How Fire-Rated Glazing Solutions Improve School Safety

Glass plays an important part in school security and wellbeing, providing unobstructed views necessary for wayfinding during active shooter events or other security threats while also allowing visible light to pass through. Light and views of nature have been proven to better students’ ability to learn. This is all according to a webinar series called the Resilient Design Symposium, which addresses design for school safety and disaster mitigation.

Hosted by Architectural Record and sponsored by Technical Glass Products (TGP), the second webinar in the series, titled “Keeping Schools Safe with Fire-Rated Glazing Solutions,” explained the difference between fire-rated products and codes and gave examples of fire-rated design in schools.

James Wharton, territory account manager for TGP, started the webinar by polling viewers about their biggest concern related to fire-rated glass. The issue with the most votes was knowing which code to follow. He then emphasized the importance of fire-rated design by pointing out that from 2011 to 2015, there was an average of 4,980 structure fires across educational facilities to varying degrees.

A major function of fire-rated glass is compartmentation, or keeping a fire contained to help people exit the building, so fires can be fought more adequately and efficiently. Fire-rated glass products are an example of passive suppression because they do not require electricity or water pressure to function properly.

“There’s no question glass will do the job,” said Wharton.

He explained the difference between fire-protective glazing, which protects against flame and smoke, and fire-resistive glazing, which protects against flame, smoke and radiant and conductive heat. Protective glazing may not exceed 25% of the aggregate length of the wall and may not exceed 156 square feet. The type of glass used in these constructions is often thinner and can be used with a framing system provided by a different manufacturer.

Fire-resistive systems are transparent wall assemblies and can achieve 60- and 120-minute wall ratings. The glass is thicker and the frame must be tested in conjunction with the glass as an assembly, meaning the system must come from one manufacture.

Both fire-protective and fire-resistive glass are subjected to a fire and hose stream test. The assembly must remain intact for the duration of the fire test with no flaming on the exposed surface. Every product rated to 45 minutes or greater must pass the hose stream test. The glass and frame cannot break in this test because if there’s a hole in the system then it’s no longer achieving compartmentation, according to Wharton.

One trend Wharton pointed out is the combination of fire-rated glass with impact, force-entry, ballistics, hurricane and acoustics ratings. Fire-rated glass is often subjected to CPSC 16 CFR 1201 Cat II testing for impact rating. Wharton also said that states are increasingly passing laws requiring increased security levels at schools, meaning that fire-rated glass could be required to meet these other performance requirements.

Wharton also said that he’s seeing more fire-rated glass being used on the exterior of a building. This was the case with the Central Elementary renovation in Dodge City, Kan., which required fire-rated glazing on the exterior of the building that matched the historic look of the building’s previous windows. In these cases, fire-rated glass is often used as part of an insulating glass unit.

He’s also seeing fire-rated transparent wall systems being used to create unobstructed views and to open up a space inside a school, creating a seamless transition.

The webinar series continues tomorrow with a focus on designing for disaster.

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