In Case of Fire

Jan. 28, 2003
The Need-to-know List For Fire-rated Glass and Framing
When you hear the words “fire-rated glass,” do you imagine small vision lites with polished wired glass in them? Perhaps framed by some wrap-around hollow metal steel? Not exactly an inspiring vision.Thankfully, that’s a far cry from where the fire-rated glass and framing industry is today. Without becoming an expert on the intricacies of fire codes, how can you make sure you’re considering the best options for your project? Check out the following:Burger King was right.The fast food chain’s slogan, “Have it your way,” could now easily be applied to fire-rated glass. For decades, wired glass was the only choice available – a limited product with a somewhat “institutional” feel. Today, products feature all types of appearances and performance characteristics – offering higher fire ratings, impact safety, energy efficiency, and acoustic control. Some have been tested as IGUs (insulated glass units), allowing fire-rated glass to be combined with mirrored, tinted, bullet-resistant, or Low-E glass. You can have bevels, sandblasted logos, and polished surfaces.Best of all, you aren’t restricted to small vision lites anymore. Some of the products will let you have wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass that perform the same as cement block walls (that is, they are glass fire walls).The frame game isn’t the same.Innovations have also taken place in framing. Performance-wise, there’s nothing wrong with traditional hollow metal steel framing. But in terms of appearance, the bulky, wrap-around style isn’t always desirable.Narrow profile steel framing systems have entered the market in recent years, offering an attractive alternative. Similar in appearance to typical aluminum storefronts, these frames are rated for up to two hours. Even fire-rated wood frames are now available, offering the warmth and beauty of genuine wood combined with a fire-rated core material (45-minute rating).The bargain isn’t always in the basement.Quite frankly, the lowest initial investment isn’t always going to translate into the best value down the road. Just because you found a cheaper source doesn’t mean it will end up saving you money.For example, some of the more sophisticated glass products require special framing. Certain framing systems are cheaper than others, but may require at least twice as long to install. Labor costs can quickly eat up any savings on the product purchase.Some suppliers can also provide you with CAD drawings and design assistance, from specialists who work with fire-rated glass and framing daily. Going with a different source that doesn’t offer such service may mean factoring in some additional time in the design stage.There’s also the very real danger of specifying a cheap but incorrect product, then having to replace it later. The mere threat of liability is enough reason to consider your choices very carefully. Shopping for bargains can be a tricky business. A better route is to quote only products that you are sure meet all your desired performance and installation requirements.Personal checks are always accepted.Nothing beats a well-placed phone call when you want to know the real scoop. Don’t accept product literature at face value without verifying the facts for yourself. Too often, disclaimers can be overlooked, fine print can be missed, and inappropriate specifications can result.Fire-rated glazing is a highly specialized field, so the pool of knowledgeable experts is relatively small. Most are readily accessible and eager to help. Jerry Razwick is president of Technical Glass Products, Kirkland, WA, factory agents for a variety of fire-rated glazing products.

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