How to protect steel from fire?

One of the most frequently asked questions in Passive Fire Protection is “How to protect steel from fire?”.  Although there are several protection methods, few are as effective as intumescent paint, sometimes referred to as fire or fireproof paint.

According to the HRB there are over 50 fire-related deaths in Ireland every year, so it’s more important than ever to ensure your commercial premises are well protected.

In this article, we will provide insights, hints, tips and expertise into different methods and expertise on how to use passive fire measures to increase your building’s safety.

An image of a large industrical warehouse in an open construction lot, there is exposed steel that has been fire protected. Many pylons lay across the floor and building is set on undeveloped land with large mud hills and puddles

Fireproofing in Steel Frame Construction

Steel melts at a temperature point of around 2500’c, fire burns at an average temperature of 2000’c, so steel actually melting is very rare. But extreme temperatures still present a significant risk, consider that during a fire structural elements become damaged or deformed, which in turn reduces their strength and structural capabilities. This can lead to a building becoming unsafe or total collapse.

Method for Fireproofing Structural Steel

The prevailing approach to enhance fire resistance involves the utilisation of spray-applied fire-resistive materials (SFRM) comprising low-density fibres or cementitious compounds. These substances are typically sprayed in wet or dry form, forming coatings of the desired thickness that bestow heat resistance to steel components. Notably, they are not limited to steel alone and can also be employed for fireproofing wood, fabrics, and other materials. Despite being the most commonly used method, alternative options exist, which are discussed in this section.

Intumescent Coatings

Intumescent coatings, also referred to as intumescent paints, are deployed to provide fire resistance to steel elements. These coatings possess the remarkable ability to expand up to 100 times their initial thickness when exposed to extreme heat. This expansion creates a protective barrier between the steel member and the fire, thereby enhancing resistance. 

The application of intumescent coatings is akin to that of paint and is commonly carried out on steel structures accessible to the general public.

Why is it important to protect structural components?

Since the late 1700’s steel has been used as an integral steel component for almost all buildings, as with any building the structural components are what keep the building from collapsing. If one or more structural component is damaged a building will automatically be deemed unsafe and access would have to be prevented

Image of a commercial building , concrete floor and fire proofed steel girders occupying floor to ceiling

What are the other types of steel protections?

When it comes to fire protection for steel, there are several methods and systems that can be employed to enhance the fire resistance of steel structures. Here are some common types of steel fire protections:q

Fire-resistant boards

Fire-resistant boards are most commonly used in commercial premises and are often gypsum or cementitious board. Fire-resistant boards are installed on steel structures to provide additional fire protection. These boards have excellent fire resistance properties and can withstand high temperatures. They are often used in applications where a specific fire rating is required, such as walls, ceilings, and enclosures.

In our expert opinion

“As a leading authority in the field of passive fire protection in Ireland, We strongly endorse the use of fire-resistant boards. These boards play a vital role in enhancing building safety by preventing the spread of fire, maintaining structural integrity, and minimising heat transfer. 

They are easy to install and are a reliable solution for meeting fire safety regulations. Fire-resistant boards are an essential component of any comprehensive fire safety strategy in Ireland.”

Fireproofing sprays

Fireproofing sprays are applied directly to steel surfaces to provide fire resistance. These sprays typically consist of mineral fibres mixed with a binder. When exposed to fire, the binder melts, creating an insulating layer that protects the steel from heat. Fireproofing sprays are commonly used in industrial settings, such as refineries, petrochemical plants, and power plants.

In our expert opinion 

“Although very effective at significantly retarding fires ability to course damage to structural components, its very complex to apply and should not be attempted by untrained individuals.”

Fire-resistant insulations

Fire-resistant insulation materials, such as mineral wool or fibreglass, can be installed around steel structures to provide thermal insulation and fire protection. These insulation materials help to delay the transfer of heat to the steel and can improve the fire resistance of the structure.

Fire-resistant coatings

These coatings are specifically designed to endure extreme temperatures and form a protective layer that safeguards the steel against critical heat levels. They find wide application in various scenarios, including fire doors, fire escapes, and structural components within buildings.

Concrete encasement

Another technique to protect steel is to encase it inside the concrete, ordinarily reserved for where fire protection requirements are very high such as underground tunnels, bridges and highrise structures.

How often should protections be reviewed?

As with all technologies, advances are constant – Passive fire protection is no exception. Not only are the protection type, application and shelf life constantly improving, but there are also advances in how effective the technologies are. 

These factors coupled with the fact that protections only last so long we recommend a maximum time period of 6 months left between inspections.

Fire protection plan & implementation

Fire protection is a proactive process, not a reactive one. The best way to protect premises, life and your business are to ensure you have comprehensive fire measures in place. There are two different types of fire protection active and passive.

At Firestoppers we specialise in passive protection, these are measures that require no human or digital intervention in order to activate. This means they work 24/7 365 days a year.

Although neither method is better than the other, passive fire protection is integral when talking in terms of structural protection.

If you are unsure what protection your business requires, or simply want to discuss whether or not you have ample protection installed already then contact Firestoppers today.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you fireproof a steel structure?

There are many ways to fireproof a steel structure, this decision should be made by a fire protection specialist. Your chosen company will review many factors and advise on the best way to protect he structure.

When should you fire-protect steel?

Steel should be protected whenever it’s a structural element of either commercial or residential buildings.

Can fire burn through steel?

Although a fire melting steal in unlikely, it will cause irreparable structural damage will decrease its load-bearing power and often end in a complete or partial collapse of a structure.

Steel strucuture and buildign equipment on a commerical site in ireland

Passive Fire Protection Specialists 

Firestoppers is one of Ireland’s leading suppliers and installers of passive fire-preventative measures. We have helped countless business owners sleep easier knowing that they have sought expert advice to protect their building, staff and business.

If you are looking for any advice on how to maximise your safety and minimise your risk both literally and legally – the experienced team at Firestoppers is excited to help.

Contact us today and see how we can help.

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