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Rated Fire Wall Signs: Frequently Asked Questions and Regulations

Q. What is a fire wall?


Fire walls in buildings are essentially structural tools to prevent further spread of fire. As detailed in Chapter 7 of the International Building Code, a fire wall is a fire-resistance-rated wall with protected openings. It restricts the spread of fire and extends continuously from the foundation to or through the roof. This wall’s structural stability is sufficient to withstand the collapse of construction on either side without the wall collapsing under fire conditions. 

Q. Is a fire wall different from a fire barrier?

Yes. A fire barrier is a fire-resistance-rated wall assembly of materials designed to restrict the spread of fire in which continuity is maintained. A fire wall is more restrictive than a fire barrier and has better structural integrity. A fire wall divides a structure into separate buildings to create smaller buildings within a larger one so that the IBC can be applied to each “area” or smaller building individually. On the other hand, fire barriers are used for several purposes, such as to separate mixed occupancy spaces, exits, incidental uses, shafts, hazardous material control areas, and fire areas.

Q. What do the different hour ratings for fire walls mean?


Fire-resistant walls are meant to contain a fire to a room or building for a certain time period to allow sufficient time to discover a fire, control it, and evacuate the building if necessary. The wall's rating indicates how long it can keep a fire from spreading. This rating is determined either by using procedures developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials that simulate actual fire conditions or by employing the tables developed by the IBC.

A fire-resistance rating is the number of minutes or hours a structure can withstand a fire simulation test. A one-hour rating indicates that a wall constructed like the one tested will contain flames and high temperatures and support its full load for at least one hour after the fire begins. Similarly, a two-hour rated wall will contain the fire for two hours and a three-hour rated wall for three hours. 

Q. What is the difference between a smoke barrier and a smoke compartment?

A smoke barrier is a continuous vertical or horizontal membrane designed and constructed to resist the movement of smoke. This could be a wall, floor, or ceiling assembly. When smoke barriers create an enclosed space within a building such that the space is covered on all sides, including the top and bottom, that space is termed a smoke compartment.

Q. What are the IBC requirements for fire wall rating signs?


The requirements for fire wall rating signs are mentioned in Section 703.7 of the IBC. This section states the following requirements specific to marking and identification:

“Where there is an accessible concealed floor, floor-ceiling or attic space, fire walls, fire barriers, fire partitions, smoke barriers, and smoke partitions, or any other wall required to have protected openings or penetrations shall be effectively and permanently identified with signs or stenciling in the concealed space. Such identification shall:

  1. 1. Be located within 15 feet (4572 mm) of the end of each wall and at intervals not exceeding 30 feet (9144 mm) measure horizontally along the wall or partition.
  2. 2. Include lettering not less than 3 inches (76 mm) in height with a minimum 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) stroke in a contrasting color incorporating the suggested wording, “FIRE AND/OR SMOKE BARRIER–PROTECT ALL OPENINGS,” or other wording.”
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