Volume 50, Issue 2 - February 2015

Open the Floodgates

Manufacturers are Pouring Out New Options in Fire-Rated Glazing

by Ellen Rogers

o matter how pretty, how attractive, how stylish or how clear, it’s still there because of a need—and a big one at that: life safety.

“Every time someone buys a piece of fire-rated glass it’s because they have a requirement in the building to meet the code,” says Rob Botman, general manager for Toronto-based Glassoplis. “No one buys fire-rated glass strictly for fun.”

Fire-rated materials are used to provide a means of separation between the building and occupants. Historically, fire-rated glass was used in small applications, such as doorlites and small openings. Products, however, have changed, making it possible to use glass in many different ways and applications, while still maintaining fire-rated performance and benefits.

“The industry has definitely come a long way from door lites and small openings,” says Diana San Diego, vice president of marketing for Safti First, based in San Francisco. “Whole vison doors, floor-to-ceiling walls, exterior curtainwall … the options for fire-rated glass have come a long way.”

From doors to windows to floor-to-ceiling walls, architects have multiple options for using glass in fire-rated spaces. Manufacturers are continuing to develop these new products, quite often as a result of architects asking for something unique. The collaboration resulting from this relationship is quickly taking a product, once used only in small spaces, to new places.

Make it Pretty?

New technologies have made it possible to take fire-rated glass and combine it with various decorative glass options. These can include patterns, textures, colors, and even images. While combining the two does provide more architectural options, doing so requires careful attention.

Rob Botman, general manager of Toronto-based Glassopolis, says it’s important to be careful to not violate the rating of the glass.

He says that while his company does offer decorative options, “it doesn’t sell as much because it’s an architectural feature on top of an already expensive glass,” he says. “It’s not as big of a driver as telling an architect he can replace a concrete wall with glass.”

Visibility is Key

One of the greatest benefits glass provides over opaque materials such as concrete is the fact that it allows for interior visibility. In settings such as schools and universities, which call for fire-rated surfaces, architects are able to meet this need by using glass, providing a bright, light-filled space. At the same time, the need for enhanced security has also increased. Fire-rated glass can be combined with other security features, resulting in a product that can pull double duty. Alice Dickerson is the marketing manager for AGC Glass Company North America, which manufacturers Pyrosafe fire-rated glass. The glass is fabricated and distributed in the U.S. by Trulite Glass and Aluminum Solutions. Dickerson says schools, for example, need to maintain safety and security, but want to have visibility, allowing those inside to see what is happening. That glass, though, has to meet fire codes. The development and advancement of intumescent products has made this possible.

“It used to be all you had was wired glass. Then there were ceramics, but they had poorer clarity. As fire-rated manufacturers continue to develop products, you’re getting clear, high-quality float glass—it looks like float glass,” says Dickerson, explaining the glass can now be integrated into many other products, such as an insulating glass unit, which could then be combined with a decorative product.

Peter Lindgren, president of Aluflam North America in Cerritos, Calif., agrees that the introduction of intumescent fire-rated glass has had a significant impact on the industry. 

“The earlier wire glass products (as well as ceramic-type glass) provided virtually no resistance to heat transfer. In the case of a fire, the glass would block flame and smoke for the rated time, but would allow the heat from the fire to pass from one side to the other.  In extreme scenarios, enough heat might transfer through and cause fire to ignite in combustible materials on the other side. For this reason, codes would allow only limited use of these types of [fire protective] products,” he says. “In contrast, the intumescent fire-rated glass is built up of layers of glass and clear intumescent materials and offers superior resistance to heat transfer. Together with specially insulated framing, it became possible for the manufacturers to pass tests for fire resistance rating (UL263/ASTM E119) for wall assemblies and temperature rise ratings (UL10C) for doors.”

Grimshaw Architects and James Carpenter Design Associates incorporated fire-rated glazing into various parts of the Fulton Center in New York, including an elevator (inset), helping provide compartmentation and drawing light in to maintain its light-filled aesthetic. Enclos was the contract glazier for the Fulton Center project, which was completed in 2014. It also features balanced doors from C.R. Laurence. Other suppliers included Viracon, providing the glass for the skylight and the curtainwall on the Broadway elevation; Saint-Gobain, providing glass parasols below the skylight; and Avic Sanxin, which provided the pavilion curtainwall glass.

Over Head, Under
Foot, All Around

Botman explains that the increasing options in fire-rated glazing provide a means to use more glass, reducing the amount of, or even replacing altogether, other opaque fire-rated building materials.

“Look at all of these buildings with concrete walls and think about where you would [like to have transparency],” he says. “Where would an architect want to make an opening in these required separations in a way not thought of before? We (manufacturers and suppliers) have to help them [architects] see how what used to be a dark hole in a building can become an architectural feature. That opens up a broad range of where fire-rated glazing can be used.” This may start with a door, but that can evolve quickly to corridor windows and walls. Stairwells have also become a popular application.

Fire-rated glass can be used in place of opaque building materials, helping provide a bright, light-filled space.

Overhead glazing and flooring, as well as exterior glazing, are also opportunities to allow in more light. Technologies today now allow these products to be used in fire-rated applications.

“I think architects want to bring more light into the building, and many buildings are being built closer together,” says Art Byrd, inside sales manager with Vetrotech Saint-Gobain in Auburn, Wash. As a result, Byrd says they’re seeing a growing number of requests for exterior fire-rated applications. Consider, for example, property line requirements. Buildings in urban locations are being built closer together; as close to property lines as possible in some cases. According to the International Building Code, however, exterior walls that are 10 feet or less from the property line are required to have a fire resistance rating based on the proximity to adjacent buildings and interior occupancy conditions. Fire-rated glazing can be used in these exterior applications, providing not only the desired aesthetics, but also required performance.

Byrd adds, “Architects want the exterior wall to be all glass, but they still have to protect the occupants.”

Devin Bowman, vice president of sales with Technical Glass Products in Snoqualmie, Wash., points out systems also are available that allow for fire-rated glass in horizontal applications, such as floors and skylights.

“Areas where you have requirements for a fire rating, but still want to allow natural light,” Bowman says. “There are also advances in glass curtainwall that have the appearance of being structurally glazed. This means you don’t have to have a cover cap on the exterior. Architects like as much glass as possible and little interruption, so it’s an attractive option for them.”

Fire-rated materials have seen aesthetic improvements that allow architects to specify products that will be a virtual match to conventional non-rated doors, windows and wall systems.

Let’s Talk

Without sufficient communication, the success of the fire-rated project can be at risk. Suppliers agree they spend countless hours talking with those in the architectural community about when, where and how to use these products.

“I think that [more and more] we’re communicating with architects and designers on what they’d like and are working with them to come up with a common solution for the [aesthetics] of what they are designing,” says Byrd. “Communication is the key in finding what they want and how we can assist them to get there.”

San Diego agrees and says in many cases her company is involved early on, allowing them the opportunity to “help [the architects] through the product selection and through the design phase so they meet both code and aesthetic demand,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a lot of collaboration if [the project] is very complex; sometimes we’re a part of the planning phase.” Whether or not they are involved early on, she says they always advise the architect to work with the manufacturer so they know their options.

Fire-rated glazing is even being used in luxury homes where a fire separation is needed between the garage and the living space.

The roles that fire-rated manufacturers play can vary. In some cases they may be very involved, other times they are not. They all, however, share a common goal, and that’s supplying a product that’s used for a critical purpose—life safety. Regardless of its ancillary features and benefits, fire-rated glazing must first be used for its technical function. The architectural enhancements can then follow.

Parking garages can be visually opened up and made safer by using fire-rated glass.

the author

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

Who Can Help?

Fire-rated suppliers offer a wide range of products and services. Here’s a listing of some companies that can help you with your fire-rated glazing needs.

Note: Companies listed below are from the USGlass magazine Buyers Guide, fire-rated glass category. To search the Buyers Guide in its entirety, visit www.usglassmaag.com/buyguide.

AGC Glass Company North America
11175 Cicero Dr.
Suite 400
Alpharetta, GA 30022

Aluflam North America
15551 Industry Ln.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649

Custom Glass Products
7515 Venture Circle
Weston, WI 54476

General Glass International
101 Venture Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094-1808

Glass Distributors Inc.
3800 Kenilworth Ave.
Bladensburg, MD 20710

92 Railside Rd.
Toronto, ON M3A 1A3

Glasswerks L.A.
8600 Rheem Ave.
South Gate, CA 90280

Hartung Glass Industries
17830 W. Valley Hwy.
Seattle, WA 98188

Insulated Glass of America
102 East Fields Street
PO Box 475, Dallas, NC 28034

Louisville Plate Glass
1401 W. Broadway
PO Box 1203
Louisville, KY 40201

McGrory Glass Inc.
1400 Grandview Ave.
Paulsboro, NJ 08066

Meltdown Glass Art & Design
P. O. Box 13098
Tempe, AZ 85284

Newcomer Architectural Products Inc.
1418 Westwood Dr.
Sidney, OH 45365-8994

6555 Garden Rd., Suite 1
West Palm Beach, FL 33404

SAFTIFIRST Fire Rated Glazing Solutions
325 Newhall St.
San Francisco, CA 94124-1432

Schott North America Inc.
555 Taxter Rd.
Elmsford, NY 10523

Scienstry Inc.
1110 E Collins Blvd.
Suite 120
Richardson, TX 75081

Technical Glass Products
8107 Bracken Place SE
Snoqualmie, WA 98065

Trulite Glass & Aluminum Solutions
800 Fairway Dr.
Ste. 200
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441

Vetrotech Saint-Gobain
2108 B St. NW
Suite 110
Auburn, WA 98001

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