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The Best Non-Combustible Materials for Buildings

14.02.2024

In the wake of increased awareness about fire safety in building construction, the choice of materials has become paramount. Non-combustible materials are essential in ensuring the safety, longevity, and sustainability of buildings. These materials are designed to withstand high temperatures and resist ignition, making them ideal for preventing the spread of fire. This blog explores some of the top non-combustible materials suitable for buildings, highlighting their benefits and applications.

How is fire resistance measured?

In Europe, the classification system used to describe the fire performance of building materials is known as the Euroclass system. This system provides a clear, standardised way to assess and compare the fire properties of materials.

Understanding Euroclass Ratings

The Euroclass system classifies materials based on their reaction to fire, from A1 (non-combustible) to F (easily flammable), with A1 being the most fire-resistant and F being the least. This classification is determined through various tests measuring aspects such as ignitability, flame spread, heat release, smoke production, and flaming droplets or particles.

Main Categories
  • A1 and A2: Materials in these categories are non-combustible or have very limited combustibility. A1 materials do not contribute to fire at all, while A2 materials have a very limited contribution. Examples include stone, glass, and some types of plasterboard.
  • B to E: These categories cover materials that offer varying degrees of fire performance, with B being very limited in their contribution to fire and E being more susceptible to fire. Materials in these classes are assessed for their flame spread and heat contribution.
  • F: This category is for materials that have not been tested or have failed to meet the criteria of the other categories, making them the least desirable in terms of fire safety.
Additional Classifications

Beyond the basic Euroclass rating, materials may also be assessed for smoke production (s1, s2, s3) and flaming droplets/particles (d0, d1, d2), providing further detail on their behaviour in a fire. These sub-classifications offer additional insight, helping to choose materials that not only resist ignition but also minimise hazards such as smoke and burning droplets. This can be critical in the event of a fire.

Euroclass fire resistance

Source: Tristone

Types of non-combustible materials

Stone

Stone has been a cornerstone in construction, revered not only for beauty and natural durability but also for its exceptional fire-resistant properties. Among the various stones, granite stands out for its hardness and resistance to heat. Limestone and slate also offer excellent fire resistance. Slate is particularly valued for roofing thanks to its ability to withstand high temperatures and prevent fire spread. The use of stone in construction is a testament to its enduring strength and safety, providing buildings with a facade that is as protective as it is aesthetically pleasing.

Mineral Wool Insulation

Mineral wool insulation, encompassing both rock and slag wool, offers benefits that extend far beyond its thermal insulation capabilities. Derived from natural stone and industrial slag, this material is engineered through a process of spinning molten rock or slag into fine fibres, creating insulation that is not only highly effective in temperature control but also inherently fire-resistant. Mineral wool’s ability to withstand temperatures exceeding 1000°C without melting or releasing toxic smoke makes it an invaluable component in safeguarding buildings against fire.

The dual nature of mineral wool provides a unique advantage in construction. It can be applied in a myriad of settings offering enhanced fire protection alongside excellent acoustic insulation. Its non-combustible properties ensure that it does not contribute to the spread of flames, effectively acting as a fire barrier within walls, ceilings, and floors.

Moreover, mineral wool insulation’s resilience to moisture and its ability to repel water without absorbing it preserve its insulating properties over time, further contributing to the longevity and durability of the structures it protects. Its ease of installation and versatility in application, capable of fitting into irregular spaces and around obstacles, make it a preferred choice for architects and builders aiming to meet stringent fire safety standards without compromising on energy efficiency or environmental sustainability.

Brick

The brick has evolved into a modern building material through the process of firing, which imbues it with outstanding fire-resistant qualities. The thermal properties of brick make it an exceptional material for exterior walls, as it can withstand extremely high temperatures without losing its shape or integrity. This resilience is complemented by the brick’s ability to contribute to energy efficiency; its thermal mass helps stabilise indoor environments, reducing the need for heating and cooling. The timeless appeal of brick, coupled with its safety features, ensures its continued popularity in both traditional and contemporary architecture.

Concrete

Concrete’s reputation as a stalwart in fire resistance is well-earned. Its composition—a blend of aggregate and cement—creates a material that is virtually impervious to flame and does not contribute to smoke or toxic emissions. It also maintains structural integrity even under extreme heat. The innovation of precast and reinforced concrete has further bolstered its use in critical structural applications. This includes firewalls and protective barriers. The adaptability of concrete, capable of being moulded into various shapes and forms, underscores its role as a fundamental material in safe and resilient construction.

Glass

Advancements in technology have transformed glass from a fragile barrier to a robust protector against fire. Fire-resistant or fire-rated glass is engineered to withstand intense heat, contain flames, and block smoke. This affords a crucial time for evacuation during a fire. This specialised glass can maintain its integrity under extreme conditions. Its use enhances the safety of buildings and their aesthetic appeal, allowing for design flexibility without compromising on protection.

Gypsum

Gypsum board, or plasterboard, incorporates water within its crystalline structure, a unique feature that endows it with fire-resistant capabilities. Upon exposure to heat, this water is released as vapour, effectively delaying the spread of fire. This property makes gypsum board an indispensable material in constructing interior walls, ceilings, and partitions, especially in areas requiring fire-rated assemblies. Its ease of installation and finishing further cements its status as a preferred choice for building interiors.

Metal

Metals such as steel, aluminium, and copper are valued in construction for their structural qualities and inherent fire resistance. Steel, in particular, is indispensable in modern construction for its versatility and strength. When coated with fire-retardant materials, steel’s resistance to high temperatures is significantly enhanced. The non-combustible nature of these metals contributes to a building’s overall fire safety, offering a combination of durability and protection.

Fibre Cement

Fibre cement represents a modern innovation in fire-resistant materials, combining the strength of cement with the flexibility of cellulose fibres. This composite material is celebrated for its fire resistance, as well as its resistance to rot, termites, and moisture. Its versatility makes it suitable for a wide range of applications, including siding, roofing, and flooring. Its ability to mimic the appearance of wood or stone adds to its appeal. Fibre cement’s durability and safety features make it an excellent choice for buildings in fire-prone areas.

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