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Fire Stops: New Guide Details Best Practices

For designers and builders, the lack of recognized solutions that can provide both adequate sound and fire control is an ongoing problem. This is particularly true of fire stops and what is referred to in the United States as fire blocks.
While there are many proprietary and generic systems that provide adequate fire resistance in specific applications, they may not resolve—or may in fact worsen—acoustic problems such as noise from plumbing services, noise leaks at service penetrations, or structure-borne sound and vibration. To complicate matters, solutions deemed acceptable in one province or municipality may be rejected in neighbouring jurisdictions.

2006 NCR drawing
Penetration of DWV (drain, waste and vent) pipe for a toilet through a framed floor assembly.

There are numerous wall and floor assemblies to choose from to get a combination of fire resistance and sound transmission ratings that will both meet code requirements and the desired sound attenuation. However, in addition to choosing suitable assemblies with the right ratings, designers and builders need to be able to ensure satisfactory performance of complete building systems—that is, they must use a systems approach that meshes the requirements for both sound and fire control for fire stops and fire blocks.
Manufacturers have developed specific fire stop systems to provide continuity of fire separations at locations such as wall/ceiling junctions or where services penetrate a fire-rated assembly. There is already a well-established process for the standard testing of products, which provides the basis for product listings for fire stop systems. But differences between Canadian and U.S. testing procedures and regulations complicate the application of the available information. Adding further confusion to the situation, building codes in Canada describe both fire stops and fire blocks as “firestops”, whereas U.S. codes deal separately with fire stops and fire blocks.
To address the issues around fire stops, a joint initiative between NRC-IRC and Ken Richardson Fire Technologies got underway in 2004. This led to the establishment of a Special Interest Group that was given the mandate to develop a guideline document on the subject, with one of its main goals being the establishment of broad consensus on terminology and good practice to promote consistent handling by building officials during the approval stage.
After two years of development, a new best practice guide on fire stops and fire blocks has just been completed. The Guide represents a synthesis of available information, including the impact of fire stops and fire blocks on sound transmission.
The Guide primarily addresses fire stops and fire blocks in the context of Canadian codes and standards. Requirements for fire stops and fire blocks in the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) are similar, in concept, to those in U.S. codes but specific significant differences between Canadian and American codes, standards, and terminology are identified. The Guide also identifies differences from the NBCC that have been approved in provincial building codes.
The Best Practice Guide is not intended for use as a code document. While the Guide makes extensive reference to the NBCC as the source of requirements for fire stops and fire blocks in Canada, there are situations where best practice may dictate the need for features beyond the NBCC requirements. These are addressed in many examples in Chapters 7 through 13, which illustrate good practice for fire stops at junctions and penetrations (plumbing, electrical, ventilation), combined with guidance on the corresponding acoustical issues such as noise leaks, plumbing noise, and structure-borne sound transmission. The authority having jurisdiction would decide on acceptance of such solutions, but it is hoped that the Guide will promote more informed and consistent practice across Canada for fire stops and fire blocks.
The Guide is available at http://irc.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/pubs/fulltext/nrcc49677.

Luc Saint-Martin is a technology transfer advisor at the Institute for Research in Construction, National Research Council, Canada’s leader in construction research. luc.saint-martin@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.

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