Code Challenges

For many firms, the larger challenge is meeting established fire performance requirements. Jesse Beitel, senior scientist and principal with specialty engineer Jensen Hughes, was part of the team that developed the first code requirements on FRP for the 2009 edition of the International Building Code. (In the 2018 edition of the IBC, this information is found in Chapter 26, Section 2613). The code development group was tasked with establishing requirements for decorative finishes based on existing code requirements, but faced new territory in adding the capability to use FRP on building exterior.

The committee ultimately determined that limited amounts of FRP, such as in cornices or millwork that make up less than 20% of the wall surface, would need to pass an ASTM E84 fire test. It’s a test that many of today’s FRP products can pass, says Beitel. However, he adds, “If you want to build an exterior wall and you want to use FRP as the wall covering and it’s more than [20%], you need to meet NFPA 285, Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components. That test is typically where FRP has a problem.”

Aljishi agrees that meeting this code is an area where companies worldwide continue to struggle. “The need to meet the code limits the number of firms [working with FRP] to the very few who have the competence and knowhow, particularly in fire codes,” he says.

He adds that the codes are critical in limiting damage as well as broadening use of FRP. “It’s an ever-evolving area of study for anybody who is looking at the field because the codes are always changing, and any time there’s a major fire like the one in London you get another type of code,” Aljishi says. The Grenfell Tower apartment fires to which he refers killed 71 Londoners in 2017 due to the rapid spread of the fire, attributed in part to the use of aluminum composite panels for cladding. Aljishi adds, “Even if you didn’t have a code, insurers are asking for their own code, which drives the field toward noncombustible materials.”

Leading firms work to meet U.S. codes and similarly stringent codes for the protection it affords architects and composite fabricators alike. “I hear a lot from the United States that Middle Eastern companies are like ‘cowboys,’” Aljishi says. “This is inaccurate. Here in the Middle East, it depends on the project, but they normally follow either ASTM or U.S. building code, European EN standards or British standards. The large landmark projects have very stringent norms that work here as they work in the U.S.”