How Intumescent Coatings Fight Fire

March 24, 2010

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Facilities need to have a comprehensive fire protection program in place to comply with Building Regulations and to make the property a safe place for building occupants. Active and passive fire protection systems should be installed in the facility for early fire detection, control, and mitigation.

Passive fire protection, in particular, uses intumescent fire protective coatings to help combat fire. Intumescent substances possess certain characteristics that behave uniquely when exposed to intense heat from fire.

For example, intumescents increase in size and volume when fire is near. As they swell their density decreases. This reaction produces charring. When fire protective coatings contain intumescent substances, the same char will be produced when coated surfaces are exposed to fire. The charred surface is a poor heat conductor, preventing the spread of fire.

Many intumescent fire protective coatings contain hydrates, sodium silicates or graphite. These elements release water vapor upon heat exposure. The moisture released to nearby air creates a cooling effect that also aids in the production of the fire-retarding and -insulating char.

At normal temperatures, intumescent fire protective coatings look like ordinary paint. But in soaring temperatures the substance changes to protect the painted surfaces. This ability is critically important in protecting steel structures from breaking down and collapsing due to intense heat.

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