Tag Archives: pole barn fire protection

Fireblocking and Firestops

Fireblocking and Firestops

Hansen Pole Buildings’ Designer Rachel was recently quoting a project for a governmental entity where the contractor requested her to include all provisions for fireblocking and firestops. This led to my deep dive into International Building and Residential Codes (IBC and IRC respectively).

Both have established a means to control fire spread within void spaces created within wood framed assemblies. 

During a fire, flame and heated combustion products can spread via least resistance paths. Certain assemblies, particularly wood frame assemblies, result in concealed voids or cavities within walls, ceilings and attics. These not only affect fire spread, but also make suppression more difficult.

Fireblocking involves field-installed building material use to prevent undetected flame and gas movement to other areas through such concealed spaces. Although such materials are not required to be tested for fire resistance, they are to be installed to slow fire migration, and to contain a fire until it can be suppressed. 

Fireblocks should not be confused with firestops. Firestops are code required when a higher fire protection degree is required, particularly when penetrations through fire resistance rated assemblies are to be protected with a specific material assembly tested under severe fire conditions for a prescribed time period. Unlike fireblocks, firestops purpose is to prevent fire spread from one compartment to another through service and utility openings in floors, ceilings, roofs, and walls. 

Fireblocks are required between floors, between a top story and a roof or attic space, in furred spaces or cavities between studs in wall assemblies, at connections between horizontal and vertical spaces created in floor joists or trusses, soffits, drop or cove ceilings, combustible exterior wall finishes and architectural elements, and at openings for pipes, vents, ducts, chimneys, and fireplaces. 

Fireblocks conform to innumerable configurations, depending on concealed space dimensions and location. IBC Section 718 (Concealed Spaces) is a dedicated section providing description of two concealed spaces and fireblocking. Section 718.2.1 identifies materials acceptable for use as fireblocks. Fireblocks can be constructed of materials such as two inch nominal lumber, structural wood panels, gypsum board, cement fiber board for larger fireblock, and mineral wool or glass fiber batts or blankets, loose fill insulation, and caulks, sealants, and putties for smaller fireblocks. IRC has similar text. 

Frequently, and inevitably, pipes, vents, ducts, and similar items penetrate fireblocks. IBC requires fireblock integrity be maintained in 718.2.1. This may be accomplished by using a sealant, caulk or putty as permitted by 718.2.5. Such materials are required to be approved for such use, and may be either combustible and noncombustible per specific code section and application. Noncombustible sealant use would address both conditions where either combustible or noncombustible are required, but not vice versa. Therefore, a noncombustible material would serve a broader use range than a combustible sealant, caulk or putty. (Noncombustibility shall be determined by testing to ASTM E 136 per other code sections).

All chimneys and fireplaces are required to be fireblocked by code. Factory-built chimneys and fireplaces are required to be fireblocked by code, but are also required to be tested in accordance with UL 103 and 127. Those test methods contain specific information pertaining to fireblocking beyond code requirements. 

In all building codes, designs and location for fireblocking are required to be indicated on construction documents, and are subject to inspection before occupancy in new construction.

Gymnasiums Perfect for Post Frame Truss Construction

This article’s content was published in Construction Magazine, October 28, 2016

Post-frame construction is ideal for non-code-exempt buildings of many shapes and sizes. One category of such structures that is often overlooked by post-frame builders is gymnasiums and multipurpose recreational buildings.

Gymnasiums and multipurpose recreational buildings are a perfect fit for post-frame construction for several reasons. Post-frame walls feature columns that run continuously from the foundation to the roof framing. These columns can be designed to accommodate the high ceilings that gymnasiums require. Long clear-span trusses allow for an open floor plan for basketball, volleyball and other sports, with scissors-style trusses used to create pitched ceilings that are higher in the center of the building. Large wall cavities allow plenty of room for insulation to meet or exceed energy code requirements. A variety of exterior siding and roofing materials can be used to create aesthetically pleasing architectural designs. The end result is post-frame gym and multipurpose recreational building designs that are cost efficient, highly functional, energy efficient and architecturally pleasing.


Building Code Classification and Requirements
Building codes classify buildings by type of occupancy and by type of construction. Occupancy type defines the end use of the building. Buildings (or parts of buildings) with the same end use are assumed to have similar life-safety characteristics, combustible contents and fire hazards. Construction type is used to define minimum fire ratings of building components (e.g., beams, columns) and assemblies (e.g., walls, floors, roofs). It is the combination of occupancy type (or use group) and construction type that largely dictates maximum building height and area.

Descriptions of the various occupancy and construction types can be found in Chapter 3 of the International Building Code. Two other IBC chapters of related importance are Chapters 5 and 9. Chapter 5 contains maximum allowable building heights and areas.

Chapter 9 contains requirements for fire protection systems based on the occupancy type (note: Chapter 9 requirements are independent of construction type). Chapter 9 provides the parameters of fire areas and occupant loads and is used to determine whether a project will require an automatic sprinkler system. Chapter 9 is used in conjunction with Chapter 7 to determine fire barrier and firewall requirements.

In accordance with the IBC, gymnasiums and multipurpose recreational buildings are typically assigned an Assembly (A) type of occupancy. If the building does not have spectator seating, it is classified as A-3. If it includes spectator seating, it is classified as A-4. All or part of these buildings may be classified as a Business (B) type of occupancy under the IBC if the building includes areas for training and skill development conducted outside of a school or academic program. This could include, for example, a building at a summer camp that is used for dance lessons or another business venture, rather than a typical gymnasium setting where games and practices are held.

Typical post-frame construction is classified as construction type VB, which means that the primary building elements are wood frame elements that don’t require fire protection. Assembly (A) buildings of type VB construction are limited to an allowable area of 6,000 square feet and to one story, per IBC Table 503. The maximum allowable area can be increased if all or a portion of the area surrounding the building meets access criteria (i.e., open perimeter requirements) for firefighting. The addition of an automatic sprinkler system will also provide an allowable area increase of 200 percent as well as an increase in the number of allowable stories—from one to two.


Post-frame buildings with primary structural building elements that have a 1-hour fire resistance rating can be classified as VA construction. Assembly (A) buildings of type VA construction are limited to an allowable area of 11,500 square feet and two stories, per IBC Table 503. Again, the maximum allowable area can be increased by providing firefighting access, automatic sprinklers or both. The inclusion of automatic sprinklers will also allow an increase in the maximum number of stories—from two to three.

The maximum fire area in assembly A-3 and A-4 buildings is limited to 12,000 square feet or less, per IBC Section 903.2.1, regardless of construction type. If the fire area exceeds 12,000 square feet, then an automatic sprinkler system is required. The use of 2-hour-rated fire barriers, per IBC Section 706, can create separate fire areas and eliminate the need for the sprinkler system.

Occupant load can be a major controlling factor in gymnasium and multipurpose recreational building design. The IBC bases occupant load on an allowable number of persons per square foot (i.e., how many individuals could fit in the space), not on the anticipated number of occupants in the building (see IBC Section 1004). Regardless of construction type, the maximum number of occupants in an A-3 or A-4 fire area is 299 before a sprinkler system is required. Gymnasiums and recreational buildings typically have large open floor plans, and applying the person-per-square-foot requirement results in a very high occupant load, and thus a load that typically requires a sprinkler system. If the calculated occupant load results in a number that is unrealistic, the issue can be discussed with the building code official, who has the authority to accept a lesser number or adjust the square-foot-per-person total in order to get a more reasonable result, per IBC Section 1004.1.1. When this is done, maximum-occupant-load signs must be posted at or near the main entrance and exit doors.

The structural design of post-frame gyms and multipurpose recreational buildings must conform to the structural load requirements compiled in IBC Chapter 16. Section 2306 of the IBC requires adherence to the National Design Specification for Wood Construction published by the American Wood Council (2015). The NDS establishes minimum design standards for all wood frame buildings. IBC Section 2306 also requires adherence to three documents of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers: EP484. Diaphragm Design of Metal-Clad, Wood-Frame Rectangular Buildings; EP486. Shallow-Post Foundation Design; and EP559. Design Requirements and Bending Properties for Mechanically Laminated Columns. Use of the NDS and ASABE documents for post-frame building design are covered in the Post-Frame Building Design Manual published by the National Frame Building Association (Bohnhoff, 2015).

Developing Special Building Packages
The authors strongly believe that no other building framing system is better suited for smaller gyms and multipurpose recreational buildings than post frame. Consequently, post-frame building construction companies may want to consider establishing standard plans for gyms and community centers as turnkey packages. In addition to the building shell itself, these standard packages could include special flooring, sports hardware options, bleachers, concession areas, lockers and other unique equipment.
We hope that this article will encourage conversation about these possibilities and encourage the use of post-frame construction in this market.

Timothy Royer is president of TimberTech Engineering Inc., Denver, Pennsylvania, and can be reached at trr@timbertecheng.com. Amanda Stauffer is building code specialist and computer-aided design drafter at TimberTech Engineering and can be reached at ant@timbertecheng.com.

Protection from Wildfires Part II

Yesterday I started the discussion of the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code –which spells out requirements for protecting buildings in case of wildfires.  So back up a day if you missed the first part of this. To recap a bit…

wildfire-protectionThe International Wildland-Urban Interface Code (IWUIC) is a model code intended to be adopted and used to supplement the adopted building and fire codes of a Building Permit issuing jurisdiction. The IWUIC has as its primary objective the establishment of minimum specific regulations for the safeguarding of life and property from intrusion of fire from wildland fire exposures and fire exposures from adjacent structures and to prevent structure fires from spreading to wildland fuels, even in the absence of fire department intervention.

Many Building Departments, which have adopted the IWUIC, have informational handouts which give guidelines as to how to conform to the requirements.

Below are the rest of the provisions which affect post frame (pole) building construction.

Vents: Attic ventilation openings, foundation or under-floor vents, or other ventilation openings in vertical exterior walls and vents through roofs shall not exceed 144 square inches each. Such vent shall be covered with noncombustible corrosion-resistant mesh with openings not to exceed 1/4 inch or shall be designed and approved to prevent flame or ember penetration into the structure. Attic ventilation openings shall not be located in soffits, in eave overhangs, between rafters at eaves, or in other overhang areas.

Gable end and dormer vents shall be located at least 10 feet from property lines.

This limits gable vents to 12 inches square or equivalent and should be metal rather than vinyl. With the elimination of eave vents, this means any required attic ventilation will have to be supplied via gable vents. Here is some discussion about ventilation requirements: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/08/ventilation-blows/

Detached accessory structures: Detached accessory structures located less than 50 feet from a building containing habitable space shall have exterior walls constructed with materials approved for a minimum of 1-hour fire resistance-rated construction, heavy timber, log wall construction or constructed with approved noncombustible materials on the exterior side. When the detached structure is located and constructed so that the structure or any portion thereof projects over a descending slope surface greater than 10 percent, the area below the structure shall have all under-floor areas enclosed to within 6 inches of the ground, with exterior wall construction.

Exception: The enclosure may be omitted where the underside of all exposed floors and all exposed structural columns, beams and supporting walls are protected as required for exterior 1-hour fire-resistance-rated construction or heavy-timber construction.

Automatic sprinkler system: an approved automatic sprinkler system shall be installed in all occupancies in new buildings required to meet the requirements for Class I Ignition-Resistant Construction. The installation of the automatic sprinkler system shall be in accordance with nationally recognized standards. (Read more on sprinklers here: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2011/07/benefits-of-a-sprinklered-building/ and https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/06/sprinkler-system/)

With some advance planning, a steel covered post frame building can relatively easily meet the requirements of the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code. For the most part, think- no non-fire treated wood exposed to potential wildfires.

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