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Beyond fire protection: helping pave the way for greener buildings

Now more than ever, specifiers and contractors are looking for ways in which they can improve the energy efficiency of a building, including consideration of its glazing systems. But what about fire safety glass?

In this article we explore, when specified correctly, how fire safety glass can deliver far more than just fire protection.

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Given the focus and drive to reduce the carbon of our country’s buildings, and considering recent rising fuel costs, more and more emphasis is rightfully being placed on the energy efficiency and thermal performance of building products. As a result, architects, contractors and building owners are asking more from their glazing systems, both in terms of improved building regulation and SAP results – but what about fire safety glass?

Fire safety glass across sectors

A prominent feature of our commercial, educational and leisure buildings, as well as residential multi-occupancy developments, fire safety glass can have a key role to play as part of a wider passive fire protection strategy. Specified correctly, fire safety glass can be one of the materials used to separate a building into a series of fire safe compartments, helping to prevent the spread of a fire, allow a safe route of escape for occupants and also facilitate a safe means of access for the emergency services.

Energy efficient fire glass systems

But what about its energy efficiency as a system? With the correct specification, it is possible to create a multi-functional product combining both thermal performance and fire protection, amongst other characteristics.

Take warm edge spacers, for example. Spacers are used in all insulated glazing units, separating the glass panes. Warm edge spacers are designed to help reduce the thermal bridge of the transition zone between the glass edge and window frame or façade profile. This saves thermal heat loss and also reduces the risk of condensation at the glass edge. In fire safe IGUs, however, these spacers are commonly manufactured from steel or aluminium due to the need for the material to be durable and retain its strength in the event of a fire. Of course, while metal offers strength it also presents conductivity, adversely affecting the thermal performance of a glazing system.

Fortunately, thanks to recent market developments and new test evidence to BS EN1364, there are warm edge spacers available that have been specifically designed for the use in fire safety glass systems. For example, a recent partnership between Pyroguard and Technoform has resulted in a successful test programme featuring the Technoform SP14 spacer, which has a hybrid construction of precision engineered polypropylene and steel. The SP14 offers thermal properties, while the inclusion of steel offers the necessary structural stability and durability in fire situations.

Developments such as this enable architects, façade engineers, contractors and fabricators to select a warm edge spacer that delivers both reliable fire performance and low Psi values (the measure of heat loss along a junction between two thermal elements). A poor Psi value spacer will significantly affect the U-value performance of a glass pane and is something to be clearly avoided, particularly with the advanced Approved Document L building regulations in England and Wales (Section 6 in Scotland).

Multifunctional fire safety glass systems

Moving on, and there is more that can be done to improve the efficiency of a fire safety glass system, such as the use of coated glasses.

While glass is a popular building material, favoured by architects and interior designers for its ability to create light, open and contemporary spaces, used incorrectly and it can create something of a greenhouse effect. This is especially the case in applications such as atriums or curtain walling systems, where the glass will be open to sunlight and UV transmission. Understandably, this ‘greenhouse effect’ is something that both architects and building owners will seek to avoid, not least because of the uncomfortable internal environment it will create for building users but also the energy and cost required to bring the interior temperature back to an optimum level.

This is an example of where the multi-functionality of fire safety glass can come into play. With the correct specification advice and technical expertise, it’s possible to add additional panes into a glazing system, with these panes delivering various qualities and characteristics, from improved acoustics and built-in privacy to solar control. By incorporating a counterpane with a specialist coating into the glazing system, sunlight will be allowed to pass through the glass while simultaneously radiating and reflecting away a large degree of the sun’s heat.

As we all work hard to do our bit for the environment, a key part of this has to be improving the energy efficiency of our buildings. While fire safety glass is first and foremost a fire safety product, with the correct technical expertise it is possible to achieve so much more.

For more information, please contact us.

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