Fired Up: Changing Fire-rated Glazing Design Perspectives

Twenty-five years ago, one of the primary focuses in the fire-rated glazing industry was developing products with greater design flexibility. Architects were no longer satisfied simply using wired fire-rated glass in individual windows, borrowed lites and small view panes in doors. They wanted large, visually compatible glazed areas that could extend from floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, and across multiple stories.

Over the last two decades, the push towards clearer fire-rated glass and sleek, fire-rated frames ultimately led to one of our industry’s greatest breakthroughs – fire-rated glazing systems. Designed and tested to work together as a cohesive unit, integrated fire-rated glass and frames made it possible for building teams to use fire-rated glass floors, roofs, and curtain walls to meet stringent fire and life safety codes.

Despite these advances, some building teams still question whether they can meet their design goals with fire-rated glazing. As is true in every industry, some manufacturing processes yield better results than others. But, the bottom line is there is no reason fire-rated glazing should force a major compromise on design goals. Here are several practical ways glass industry professionals can demonstrate how fire-rated glazing systems can advance building design.

Show how fire-rated glazing systems can do more with less - During informational sessions with design professionals, be sure to highlight fire-rated glazing systems with dual or triple functionality. Products that make it possible to accomplish more with less – like fire-rated glass floor systems and curtain walls – can help customers maintain their design intent and satisfy various project performance requirements.

Promote visual consistency with other building elements - Fire-rated glazing previously tended to have much thicker frames and glass to provide the necessary fire protection. This often created aesthetic discrepancies with nearby curtain walls, windows, and doors. Since many of today’s fire-rated glazing systems have crisp frame edges and clear fire-rated glazing, it’s important to show building teams that smooth integration with surrounding applications is possible. New options like silicone-glazed (SG) fire-rated curtain walls can even match the smooth, frame-free exterior surface of structural silicone glazed curtain wall systems.

Demonstrate design flexibility - For many architects, potential trade-offs between fire and life safety requirements and appearance are hard to swallow. If you are involved with the customer early on in the design process, the good news is in many instances there are readily available system solutions. One example is using fire protective materials with sprinkler systems. Approved systems like FireLite Plus WS in combination with TYCO Model WS Window Sprinklers can serve as an alternative to fire-rated assemblies requiring a 2-hour rating, when acceptable to the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Because the glass in the system provides fire- and impact-safety, achieves up to a 120 minute fire rating and can withstand thermal shock, building teams have greater design freedom than was possible with tempered glass alternatives. For example, the assembly eliminates the need for a 36 inch ponywall often previously used with the TYCO WS system, and allows the fire-rated glazing to be butt glazed for a seamless aesthetic.

Keep looking forward -Twenty-five years ago it was hard to see past the limitations of wired fire-rated glass. Now the industry is producing advanced systems like fire-rated glass floors and fire-rated curtain walls with the appearance of structural silicone glazing. Imagine where the glazing industry could be in another twenty-five years if we keep working to resolve fire-rated glazing design challenges. How are you working to change fire-rated glazing design perspectives in our industry?

Jeff Razwick is the president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. He writes frequently about the design and specification of glazing for institutional and commercial buildings, and is a past chair of the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Fire-Rated Glazing Council (FRGC). www.fireglass.com, 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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