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Fireproofing steel assets

In the event of fire outbreak, fireproofing the steel in your facility can mean the difference between the facility sustaining damage and a complete and total collapse. Passive fire protection can act as an important complement to the active fire protection systems in oil and gas facilities, petrochemical plants, refineries, power generation facilities and more. Whether it’s a part of a push to make your facility safer or it’s been mandated by an insurance company or auditor, fireproofing your structural steel just makes sense.

Refinery fires can reach temperatures upwards of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but structural steel begins to lose strength at only around 570 degrees. By 750 degrees, significant degradation is likely to have occurred. Around 1100 degrees is usually considered the failing point for structural steel, though this point can vary significantly based on the load the steel is bearing and the grade of steel in question. Expansion during heating and contraction during cooling in the areas surrounding bolts and joints can also significantly affect the integrity of structural steel, in the form of bolt shearing and weld cracking, following a fire event.

Insulating structural steel from these extreme temperatures is the purpose of industrial fireproofing. By extending the time it takes the steel substrate to reach the temperatures where failures occur, coatings can buy valuable time for firefighters and other active fire protection systems to subdue the blaze before a collapse.

A brief history of fireproofing steel

Different techniques for fireproofing steel have come and gone. Dense concrete was the method of choice for most processing facilities built prior to World War II. Heavy concrete was applied to structural steel (which had to be over-specified to accommodate the additional weight) because concrete was known to be inexpensive and to withstand extremely high temperatures well.

Eventually, lightweight cementitious coatings were developed to address the problem of weight. These fireproofing materials are also inexpensive, but they also share many issues with the original dense concrete method. Cement-based coatings have a tendency to crack during cooling. So when cementitious coatings are exposed to a fire event, they tend to lose significant strength and stability in the aftermath. These fireproofing methods are also extremely labor intensive. After a certain point, cost savings from inexpensive materials were canceled out by rising labor costs, so other options had to be developed.

Intumescent coatings are now the preferred method for fireproofing steel. Known as reactive fireproofing coatings, these work by foaming up, or intumescing, when exposed to extreme heat. This expansion forms a high-volume, low-density barrier against the transfer of heat to the substrate. The result is a drastic increase in the amount of time it takes for the fire to compromise the integrity of the structural steel.

How to get it done

Fireproofing projects sometimes begin unexpectedly. They often start with an insurance company or an auditor announcing that fireproofing measures must be taken or rates will rise. No direction. No assistance. Without access to a resource with experience fireproofing structural steel, it can be tough to know how to get a job off the ground.

A successful project starts with the right specification document. But if you don’t know where to turn to begin drawing up this document, getting the right project specs can be easier said than done. When it comes to getting specifications started for fireproofing steel assets, facility owners tend to turn to one of three sources: an engineering firm, a contractor or to the manufacturer themselves.

But fireproofing projects require specialized knowledge and skill. The right specification resource for a general coating job may not be the right specification resource for fireproofing structural steel. If an engineering firm doesn’t have a fireproofing expert in-house, or a contractor has no experience working with fireproofing products, these sources will likely turn around after being contacted and begin looking for their own resource. It’s important that those advising your project have experience with intumescent paint specifications, not only general paint specifications.

To get your project started right away, contact us about a steel fireproofing consultation.

Our approach

US Coatings is a proud supplier of Albi Manufacturing products. Albi Manufacturing has been a leading manufacturer of fireproofing products for more than 60 years, developing some of the first and highest performing intumescent coatings for structural steel on the market.

Albi Clad 800 in particular is a single-component product ideally suited for the fireproofing of structural steel. Since an additional topcoat doesn’t need to be maintained, both labor and material maintenance costs are reduced. It has been UL classified for protection of both interior and exterior steel substrates for up to three hours. It also meets the UL 1709 Standards for Rapid Rise Fire Tests of Protection Materials for Structural Steel, which is the gold standard of fireproofing protection for insurance providers.

What you get with Albi Clad 800:

  • A coating that conforms to nearly any substrate
  • An asbestos-free product
  • A coating that can stand up to long-term ultraviolet exposure, impact and vibration-related stressors
  • A coating with no on-site mixing required
  • A product that’s certified for use on both interiors and exteriors
  • A product that’s up to building code and insurance carrier specifications, UL rated for between 1 and three hours of fire protection

Our fireproofing services extend beyond simply the products we supply. From getting a fireproofing spec off the ground to consulting with applicators on the behavior of fireproofing products, US Coatings is a start-to-finish resource for your fireproofing projects.

For more information, download our full guide to getting a fireproofing job done right. Then, get in touch with us to discuss how you can get started making the structural steel in your facility safer from fire damage.