Code requirements are more commonly viewed as restricting creativity rather than enhancing it. For years, building codes dictated the use of a single product in fire-rated openings: traditional wired glass. Aesthetics had to take a back seat to safety. There’s no more need for making concessions to satisfy codes: Performance and appearance now go hand-in-hand.
There was nothing special about the glass in traditional wired glass, only the wire mesh keeps the glass from vacating the frame. Yet traditional wired glass brought its own negatives beyond its appearance. The glass cannot tolerate impact well, and since the wires break at the same time as the glass, there is an added risk (the sharp snags of broken wire can cause further injury).
After nearly 30 years, the Intl. Code Council revised the 2003 Intl. Building Code (IBC). The change requires all glass in “hazardous” locations (doors, sidelites, near the floor, etc.) in schools, daycare centers, and athletic facilities to meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s higher impact safety standards. The 2006 code extends that ruling even further, mandating the same requirements for all types of construction.
One material that opened up new possibilities is ceramics. Clear, heat-resistant, and wireless, these products have earned fire ratings ranging from 20 minutes to 3 hours. Ceramics can be specified with high-impact ratings, fits in standard fire-rated framing, and can easily be cut to size.
Ceramics also open up many design possibilities, since it can be etched, lightly sandblasted, or beveled on one side without affecting the fire rating. What’s more, ceramics can be specified in individual lite sizes up to 23 square feet - significantly larger than the typical 9-square-foot maximum for traditional wired glass.
Since glass ceramic has been tested in insulated glass units (IGU), even greater variety is now possible. The IGUs combine one piece of fire-rated ceramic with another type of glass, separated by spacers. The non-rated piece of glass in the IGU can be nearly anything, from one-way mirror to decorative art glass. Once again, this allows facilities managers to think creatively about the way they incorporate fire-rated glazing.
A singular advantage wired glass has offered over the years has been its affordability. Recognizing the continuing need for a modestly priced solution, manufacturers have been revisiting wired glass to bring it up to current code requirements.
One approach has been to add a surface-applied safety film to wired glass. Although this method does increase the impact resistance of the product, film can be subject to vandalism or unintentional damage that compromises the integrity of the product.
Another promising product is manufactured by laminating wired glass to a sheet of float glass with a special interlayer in between. The result is a stronger wired glass that complies with the 2003 IBC. This enables building professionals to continue to specify wired glass where cost is an overriding factor.
There is tremendous freedom afforded by today’s fire-rated glazing materials. No matter what the performance requirement or design aesthetic, there are now options on the market that can fully satisfy the need.
Jerry Razwick is president at Technical Glass Products (www.fireglass.com), headquartered in Kirkland, WA.