Bill Kreysler, founder of Kreysler & Associates and chair of ACMA’s Architectural Division, has years of experience in the architecture market. As principal scientist at Ashland Company, Mike Stevens is an expert on fire-resistant resins. Together, they talk about FRP and the International Building Code, with Kreysler contributing the first part of this column and Stevens providing details on the steps involved in a listing and labeling program.
The International Building Code (IBC) serves as the rule book for construction in the U.S. While there are supplemental codes and some exceptions, the IBC is the base code standard. If your product or process isn’t recognized in the code, you’re out of luck. It’s like driving without a license: You can do it as long as you don’t get caught. But if you ignore the IBC, heaven help you if there’s a problem and your work or product is involved.
In 2007, ACMA’s Architectural Division decided to “get a license” by petitioning the code council to recognize FRP as a legitimate material for the first time. The result is section 2613 of the current IBC, which defines what FRP is, how it must be made to qualify as a building material and what tests it must pass for various applications. There are a handful of tests recognized by the IBC, but the two biggest are the ASTM E-84 and the NFPA 285, developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials International and the National Fire Protection Association respectively.
If a developer wants to cover more than 20 percent of the exterior of certain type buildings over 40 feet tall with FRP, the materials in the thickness specified for the project must be tested and achieve Class 1 ASTM E-84 for both flame and smoke. In addition, the wall assembly – including the exterior skin and whatever is behind it – must pass the NFPA 285 test. Passing the E-84 is easier and less costly than passing the 285. The E-84 is simply a materials test, while the 285 is an assembly test. Therefore, things like joints between panels and the space behind them are critical to passing the 285. (If you’re covering less than 20 percent of an exterior with FRP, there are less stringent tests. Other applications, such as interior walls and ceilings, also require other tests.)
When striving to pass building tests, it’s not enough to simply use a so-called “Class 1 fire-retardant resin.” There is no such thing in the IBC. To be code compliant, you must test the entire product – glass and resin – at the thickness you intend to use. In addition, these tests must be performed by the company making and providing the product, or be a “sub-listee” of the company that did the test.