More than Meets the Eye: Five Things to Do to Ensure a Successful Fire-Rated Glazing Installation

by Ellen Rogers

The market for fire-rated glass products has seen rapid growth in recent years. Gone are the days of wired-glass stairwells, as the industry has welcomed in an abundance of light and transparency that flows deep into the building—thanks in part to the developments in fire-rated glazing materials. But, not everything is always as simple as it may seem. In some instances that rapid growth has also resulted in a lack of exposure to glass and framing developments, some experts say. And contract glaziers, for one, are not always aware of the inherent differences in fire-rated materials compared to traditional products.

“Due to that infrequency, or the fact that it may be a glazier’s first job with [fire-rated] products there are some common missteps that can lead to bigger issues. Many of these concerns are driving the push for pre-assembled or unitized framing,” says Tim Nass, vice president of national sales, with Safti First in San Francisco.

Ron Madeley, senior manager, engineering and project management for Technical Glass Products in Snoqualmie, Wash., says a lot of the concern has to do with the timing in how the products have developed with respect to the non-fire rated products.

“Fire-rated products come from more recent requirements in building history; installers understand the older systems and have adapted to those systems and are sometimes trying to model around those,” says Madeley. “The reality is, fire-rated products look similar but are very different.”

But contract glaziers, worry not. While the thought of working with an unfamiliar product may seem a bit intimidating at first, manufacturers are here to help. Several offered up their advice and tips for ensuring a successful fire-rated glazing installation.

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Even though you, the contract glazier, are not the one specifying the product, take the time to communicate with suppliers and architects early in the design process. This will help ensure the right product is used in the right application, saving time and money in having to re-do a mistake.

“Fire-rated products are different compared to standard storefront material,” says Zac Monroe, a project manager with Aluflam North America in Huntington Beach, Calif. “Communication is definitely key to understanding how to [install] fire-rated materials and also understanding the systems and the details that make them different in order to meet the fire codes.”

Some of these differences include being heavier, more expensive and generally more susceptible to damage, requiring additional precautions when handling.

Peter Lindgren, president, Aluflam North America, adds, “Some customers don’t have as much experience with fire-rated materials and they make the assumption it will be like other products.”

But it’s not.

“It can be helpful for the contract glazier to partner with a fire-rated supplier early on to learn about the products, their recommendation, to read the documentation, etc. before getting to job site,” says Madeley. “The buyer of these products has a legal responsibility to ensure what they are buying is correct and some subcontractors tend to pass this over or shift it up to the general contractor or owner and that’s a tricky situation because they are bound to larger contracts,” says Madeley. “The scope and range of fire-rated products in a building is pretty small and if you’re not [working with them] all the time, you might not have [all] the knowledge.”

Nass adds, “Communication is paramount to any successful project. It establishes the expectations of both the customer and the supplier. Proactive communication by the manufacturer keeps the customer informed and allows them to execute their plan of attack accordingly. In any project that has experienced complications there is definitely a breakdown in communication at some point. Healthy communication allows both parties to work through and overcome any difficulties they may encounter.”

Rob Gandenberger, home tech marketing for Schott North America Inc. in Elmsford, N.Y., says the most important piece of communication between a contract glazier and supplier is understanding lead times for each product.

“We often find the fire-rated glazing is one of the last materials to be installed on a project. As fire-rated assemblies are a life-safety component of the building they need to be inspected by the building inspector,” says Gandenberger. “If these materials are not installed this can delay certificate of occupancy and ultimately the transfer of the building. It is crucial that all parties involved, especially the contract glazier, understand the lead times for each portion of a fire-rated glazing product.”

2. Pay Attention to Detail
Another key step is to review shop drawings carefully. “The manufacturer will fabricate the fire-rated glass and framing assemblies according to approved shop drawings,” Nass says. “Fire-rated assemblies cannot be altered in the field, so make sure that the dimensions are correct, as well as the finish and hardware schedule (if doors are included in the package) when sending signed shop drawings back to the manufacturer.”

Also, Nass adds to confirm how the products should be delivered. “Manufacturers can deliver either knock-down for field assembly, factory glazed or unitized (depending on job site conditions). Make sure to have this discussion with the manufacturer to avoid surprises in the field. Also make sure you are prepared to accommodate the added weight of the fire-resistive glass, framing and entrances.”

3. Practice Proper Handling and Storage
“Fire-rated products cannot be treated like regular aluminum materials. They require more care and more patience and time,” says Madeley. “[Installers] are sometimes running so fast they accidently make a mistake and [fire-rated products] all have longer lead times,” he says, explaining the jobs typically entail custom fabrication, so it may not be a quick-fix to order and receive a replacement.

Lindgren adds, “Fire-rated products are also sensitive to edge damage and are expensive so it can really affect the glazier’s bottom line if it breaks onsite.” He adds that as far as framing, it, too, is also a bit heavier than standard materials, but otherwise there are no handling differences.

Some materials may also be temperature sensitive.

Gandenberger says, “Some fire-rated glazing materials will begin to react as if they are in a fire if stored in extreme temperatures. An example would be storing materials in a job site trailer in the hot summer sun. Ask the specific manufacturer about storing instructions. Every product reacts differently.”

Another consideration, Gandenberger adds, concerns the final cleaning of the project.

“It is important to inform the final cleaning crew that there are specific requirements for fire-rated glazing and provide them with the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions,” he says.

4. Take a Close Look. Now Look Closer
Experts say fire-rated products should be inspected upon arrival for freight damage, and stored properly to prevent breakage. According to Lindgren, these products can go through a lot of warehouses and a lot handling from the factory to job site. Even though suppliers invest significantly in proper packaging, there is always a risk that it could be mis-handled.

Nass adds, “Fire-rated glass products are advanced, technical glazing products and it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions and be careful not to treat it like standard, non-rated glass. With fire-resistive glass in particular, whether it is a multi-laminate or a fire-resistive tempered unit, there are specific restrictions that must be met to ensure visual integrity and long term performance.”

“Fire-rated glazing producers are typically very efficient at packaging,” says Gandenberger. “I would recommend being focused on the delivery service itself. Take pictures when the truck arrives. Look for crates that have been knocked around during the shipping process. Document any external damage with pictures.”

5. Follow Installation Instructions Carefully
Just as installers should adhere to the manufacturer’s storage and handling recommendations, they should also do the same when it comes to installation.

Kevin Frisone, sales and marketing manager with Vetrotech Saint-Gobain in Auburn, Wash., says the biggest mistake he sees has to do with not getting the frames plumb, level and square. “This is no place to rush,” he says. “Good field measurements allow the frames to have proper clearance that gives enough shim space to make units plumb, level and square. This is the best way to avoid installation problems.”

“Good field measurements allow the frames to have proper clearance that gives enough shim space to make units plumb, level and square. This is the best way to avoid installation problems.” —Kevin Frisone, Vetrotech Saint-Gobain

He adds, “Not getting everything plumb, level and square affects everything else in the installation: glass clearance, door alignment, door clearance and proper hardware function.”

“If a mistake happens it can be very detrimental, so make sure and follow the recommended glazing instructions because there are peculiar details that are easy to overlook,” says Madeley. For example, he says perimeter sealants must consist of an intumescent material. “You can’t breeze through it.”

Nass says doors seem to be another common area of concern.

“Due to the overall weight of these products it is important to make sure that doors are installed plumb and true. Adjustment can often be a challenge and it is important to have the right number of people hanging the doors to make sure they operate properly,” he says. “The hardware is designed to accommodate the weight of the doors, but often times doors hung improperly will appear to be too heavy or difficult to operate. A door hung plumb and true will be relatively easy to operate.”

Gandenberger adds, “Remember, fire-rated glazing is a tested assembly. This means the testing agency, UL for example, has certified that these materials will stop smoke, gas and flame if installed in a very specific way. Therefore it is important to use the published installation instructions provided by the manufacturer.”


Gimme 10: Basic Fire-Rated Glazing Installation Considerations

1. Store sheets of fire-rated glass vertically; do not lean.

2. Store fire-rated glass off ground, under cover, protected from weather and construction activities.

3. Comply with referenced GANA standards and instructions of manufacturers of glass, glazing sealants and glazing compounds.

4. Protect fire-rated glass during handling and installation. Discard pieces with damage that could affect glass performance.

5. Clean glazing channels and other framing members receiving glass immediately before glazing. Remove coatings that are not firmly bonded to substrates.

6. Cut glazing tape to length and set against permanent stops, flush with sight lines to fit openings exactly, with stretch allowance during installation.

7. Glaze vertically into labeled fire-rated metal frames or partition walls with the same fire rating as glass, and push against tape for full contact at perimeter of pane or unit.

8. Do not alter or modify the glazing in any way without first consulting the manufacturer or supplier.

9. For glass with special surface treatments, such as a protective PVB layer for exterior applications, note the direction of the glazing and install per the supplier’s recommendations.

10. Install fire-rated glass so that appropriate UL and fire-rated glass markings remain permanently visible.

Source: Technical Glass Products


Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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