Chutes & Ladders

June 2, 2003
Protection From Smoke Damage in Multi-family Housing
History has taught us that fire suppression and ancillary containment systems are essential in any high-rise residential building. Lives have been lost in serious fires over the years, and building owners and facilities managers are seeking solutions. For example, the 1987 Schomberg Plaza fire in New York City took seven lives and changed facilities management forever. The positive action brought about by the recommendations in the subsequent inquiry has lead to safer buildings and improved communications with fire department personnel.In another Manhattan fire in December 1997, 30 people were treated for smoke inhalation when a four-alarm fire caused heavy smoke to engulf the upper floors of a 42-story building. In both these instances, it was determined the fire originated in the trash compactor and the resultant smoke traveled up the garbage chute. In the Schomberg Plaza incident, the lack of maintenance of the building’s compactor sprinkler system was identified among other causes as one of the primary reasons for the spread of the fire.The garbage chute, the vertical shaft directing garbage to a facility’s trash compactor, is a vital facility and convenience in any high-rise building. Garbage containment systems have received minimal design consideration, and little has been done to solve the many problems associated with the containment of odor, fire, smoke, and loss of significant energy in all high-rise buildings that incorporate a garbage chute. This affects occupants’ well-being, the day-to-day operational duties of the facilities professionals, and the building owners’ bottom line.Now, a fully approved device specifically listed by Underwriters Laboratories for use as a garbage chute closure is available. This product not only provides a full 11/2-hour fire protection rating and seals the garbage chute in the event of a garbage chute fire, but it also stops odors from traveling up the vertical shaft. The device further stops significant energy from leaving the building in that it eliminates the chimney (or stack) effect. This recognized phenomenon causes air to flow up all existing garbage shafts directly out of the building. The sealing of the chute at the bottom effectively and permanently stops this condition.This chimney effect can be dramatically compounded by the Venturi effect, where as pressure decreases, gas expands and the temperature level decreases, depending on the landscape and orientation of the building’s location and the height of the building. A typical 20-floor residential building could conservatively save in excess of $5,000 per year by eliminating these two effects. Traditional dampers simply do not stop the migration of smoke and fire within the garbage chute/compactor or deliver any energy savings.Focusing on garbage chute efficiency has many advantages:Occupants have a better and safer building and improved indoor air quality.The facilities manager will receive fewer complaints related to odor.The building owner sees greater tenant retention and savings in overall operation.Patrick McLaughlin is the business development director for Samuel Bennett Manufacturing Inc.,  London, ON, Canada, manufacturers and providers of engineered solutions for the containment of odor, smoke, and fire migration in multi-story buildings. For more information, contact (888) 842-4883 or (

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations