Ceiling Tile Fire Ratings
These days, there are a lot of entrepreneurs looking to start their own retail stores, shops and restaurants. In an effort to save money, many renovate and design the interior of these stores themselves. This can be a great way to really make a place look just the way you want without going into massive debt. However, when it comes to ceilings, many of these do-it-yourselfers overlook the very important fire ratings, which can come back to haunt you in a major way.
I think this problem originates when people assume that a ceiling tile is a ceiling tile is a ceiling tile, and one can simply be replaced with another when the time comes. Attention is normally paid only to attributes like noise reduction, light reflectance, aesthetic appeal and cost. While these are all important characteristics, poor performance in any of them won't force you to completely replace your ceiling tiles. Choosing a tile without the correct fire ratings will!
There are two main fire ratings involved with ceiling tiles. The first is based on Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Test No. 723, and is called the Surface Burning Characteristics Rating, or Flame Spread Rating. This rating determines how a building material is going to react in a fire. A good rating (Class A or Class 1) in this test means the material is almost entirely non-flammable (doesn't burn easily). A bad rating means the material is highly flammable, and should not be used as an interior finish or building component. Most, if not all, counties in the US require a Class A rating for any interior finish or building component.
The second fire rating is called the Fire Barrier Rating. This rating utilizes American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Test E-119, and identifies the length of time an entire ceiling assembly will resist and prevent the spread of a fire. While a ceiling tile alone cannot truly be rated with its own Fire Barrier Rating, it is usually classified with the rating that it CAN achieve when used in a ceiling assembly that collectively has that same rating. For example, if a ceiling tile is given a Fire Barrier Rating of 2 hours, it is meant for use in a full ceiling assembly that also has a 2 hour Fire Barrier Rating.
What You Need to Know to Begin
So, when you are replacing ceiling tiles what is required? First of all, you should ALWAYS consult your local fire marshal or inspector regarding your plans. Actual fire ratings requirements not only differ from city to city, they can also vary from building to building, so don't just move forward based on word of mouth from friends and colleagues.
Here are a few things to keep in mind based on our customers' previous experiences with fire marshals:
- Most commercial installations require a fire barrier ceiling of some kind. Sometimes, this is the true ceiling, which is found BEHIND the drop ceiling. Other times, the drop ceiling is considered part of this fire barrier ceiling, and MUST have fire barrier rated ceiling tiles.
- Ceiling tiles that are rated Class A for flame spread but do NOT have a fire barrier rating are treated as an interior finish like a paint. They do absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of a fire, nor do they cause the fire to spread any faster. If your building already fully meets fire codes, you can almost always add a Class A ceiling tile for looks, so long as it does not interfere with the operations of any other assembly or fire sprinkler system.
- Fire sprinklers must usually be installed within 1.5' of a fire barrier. This is so that the heat of a fire can collect in close proximity to the sprinkler heads, ensuring that they activate early enough to successfully control a fire. If you have sprinkler heads that are dropped through a drop ceiling, the ceiling tiles almost always need to have some kind of fire barrier rating.
- Ceiling tiles like Ceilume's Feather-Light Series are designed to drop away from the ceiling grid in the event of a fire, to allow hidden sprinkler heads ABOVE the grid to activate and put the fire out. This allows you to hide unsightly sprinkler heads until they are necessary. These tiles should have a Class A fire rating and NO fire barrier rating. The sprinklers above the drop ceiling must still meet the same codes that any other sprinklered situation requires.
- No matter what ratings are required to meet fire codes, and no matter what the fire codes are in your area, EVERY installation is subject to review by your local fire marshal. The fire marshal has been given the power to approve or deny any choice in ceiling tiles or combination of tile and grid. These folks have safety in mind, and are constantly looking out for the best interest of the people. If something appears as though it will not be safe, no certification, rating or approval can force a fire marshal to approve your project.
Ceilume's Fire Ratings and Approvals
All of Ceilume's ceiling tiles and panels are Class A Fire Rated for surface burning characteristics, flame spread and smoke developement.
- ASTM E84-06: Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials
- California State Fire Marshal LISTING No. 2200-1622:100 (PDF)
In addition, the Feather-Light Series of Ceiling Tiles are listed and approved for use beneath fire suppression systems.