Proper joint installation means ensuring fire-ratings are maintained.

As consumers, we all have seen the safety warning labels on products we use daily. The labels spell out the proper way to use the product, and more importantly just what one might expect if the warning is not heeded and the product is used improperly. We are expected to do the right thing.

When we hire a contractor to do work at our house, the prudent thing to do is not pay the invoice until after the work is inspected and we are satisfied with the products supplied and services rendered.

In construction, product manufacturers and suppliers expect the same thing with the installation of their products. They expect the installation procedures to be followed, so that the product provides the service life to the building owner and general public that use the facility. In fact, manufacturers state clearly in their warranty that if the installation procedures are not followed, the warranty most likely is voided.

Life-Safety Plan

There are those construction products that are part of the Life-Safety plan for each structure. Such a product is the mechanical fire barrier product, which is installed as part of a system denoted as fire-rated expansion joints. The fire-resistance rating for the product (e.g., 1-hour, 2-hour, etc.) must mirror that of the surrounding materials at the exact building location.

The rating is quantified as that measure of time the product can withstand the fire test regimen including the ASTM E119 building elements time/temperature curve. In human terms, it is that measure of time people would have to pass through a given point in a structure in case of a fire. For example, a 2-hour rated corridor is one where folks would have two hours to clear the area.

The rating for the mechanical fire barrier product is established through fire-resistance testing in a certified laboratory, such as Intertek, UL and several others. It is important to note that each test involves not only the barrier product itself but also the surrounding substrate materials that support the product and a metal joint cover if applicable. So the test “system” is not just the fire barrier product.

System Testing

Once the system sample is tested in the furnace and passes the crucial heat exposure burn test, the system is given a Listing designation. The Listing includes a unique Listing Number, component description and diagram showing the exact system-that is, the mechanical barrier, joint cover and substrate material such as concrete for floor applications.

In order to achieve the inspection approval satisfactory to the local fire marshall and building inspector, the assembled in-place expansion joint system must match the diagram shown in the Listing Manual. For instance, a conforming installation for a floor joint must incorporate the concrete type and thickness, the mechanical barrier must be the very one tested and certified, and the exact metal cover must be provided. No deviations are permitted. Or technically, the owner and facility do not have a listed/rated system.

In this scenario, the listing agency is tantamount to an insurance company. If the manufacturer supplies the proper mechanical barrier and joint cover, and the installer installs it properly-to the example picture in the listing-and in the proper substrate without deviation, then the listing agency is “on the hook” in the event of a problem where the rating duration was not achieved in the event of a fire in the facility location.

Manufacturer's Responsibility

So what happens in the event the manufacturer does not supply the correct barrier and cover shown in the Listing or the installer does not install it properly in the proper substrate? Who has liability? As is the case where we as policyholders deviate from coverage language in any of our personal insurance policies, the insurance company is off the hook, and the liability falls back to the individual. The same applies here with the construction case scenario. The listing agency is absolved, and the manufacturer or installer or both assume the liability.

InPro’s AIA CES registered program entitled “The EJ Equation” calls for a post-installation inspection program where a randomly chosen 10 percent of the expansion joints installed would have the covers pulled up and the work inspected for proper mechanical fire barrier installation prior to the general contractor paying the installer for the work. Further, it proposes that architects add this language to project specification verbiage. The inspection provision serves to reinforce and verify that the manufacturer and installer have “done the right thing.”

It’s time everyone involved in expansion joint specification, manufacturing and installation does the right thing by following three critically important best practices:
  • The substrates at the joint locations must be poured or erected correctly.

  • The mechanical fire barriers get attached in the exact method shown in the Listing.

  • The completed installation at the building location matches the picture diagrammed in the Listing.
Certainly your company’s reputation depends on it. But most importantly, your life and that of others depend on it. Poor fire-rated joint work is not simply a matter of voiding a warranty … it’s dangerous.