In the pursuit of greener buildings, wood appears an ideal construction material; it is light, easy to work with and highly versatile. It is also a renewable resource and offers excellent insulation properties – all of which are valuable properties in the pursuit of a greener, lower energy economy.
However, wood is still perceived by many as a potentially flammable material, making it unsuitable for widespread construction applications.
Fortunately, treatment with modern flame retardants makes the safety of wood as a building material a reality, ensuring it is compliant with stringent modern fire safety regulations. This has seen a resurgence of timber use in house building, for construction, panelling and flooring.
A whole range of factors, including socio-economic developments, technological innovation, new style and design requirements and a growing emphasis on environmental concerns, have contributed to an ongoing evolution int the way our buildings are constructed.
Protecting structural integrity
Another structural role for flame-retardant plastics is in protecting steelwork. In the event of intense fires, structural steel can lose its integrity and even collapse if it surpasses a critical temperature.
To prevent this, the steel can be coated with a special plastic coating which, when exposed to flame, expands to become a non-flammable foam. This helps insulate the metal and reduce the risk of collapse of steel-framed buildings.
The environmental agenda is influencing the way we build as it is the desire to make houses and offices more efficient. In order to reduce energy consumption, a key step is to reduce heat loss from the building. The advent of new materials is what is making this revolution possible. The current state-of-the-art insulating materials include expanded and extruded polystyrene foams, rigid polyurethane foams, glass or rock wool and natural and synthetic cellulose fibres.
Insulation materials find other applications in modern buildings, such as for soundproofing. As we look to increase housing density and to encourage urban living, such measures are essential, to help reduce the noise from neighbours and local businesses. Expanded and extruded polystyrene foam board– usually in the form of large sheets – can be inserted into internal walls and in basements, providing insulation. These boards are routinely treated with flame retardants before final installation.
Flame retardant materials are also essential for other roles in buildings. For example, modern houses have a far higher concentration of electrical and communication cables running through the walls. Frequently, these are bunched together and often running vertically – a known vector for fire transmission. Therefore, in modern buildings, all cables are routinely treated with plastic insulation coated with flame retardants. This helps minimise the risk of any unwanted spark or flame using the cables as a conduit to spread fire. The surrounding insulating materials should further reduce any risk.