Special Inspections for Fire Rated Penetrations and Joints
by Mark R. Richards, PE, Nortech Systems
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​​The 2015 edition of the International Building Code (IBC-2015) is scheduled to take effect in New Hampshire on September 15, 2019. This will introduce new requirements, including special inspections for fire rated penetrations and joints. These inspections have gained popularity in recent years. They will now be mandatory to reflect the importance of maintaining fire rated assemblies.

Per Section 1705.17 in IBC-2015, in high-rise buildings or in buildings assigned to Risk Category III or IV, special inspections are required to be performed for through-penetrations, membrane penetration firestops, fire-resistant joint systems and perimeter fire barrier systems. The above-mentioned systems are critical to maintaining the integrity of fire rated construction, including fire walls, fire barriers, fire partitions, smoke barriers and horizontal assemblies. There are thousands of listed firestop and joint assemblies available, many with various alternatives. Thus, the proper selection and installation of firestop and joint assemblies (in high risk buildings) shall be verified by an approved agency, in accordance with ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393, respectively. The inspector shall be acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and meet the criteria contained in Practice E699 for agencies involved in quality assurance. Fire Protection Engineers comply with the criteria for quality assurance agencies.

The proper selection and installation of firestop and joint assemblies is important in all buildings. However, the requirement for special inspections is limited to specific buildings that represent a substantial hazard to human life in the event of system failure or that are essential facilities. These include high-rise buildings and buildings assigned to Risk Category III or IV, in accordance with Section 1604.5 in IBC-2015. Table 1604.5 in IBC-2015 lists the nature and occupancy of all risk categories. Information about Risk Categories III and IV is taken from the above-mentioned table and reproduced below.

Risk Category III – Buildings and structures that represent a substantial hazard to human life in the event of failure, including but not limited to:
  1. Buildings and other structures whose primary occupancy is public assembly with an occupant load greater than 300.
  2. Buildings and other structures containing Group E occupancies with an occupant load greater than 250.
  3. Buildings and other structures containing educational occupancies for students above the 12th grade with an occupant load greater than 500.
  4. Group I-2 occupancies with an occupant load of 50 or more resident care recipients but not having surgery or emergency treatment facilities.
  5. Group I-3 occupancies.
  6. Any other occupancy with a occupant load greater than 5,000.
  7. Power-generating stations, water treatment facilities for potable water, wastewater treatment facilities and other public utility facilities not included in Risk Category IV.
  8. Buildings and other structures not included in Risk Category IV containing quantities of toxic or explosive materials that exceed the maximum allowable quantities per control area and are enough to pose a threat to the public if released.

Risk Category IV – Buildings and other structures designated as essential facilities, including but not limited to:
  1. Group I-2 occupancies having surgery or emergency treatment facilities.
  2. Fire, rescue, ambulance and police stations and emergency vehicle garages.
  3. Designated earthquake, hurricane or other emergency shelters.
  4. Designated emergency preparedness, communications and operations centers and other facilities required for emergency response.
  5. Power-generating stations and other public utility facilities required as emergency backup facilities for Risk Category IV structures.
  6. Buildings and other structures containing quantities of highly toxic materials that exceed maximum allowable quantities per control area and are enough to pose a threat to the public if released.
  7. Aviation control towers, air traffic control centers and emergency aircraft hangers.
  8. Buildings and other structures having critical national defense functions.
  9. Water storage facilities and pump structures required to maintain water pressure for suppression.

A typical firestop inspection evaluates firestopped assemblies for the following trades: electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and suppression. During the inspection, the inspector visually inspects all fire rated assemblies in the project scope of work. Larger buildings are typically evaluated by floor, section of building, etc. Destructive testing is performed on at least 2% of the firestopped assemblies, permitted they can be repaired after testing. Destructive testing is not performed on manufactured systems, including collars and cast in place devices. Results for each trade are documented in a report, including details for corrective actions.

In conclusion, the 2015 edition of the International Building Code (IBC-2015) is scheduled to take effect in New Hampshire on September 15, 2019. This will introduce new requirements, including special inspections for fire rated penetrations and joints. The above-mentioned assemblies are critical to maintaining the integrity of fire rated construction. Thus, their installation shall be inspected by an approved agency, such as a Fire Protection Engineer, in accordance with Section 1705.17 in IBC-2015.​




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