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Intumescent Products: A Stylish Approach To Stopping Fires

Jul 24, 2008
You've seen intumescent coatings, even if you don't think you have. Modern buildings with exposed steel frameworks are usually coated with the high-sheen fire-retardant coatings in order to stop fires quickly and prevent too much damage from being done to the underlying steel. But what does this practical approach to fire fighting mean for modern design sensibilities?

It's almost a given that intumescent coatings will be exposed, more so than traditional fire insulation or wooden "firestop" panels within the framework of older buildings. The reason for this has to do with how these coatings work. When exposed to heat, the coatings expand quickly into an insulating foam-like shell, one designed to stop heat transfer in its tracks and protect the underlying steel from melting. The coatings are usually multi-layered, and each layer develops a protective coating of "ash" so that the fire has a bit more to burn before it reaches the next layer so that the entire process can start again. It's a neat bit of chemical engineering, and an effective way to stop fires.

But this heavy degree of expansion requires one of two things from a designer. Either the walls will be thicker than normal to provide space for intumescent firestops to expand. This limits design options considerably. Alternatively, the support structures can be visible and stored out in the open. This limits design options still more.

And that's the sad part about contemporary interior design: the need to protect our property, our buildings, and our lives from the threat of fire is more and more coming to eliminate many classic options for creating beauty and intricacy in our home environments. Yes, a Victorian drawing room with curlicued antique furniture is a firetrap, and yes, we're taking our lives in our hands by being there. A plain building with plenty of firestop coatings, alarms, extinguishers, and other fire safety features is the way to go if we want to guard our lives.

But in guarding our lives, are we improving the aesthetic quality of our lives? Or is that just another casualty of the modern age?

There's no reason, ultimately, that fire safety and effective interior design need to be mutually exclusive. It's possible to imagine an ornate Art Nouveau steel support structure coated in intumescent firestop foam. The only obstacles standing in the way of an aesthetically rewarding interior environment are, as always, money and efficiency. If we're willing to sacrifice one or the other of those--and given sufficient imagination on the part of fire safety specialists--we can have our cake and eat it too. We can be safe from fires and safe from tedium at once.
About the Author
Confused with the various uses of intumescent fire protection products? Visit www.FireProtectionOnline.co.uk for all the information
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