Why It Is Important To Repair Damaged Fireproofing

In a new construction scenario, you know the fire protection systems have been researched and are designed to be code compliant. You’re confident and you should be, that the fire protection systems will respond as required in the case of a fire. You also know the Spray Applied Fire Resistant Material (a.k.a SFRM, SAFRM or SOFP) itself has been independently tested and verified, the applicator is manufacturer trained and licensed, and there have been multiple field inspections and possibly a special inspection as well before the Certificate of Occupancy is granted. 

Building safety codes prescribe the use of both active (sprinklers & detection systems) and passive systems (firestopping and fireproofing). Such redundancy is sometimes referred to as “safety layering”. Should one system fail, there will be a backup system to provide the level of safety required. It is a lot like seat belts and air bags in vehicles; both are vital in a catastrophic event. Fireproofing has the intended purpose of providing structural stability. If there is no structural stability, sprinkler systems may not work, detection systems may not work, and firestopping systems may not work. 

Fast forward 5, 10, 20 or even 50 years in that new construction scenario. Stuff happens. 

Consider this: “What could have happened to the fireproofing over time?” There can be physical damage (someone knocking it off); environmental damage like air erosion or water damage; lots of renovations (moving walls and the like around); as well as mechanical installations of additional clips, hangers, pipe conduit, a revised duct work system, or perhaps a new communication line, all installed by a variety of trades for a variety of projects. There are any number of reasons the original application can be compromised/damaged/knocked off/removed etc. In order for the SFRM to perform as intended, as inspected and as expected (would you like to be an inhabitant of a building where there are breaches to the fireproofing?) – any damage (each break in the monolithic layer can quickly turn into a weak point in the fire resistivity, meaning risk for a pre-mature structural failure) rendered to that initial monolithic layer of fireproofing must be patched and repaired. This is a life safety issue. 

The first step in repairing the damaged fireproofing is to be able to identify what damaged fireproofing looks like. Here are some pictures taken from job sites. 

Figure 1 damaged fireproofing from several sources


Figure 2 fireproofing scraped off to attach clips


Figure 3 fireproofing scraped off to attach metal studs


Figure 4 typical damage of fireproofing

Once you identify the damaged areas, it must be repaired and restored to its intended fire rating. Almost immediately the first hurdle appears – how do you know what was put on in the first place? The only definitive way to know is through accurate record keeping. If you know what was originally applied (SFRM) we encourage you to contact that material manufacturer to either get patching instructions or remove the existing SFRM from joint to joint of the member and respray to its original rating. You just can’t look at SFRM and know for certain that it is this manufacturer or that manufacturer. It is a guessing game. You can also take a sample and have it tested by a laboratory in an attempt to determine its origin; however there are no field tests to determine SFRM identification. 

The intent of Spray Applied Fire Resistant Materials is to provide an complete encapsulation of rigid structural elements (beams, columns, decks, etc.), typically steel, with a material proven to slow the progression of heat for specific time duration. There are several species of materials that can do this; intumescent materials, cementitious, and some fiber material all have a proven fire resistivity. But to work properly the original application and its monolithic coverage must be maintained. 

Even though steel doesn’t burn, it does lose its strength in a fire. At approximately 1100° steel loses about 65% of its strength; in a fire a beam can deflect up to 16” or more! Failure, structural instability occurs when only a portion of that structural member reaches a temperature such as that. This is why it is critical to inspect and repair any damage to fireproofing. Intact and properly installed fireproofing also affords crucial time for the first responders to get in and to do their job; not to mention providing time for the occupants to get out of the building. 

It really doesn’t matter the WHO or the HOW the fireproofing was damaged – it just needs to be fixed. Period. Let me repeat that. The fireproofing needs to be fixed.