B, Fire Safety, defines a fire stop as: ‘A seal provided to close an imperfection of fit or design tolerance between elements or components, to restrict the passage of fire and smoke.‘
It goes on to state, ‘if a fire-separating element is to be effective, then every joint, or imperfection of fit, or opening to allow services to pass through the element, should be adequately protected by sealing or fire-stopping so that the fire resistance of the element is not impaired.’
Joints between fire-separating elements such as compartment walls or floors, should be fire-stopped to maintain the continuity of resistance; and openings for timber beams, joists, purlins and rafters, and pipes, ducts, conduits or cables that pass through any part of a fire-separating element should be kept as few in number as possible, kept as small as practicable, and fire-stopped.
- Cement mortar.
- Gypsum-based plaster.
- Cement-based or gypsum-based vermiculite/perlite mixes.
- Glass fibre, crushed rock, blast furnace slag or ceramic-based products (with or without resin binders).
- Intumescent mastics.
- Proprietary fire-stopping and sealing systems.
Where an unsupported span is greater than 100 mm or where non-rigid materials are used (unless they have been shown to be satisfactory by test), materials used for fire-stopping should be reinforced with, or supported by, materials of limited combustibility.
Effective fire-stopping requires good awareness of technical literature and standards, and effective inspection of works on site. This is particularly important where fire-stopping may be left to the end of the construction process, installed by a subcontractor, or where it is concealed. The integrity of fire stopping must then be maintained through repairs and refurbishment works. In the case of Lakanal House in Camberwell, London renovation works that compromised fire stopping resulted in the deaths of six people in 2009.
Fire stops should not be confused with cavity barriers which are intended to block routes for smoke and flame spread through concealed spaces or cavities such as those that may be found in walls, floors, ceilings and roofs where concealed spread can present a significant danger.
In April 2018, the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Construction of the DG One Complex in Dumfries was published by Dumfries and Galloway Council. The report presents the findings of an Inquiry commissioned by the Chief Executive of Dumfries and Galloway Council into the procurement, design and construction of the DG One leisure complex following its enforced closure due to defects in October 2014.
Amongst a number of problems, the report points to a failure to properly incorporate fire-stopping, or to incorporate fire-stopping at all and suggested that; "...these failures are indicative of systemic problems in the quality of work provided by the construction industry”. The report recommends that "...public authorities should undertake appropriately informed inspections of existing buildings and new buildings nearing completion to ensure the adequacy of the fire-stopping installed.”
NB The Scottish Building Standards, Part I. Technical Handbook – Domestic, Appendix A Defined Terms, defines a fire-stop as: ‘…a seal provided to close an imperfection of fit or design tolerance between elements, components or construction so as to restrict the passage of fire and smoke through that imperfection. Fire-stopping and fire-stopped should be construed accordingly.’
PAS 9980:2022, Fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats – Code of practice, published by BSI Standards Limited in 2022, defines a fire stop as a: ‘seal provided to close an imperfection of fit or design tolerance between elements or components to restrict the spread of fire and smoke.’
It defines fire stopping as the: ‘provision of a fire stop. NOTE In the context of external wall construction, anything that connects compartment floors and walls onto the inside face of the external walls is fire stopping and would be expected to provide the same fire resistance as the floor/wall.’
See also: Penetration seal.
- BS 476.
- Cavity barrier.
- Compartment floor.
- Compartment wall.
- Dry riser.
- Escape route.
- Fire and rescue service.
- Fire compartment.
- Fire damper.
- Fire detection and alarm systems.
- Fire door.
- Firefighting route.
- Fire resistance.
- Fire-separating element.
- Fire separation.
- Free-swing door closer.
- Joint fire code.
- Means of escape.
- Penetration seal.
- Protected escape route.
- Sacrificial timber.
- Thermoplastic material.
- Unprotected escape route.
- Wet riser.
 External references
- ASFP Red Book: Fire Stopping and Penetration Seals for the Construction Industry – the ‘Red Book’ published by the Association for Specialist Fire Protection.
- Ensuring Best Practice for Passive Fire Protection in Buildings (ISBN: 1 87040 919 1), Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP).
- BS 476-20:1987
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