July 2022 Lessons in Firestop: Staying on Top of Code Changes

Lessons in Firestop by Sharron HalpertStaying on top of code changes is enough to make your head spin. Most of you reading this are plumbing engineers, and you likely know more about the model plumbing codes than I ever will. However, the IBC (International Building Code) is also important to you, so I want to share this with you: If you are in the 2012 IBC or any of the subsequent versions, you will be required to follow the rules laid out in the IBC, and those rules, or at least some of them, change every three years.

When you are working under the 2012 IBC, certain projects will require special inspection of firestop. For instance, this applies if you are working on a high-rise building. High-rise buildings are defined as any buildings 75 feet above fire department vehicular access, which means that a building in one town might be called a high-rise, while a building of the same height in another town with different firefighting apparatus might not be called a high-rise. Also, if the building is on a slope so the access point is uphill versus downhill, this will impact fire department access, which can affect the classification of the building.

Maybe the project you’re working on isn’t a high-rise, but it is classified as a risk category III or IV building—then it too will require special inspection of firestop.

If you want to know more about what kinds of buildings fall into these different classifications, you can check the IBC or reach out to me and I will send you more information. In this Lessons in Firestop, I want to let you know how code changes can impact you both positively and negatively depending on a few different variables.

As we move through this discussion, I am going to assume you are one of those people who wants to do things right; otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. So, first I want to say thank you for being “one of the good guys.” I say that regardless of gender. I’m not a man, but I fit into the category of “one of the good guys” just the same. Let’s assume you also are one of the good guys and you are working on a project with a requirement for third-party special inspection. I am going to give you two different scenarios: one where the firestop special inspector is capable and qualified and one where they are not.

Let’s Take the Bad Case First

This is an inspector who used to do special inspection of piles, soils, and, let’s say, welding, rebar, and concrete. The developer asks them if they can do the special inspection on this fire stuff too, and they say yes. They walk around the project, they look here and there to be sure the red stuff is smeared around the pipes, and they leave the site thinking everything is good.

Do you have a problem with that? You’d be crazy if you did…or would you? Why would you object to an inspector who doesn’t call you out on anything?

Well, let’s say during this project that a new kid made the mistake of making an undersized hole for the plastic pipes. We already know a bit about why that is such a bad idea from our earlier lessons. If your inspector doesn’t catch this, then there is a liability on your project about which no one knows. If there is a fire and loss of life and a lawyer who knows a bit about firestop, you could be in some hot water because this inspector didn’t do their job right.

Alternately, I have heard stories where the inspector calls for things that are not actually required, and they mandate things that cost more money or take more time so your budgets and schedules are off because the inspector tells you to do something that was unnecessary.

When It Comes to Firestop, More Is Not Better

If you have a major laceration and need stitches, putting one more bandages on your cut is not going to help anything. You need to have the right materials, installed the right way by a professional. Okay, so I am not a professional in the medical field, but I have helped administer stitches before and at least I knew what I was doing. I had the right materials, and I had help. I didn’t just throw a Band-Aid on it.

Firestop is similar. You have to have the right materials, and you have to know what you are doing. In other words, you have to have a firestop submittal that will give you the instructions. If your firestop inspector is not looking at the firestop submittals, that should be a big red flag for you. If they walk around the jobsite and don’t do destructive testing, meaning they actually cut open your installations, then that should be a red flag as well, unless they actually stand around watching you do your installation. Those are the two choices. The special inspector needs to witness the installation of 10 percent of each unique type of installation, or they need to conduct destructive sampling of 2 percent. By unique type I mean that every different firestop detail will be a different type if they are installed by different trades—that is a different quality of workmanship, so I consider that a different type as well.

If you would like more information on how to identify if the person is capable and qualified, you can take a class found at this link. If you have questions or problems related to firestop, you are welcome to reach out on LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to help you get things on track.

In our next Lessons in Firestop I will talk about two changes that you will be seeing when your jurisdiction adopts the 2021 IBC. I will see you there.

Connect with Sharron

A former kindergarten teacher turned firestop expert, Sharron is President of Halpert Life Safety Consulting LLC, a leading provider of firestop-related life-safety and passive fire protection solutions.

If you like what you read here and want to know more, email [email protected] or connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter to tell her what else you want her to cover in this column. You can also follow her on Instagram. If you find this information valuable, please like, share, comment, repost, retweet, and throw it on IG to help people build better.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

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