BIM and fire protection engineering


BIM and passive protection 

BIM technology is most often associated with active fire protection and life safety systems like fire alarm, fire suppression, and smoke control, as mentioned above. However, BIM technology is gaining increasing ground in passive fire protection features like doors, walls, dampers, and penetration sealants. 

Figure 3: Companies like INVIEW Labs are further developing programs to manage and organize BIM models. This screenshot of “Unifi” assists users in managing BIM information into a customizable desktop environment. Courtesy: INVIEW Labs

Fire-resistance rated walls are a common issue throughout a building’s lifetime. If the type of fire-resistance rated walls is not identified properly on drawings, there is often confusion about ratings for doors, penetrations, and other opening protective. The International Building Code (IBC) has begun to require that these walls be marked in the field to address this issue. The IBC also has different classifications for fire-resistance rated walls depending on the level of protection. For example, a 1-hour exit passageway requires a 60-minute door, whereas a 1-hour corridor wall requires a 20-minute door. The exit passageway strictly limits penetrations by ducts or pipes, but the corridor walls have fewer restrictions. On drawings and 2-D plans, these 1-hour walls are often indistinguishable, except to trained professionals. An exit passageway on a 2-D drawing is often confused for a corridor, having significant impacts in the field.

BIM models allow these walls to be differentiated within the model and can be set up to limit and/or restrict penetrations and openings. Each wall can be defined by the appropriate fire-resistance rating and also establish what types of doors, opening protection, and penetration firestop systems are permitted. Using software routines similar to clash detection software, designers can establish if piping or ductwork has penetrated a wall, such as an exit enclosure, that would be prohibited by the IBC. Alternatively, if penetrations by duct or pipe are permitted, the wall definitions establish what type of damper (fire, smoke, or combination fire/smoke damper) and what the F- and T-ratings for the piping penetrations require, if any. In the larger scheme, it could even reference listed opening protection for the given penetration. 

Again, during commissioning of the building, designers or commissioning agents can use tablets or hand-held devices that access the cloud-based model as they walk the building. If there are questions concerning penetrations observed on-site, the user can select the specific wall and determine what type of wall it is, what the fire-resistance rating is, and how to properly protect penetrations and openings. 

As the building ages, engineers and maintenance personnel can continually monitor passive fire protection elements to confirm that openings and penetrations of walls, floors, and ceilings are compliant with the original design. If modifications or improvements are made to the building, future designers and engineers understand how the wall was classified and why it was protected, and can then identify how to design future elements with or around the wall. 

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