Reactive vs. Non-Reactive Fire Protective Coatings

Building owners invest large sums of money into their properties and in particular relating to life safety, including passive fire protection. In order to ensure that your property stays protected from the risk of fire, you must ensure that the structural elements of the building are designed to resist the effects of a fire. This can be done by applying specialist highly engineered fire protective coatings.  There are two types of these protective coating materials. These include fire retardant and intumescent paints. But first, we must understand what reactive and non-reactive fire protection coatings are.

Reactive Fire Protection coatings

These specialist coatings work by way of forming a protective layer of insulation, which prevents the heat from a fire reaching the limiting temperatures of the buildings structural design and subsequent failure.

A very relevant example of this type of coating is intumescent paint used in many buildings throughout the UK.

Intumescent paints as a type of reactive fire protective coating

Intumescent paint and coatings have long been used to prevent the structural failure of buildings when exposed to fire. They are extremely effective when applied to steel frames, as they form a protective thermal insulation layer or char caused by the expansion from the fire’s heat.

There are two benefits to this: the first one is that the steel members remains at a temperature below that which could cause failure by collapse and allow the safe evacuation of the building. The second one is that intumescent coatings can be decorative and therefore act as an aesthetic product providing colour and appearance as well as a life safety system.

Intumescent coatings are popular, and the extent of their popularity can be estimated by the size of the European intumescent coatings market. It is almost €150million (nearly £131.7 million). Furthermore, a total of 25 million litres of cellulosic coatings of this kind are sold every year in the UK.

Non-Reactive Fire Protection coatings

As the title suggests, these types of coatings do not react or expand when exposed to the effects of a fire. They’re usually lightweight and are an alternative to the reactive coatings. Examples of these types of coatings are fire resistant boards and cementitious or gypsum sprays. Let's look further at non-reactive sprays used for protecting against fire.

Fire protection sprays as an example of non-reactive fire protective coating

These types of systems are made of materials that have a high melting point such as vermiculite and gypsum. These coatings are typically light weighted and durable to allow a thin application of protective coating (typically 10-20mm) without adding excessive additional mass to the load bearing concrete or steel design.

Certain spray applications can be applied with different thickness to allow resistance to fire for longer periods. This type of application is often only carried out by licenced applicator but is extremely quick and economic. Sprays systems can also provide additional acoustic and thermal benefits offering the building designer advantages of not just passive fire protection...

Non-reactive coatings provide not just cellulosic fire protection but also against the effects of hydrocarbon and jet fires likely to be found in environments such as road and railway tunnels.  Coupled to this is their ability to withstand the effects of prolonged and excessive moisture including marine conditions.

The biggest advantage of sprays is that there is no need to have anything extra to provide fire protection like boards. Some of these sprays need to be kept away from moisture when first applied to the surfaces, however. This is to allow the spray’s contents to cure to provide lasting fire protection.

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