Fire safety: how to select the right fire separating walls

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Fire separating walls are proven to improve the overall fire safety of a building and are now a requirement for Australian construction projects.

The required level of fire resistance for external walls near a boundary and walls that separate one occupancy from another are specified in the National Construction Code (NCC).

These required levels are expressed as the fire resistance level (FRL) of the wall and are measured in minutes.

In the event of a fire, fire separating walls provide occupants with a period of time to escape safely by ensuring the wall maintains sufficient structural integrity, adequacy and insulation.

Faulty construction or unreliable wall systems may lead to non-compliance and can have severe consequences including litigation and high repair costs.

How can you avoid non-compliance?

To avoid non-compliance, the following is recommended:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the full requirements outlined in the NCC for your building. You can contact a NCC consultant or building designer to help you understand your obligations.
  2. Specify a reliable and certified system with detailed construction guides.
  3. Where possible, relocate penetrations to non-fire rated walls. Penetrating fire walls tends to lead to error and may compromise wall performance.
  4. Build the system in strict accordance with manufacturer’s specifications, with licensed trades and adequate supervision.
  5. Regularly liaise with the building certifier and provide notice for mandatory inspections.

Finding the right fire rated system

Once you are familiar with all the relevant fire requirements for your build, determining the rightfire rated system for your project can be a daunting task.

First, ensure that all requirements including thermal, fire, acoustic and bracing are satisfied. This commonly involves adding components from different manufacturers.

Second, ensure that all components are compatible with each other.

Finally, ensure that the addition of those components does not affect the fire performance.

To contribute to safer buildings, leading manufacturer James Hardiehas recently launched a new range of fully integrated wall systems, HardieSmartTMwall systems.

HardieSmartTMwall systems are designed to target specific applications including common walls, boundary walls, zero lot boundary construction and more, with all the performance attributes you require. All system components are supplied and warranted by the one manufacturer, minimising non-compliance risks and simplifying the documentation and certification process.

Construction detailing and penetrations

When specifying fire rated systems, it is critical to provide adequately detailed construction plans and specifications.

Cover all project scenarios

A common issue in fire rated wall construction is providing specifications that do not cover all project scenarios, leading to guesswork and inadequate construction detailing.

For example, a common mistake is to install back to back power points on either side of a fire rated separating wall. Typically, it is best practice to offset these from each other.

Select manufacturers with detailed construction specifications and assistance

Use fire systems from manufacturers that provide detailed construction specifications as well as assistance in the case of a site specific scenario not covered in the guide.

For example, James Hardie provides detailed construction specifications and site specific detailing with all its HardieSmartTMsystems. Should the need arise, James Hardie provides further support through an industry-leading team of engineers who can provide assistance where required.

Certification and supervision

Ensure you have all documents ready for certification in addition to regular supervision and site visits from your building certifier at various construction stages.

Documentation can be a tedious process, which is why James Hardie has made compliance easy. The new HardieSmartTMsystems not only remove excess material and trades, minimising installation risks, but also provide full systems with thermal, fire, acoustic and bracing Codemark certification.

For more information about fire safety solutions for your build or to learn more about James Hardie’s HardieSmartTM systems and how to select the right fire walls for your build, get in touch with Dahlsens today.