Compliance Issues for Intumescent Coatings

December 11, 2012

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When it comes to commercial and industrial facilities, compliance with Federal, state, and local building codes is an important matter. Commercial painting contractors should be familiar with these codes as they apply to fire protection, in order to advise clients in cases where intumescent coatings are not only a good idea for protecting staff, customers, and their investment, but also the law.

Codes and fire ratings for industrial and commercial structures

In most cases, fire protection codes are more stringent for commercial buildings than for residential structures. Facility owners are liable for protecting public traffic in their buildings, and fires in larger structures can not only harm the occupants, but also have a greater potential to spread to surrounding buildings.

California building code law assigns different fire ratings to different types of structures. Some are required to use intumescent coatings for steel structural components. The fire rating can take into account variables such as the location, proximity to other structures, physical composition of the building, and occupancy load. The fire-resistive measures for a building must be approved by the California State Fire Marshal.

Intumesent coatings and environmental laws

In California, intumescent and fire protective coatings are held to the same VOC content and emmission standards as regular paint. Some of the green ratings systems that intumescent coatings may be required to pass include:

  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
  • Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)
  • ANSI/GBI 01-2010 Green Buildings Assessment Protocol
  • IgCC
  • California Department of Public Health CDPH/EHLB Standard (or Emission Testing Method for CA Specification 01350)

Types of fire protective coatings

Depending on the substrate, different types of intumescent coatings may be required by California building codes and laws. The most common categories for intumescent paint are:

Soft char: This fire protective coating forms a “light char” that slows heat transfer. Soft char usually contains a significant amount of hydrates, or components that release water vapor when heated, to strengthen the char and provide a longer period of time for safe evacuation and extinguishing of the fire. This coating strength is typically used for steel structural components.

Hard char: This type of intumescent coating uses sodium silicates and graphite to produce a more substantial char that has greater expansion pressure. Hard char coatings are often used for plastic piping in firestops, as they are able to squeeze the plastic together and seal it closed to prevent fire from expanding into further rooms. This grade is also used for exterior steel fireproofing and in areas with an increased likelihood for hydrocarbon fires—those caused by burning oil or gasoline.


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