Types of firewalls

29 April

Types of firewalls: what does Steelcorp recommend?

Fire wall options for steel structures

The external walls of your building should be designed to slow the progress of a fire and contain it in a smaller area, and the question around which walls to choose often comes up during the initial planning and approval process.

Fire walls are required when building on the boundary, or in order to separate two buildings when there is no option for the buildings to be 6m apart.

Fire safety regulations can be a complex area, however when it comes to fire walls, the choices often come down to three material choices:

  • Concrete tilt panels
  • Speedpanels
  • Fyrcheck plaster walls

Let’s take a look at what we’re actually trying to achieve with a fire wall, and the pros and cons of each type of material.

Related: Fire resistant insulation

What do fire rated walls do?

Because fire can be so devastating to a building, the Building Code contains a raft of fire regulations that your structure must comply with, covering items like smoke alarms, fire exits, exit signage and hose reels.

One of the first things to consider however is your passive fire protection system: this is essentially the makeup of your building and how effective each component is at resisting fire.

To meet the necessary fire wall specifications, external walls and eaves need to be capable of withstanding an hour-long ‘heat flux’ test, resulting in minimal structural damage to the exterior and a very minimal combustion effect on surrounding buildings. Heat flux is similar to thermal conductivity: materials that have a fire safety rating have to show fairly low energy transfer.

This brings us to one of the most common materials for fire walls – concrete tilt panels.

Should all fire walls be made of concrete?

It’s a common misconception that fire walls must be built out of precast concrete panels, but they are often the most expensive option for commercial steel buildings.

Whilst concrete is very robust and sturdy, it can be overkill for some applications. The Building Code is not specific about concrete being the only available option: modular wall systems like Speedpanel and a special type of Gyprock called Fyrcheck also meet the specification.

Here are some positives and negatives of using concrete fire walls, along with the features and benefits of some alternative fire-rated products.

Tilt panel fire walls

Precast concrete tilt panels are commonly used in commercial projects as concrete provides very good fire protection. Often used for boundary firewalls when the building will be built very close to a neighbour, it can be expensive but is very durable.

Pros:

  • Good choice for very high walls (upwards of 7m)
  • A strong, low-maintenance option that adds value to your building
  • Robust enough to withstand minor damage, knocks and impacts from vehicles
  • Easy to keep clean and can be painted for aesthetic effects
  • Excellent acoustic properties
  • Fast installation

Cons:

  • Expensive option

Learn more with our on-demand webinars

Speedpanel

Coupling a specialised lightweight core with a reinforced steel shell; Speedpanel is an Australian Made modular wall system available in different sizes.

Offering both fire and acoustic protection, Speedpanel can be used as an external facade, or as a shared wall where multiple commercial units are built next to each other. This ensures that a fire in your facility has less chance of impacting your neighbours.

Pros:

  • Quick and easy installation that doesn’t require scaffolding – fixings and sealants can all be applied from one side of the wall so access to the neighbouring property isn’t necessarily required
  • Strong load-bearing characteristics allow service components like electrical boxes to be safely fixed to the panel
  • Available in different colours and sizes

Cons:

  • Expensive option
  • Damages easily

Fyrchek

Fyrchek is a type of Gyprock with a glass fibre-reinforced core. This layered construction enables it to maintain structural integrity when subjected to direct flame, making it an ideal board for use as part of a fire rated wall or ceiling system.

It is usually specified for commercial installations in areas where there is a higher level of fire resistance required. This plasterboard is also an acoustic grade board and can be used in systems where acoustic separation is specified.

Pros:

  • Lightweight, requires no special equipment to install
  • Good acoustic properties
  • Low VOC product manufactured with special additives to slow the progress of heat and flame

Cons:

  • Not a good choice for high humidity environments
  • Installation can be messy and requires you to engage a plasterer
  • Time-consuming installation

Ask Steelcorp for advice on fire rated walls

Ultimately, your choice of fire wall comes down to your budget, the material’s performance and fit for purpose, any special permit or Council requirements, and aesthetics. For large commercial buildings we’d typically recommend tilt panels, whereas for smaller commercial builds, Fyrchek is a good option provided you have access to the wall for installation.

Steelcorp is here to provide honest advice and design assistance – give our team a call if you’d like more information on fire wall option for your commercial structure.

Discuss your project with us today