Do Ceiling Tiles Need to Be Fire Rated?

Published Categorized as Building Design
Fire-Rated Ceiling Tiles

Knowing the fire rating requirements of ceiling tiles in both commercial and residential settings is essential before you begin to build. Not only will this keep your building safe, but it can also be a determining factor in your ability to obtain insurance.

Ceiling tiles used in a commercial setting need to be fire-rated while tiles used in a residential setting are not required to be fire rated. When looking at fire ratings, there are two different levels to be aware of: flame spreading rate and fire barrier rating.

The fire rating of ceiling tiles is especially important when it comes to commercial properties. In this article, you will learn about the fire rating of ceiling tiles, as well as how it impacts your ability to obtain insurance.

Fire Ratings of Ceiling Tiles

When looking at ceiling tiles for a commercial property, you’ll notice varying fire rating levels. The rating is looked at by both the inspector and the local fire marshal as they determine the safety of the building.

There are two different levels of fire rating to be aware of: flame spreading rate and fire barrier rating.

  • Flame spreading rate: Ceiling tiles are rated on the flame spreading rate. You may also hear this rating referred to as the Surface Burning Characteristics Rating. Essentially, this rating determines how the tiles will react to a fire. When a tile passes the test, it will be rated as a Class 1 or Class A, which means the tile is safe in a fire, and there is virtually no chance of fire spreading through the tiles.
  • Fire barrier rating: This fire rating is a bit different than the spreading rate. This rating determines how well the tile will withstand a fire. When a tile is receiving this rating, both the ceiling tile and the type of ceiling it is installed on are considered. This is commonly seen in buildings that have a drop ceiling.

(Source: Ceilume)

Do All Buildings Need Fire Rated Tiles?

Building or remodeling homes and commercial properties can be a significant undertaking when it comes to all the building codes and laws that must be followed. Most people want their living and working space to be as protected as possible.

Because of this, you may begin to question the need for fire-rated building materials. It may be surprising that not all buildings will require fire-rated tiles or building materials.

Apartments, Businesses, and High Rises

If you are working with a commercial property, you will need to follow rather strict fire safety guidelines, including the use of fire-rated building materials. This also comes into play when you are working with a building that has separated or divided floors that fire could spread to.

If you have just purchased a penthouse apartment and plan to begin a remodeling project, you will need to make sure all your building materials are up to the proper fire code because your apartment is not a freestanding entity.

There is a risk that if a fire breaks out in your apartment, it could spread to other separate living areas. The same thing is true when you look at a business or commercial property. If there is a risk of fire spreading to other locations, fire-rated tiles are necessary.

Single Family Homes

Fire-rated materials are not required for homes in order to meet specific building codes. This is because a single-family dwelling does not pose the risk of spreading to the living or working area of another individual. (Source: Certainteed)

Why Focus on the Fire Rating?

You may be wondering why fire rated ceiling tiles are so important, aside from the obvious fire prevention. Many communities have an ISO rating. This rating is provided by a company called the Insurance Services Office (ISO). They travel around the United States to help offer ratings to local fire departments as well as the communities they serve.

When a fire company is ISO rated, they have an opportunity to help the local businesses obtain lower prices on their insurance. The premise of an ISO rating is to determine how quickly a fire department would be able to react to and put out a fire. The goal is to have a low ISO score. Residential homes do not have an ISO rating.

Having a low ISO score indicates the risk of buildings being destroyed by a fire event is relatively low, which in turn makes it easier to insure the properties for a much lower cost than average. Because of this, all commercial buildings must use fire code approved tiles and other building materials. (Source: Value Penguin)

Who Determines if a Fire Rating is Met?

During the process of remodeling or building a business or commercial property, you will have to be in close contact with both inspectors and the fire marshal. While this may seem a bit time consuming and daunting, you must communicate with them to meet the necessary fire rating requirements.

When building, you will be taken through a series of steps to ensure you are maintaining a fire-safe building.

  • Step 1: Pre-building meeting: During this time, you will meet with the contractor as well as the inspector or fire marshal to run the plans of the build by them. They will determine which areas need to have fire-safe materials and to what degree they need to be used.
  • Step 2: Purchase the materials: This is the time that your contractor will search out the materials that will place your building into the fire code rating necessary. This will likely include purchasing fire-rated ceiling tiles.
  • Step 3: Testing the products: The fire marshal will likely ask for a sample of the building materials so they can run them through their test to determine the usability and fire rating.
  • Step 4: Complete the build: The contractor will work through the building process. When dealing with the ceiling, a midpoint inspection will need to occur with either just the inspector, the fire marshal, or both.
  • Step 5: Complete the build: This is when the contractor will put the finishing touches on the project, deeming the building ready to use.
  • Step 6: Final inspection: After the build is completed, you will need to have a final inspection done by both the building inspector and fire marshal. At this point, they will determine if the building is up to code with the ceiling tiles.

This may seem a bit overwhelming, but the inclusion of inspectors as well as knowledgeable contractors will ensure that you have appropriately rated ceiling tiles for the project. (Source: Fire Stop)

Where Do You Purchase Fire-Rated Tiles?

Fire-rated tiles are quite easy to find because they are commonplace in commercial building projects. The good news is that there are many options when it comes to fire-rated tiles. You can find plain tiles or more decorative options if you choose. Some of the more common places to look are Lowes and Home Depot, but there are many independent ceiling tile companies as well.

Final Thoughts

Fire-rated ceiling tiles are not necessary for single-family, residential homes, but they are required for commercial spaces or high rises. The purpose of the ceiling tiles is to protect not only your space but also the space of others if a fire should break out. Spend time working with a contractor and fire marshal to ensure you are purchasing and using the proper materials for your build.

By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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