Atriums are often designed to make a lasting impression that sets the tone for the look and feel of the rest of a building. These large open spaces often stretch at least three stories high and have a skylight or glazed roof, making a bold, beautifully designed statement that provides an open-air environment with natural cascading light.
But as breathtaking as atriums can be, they can also pose several concerns when it comes to fire and smoke protection. Atriums have the potential to provide horizontal and vertical pathways for smoke and fire to spread rapidly.
Here are a few factors to consider when designing smoke and fire protection for these unique, multi-level areas.
1. Always Plan for Fire Protection In Atriums
Atrium smoke and fire protection calls for a lot of preparation in the design phase. Unlike other floors of the building, an atrium can serve many different functions throughout the day.
For example, while atriums can sometimes be moderately crowded with normal everyday traffic, they can also be used as reception areas, exhibition halls and showrooms, adding more fire and safety hazards.
According to Fire Engineering®, here are some questions to consider when pre-planning for your atrium design:
What fire protection systems are included in the building, and who will maintain the equipment?
What communications system will be used?
How many street entrances lead into the base of the atrium? Can fire apparatus access these streets?
How many hose lengths are required to stretch from the engine to reach areas in lieu of using standpipe outlets?
How high can apparatus ladders reach on all four sides of the building? Exterior ladder rescue/vent/entry/search (RVES), as well as possible ladder pipe deployment, will be essential for emergency response teams.
2. Fire Safety Features Your AHJ Will Consider
The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) works at state and local levels to approve the smoke and fire safety measures included in a building. Knowing what the AHJ is likely to include in their approval process will help your building gain approval and ensure it’s following the latest safety guidelines.
The Fire Engineering site provides a list of fire safety features AHJs will likely want to see in order for your building to meet fire code protection requirements:
Fire barriers (one-hour fire rating) separating the atrium from the rest of the building.
Non-fire-rated barriers if sprinkler heads are on both sides of barriers.
Sprinkler system required for the entire building.
Restricted use of combustible materials at the atrium base floor.
An active or passive (built-in) smoke control system designed to keep the ceiling smoke layer at least six feet above the highest level means of egress walking surface for at least 20 minutes.
Mechanical exhaust equipment that the fire service will be able to operate.
Maximum travel distance of 200 feet from within the atrium to the exit.
Active smoke control systems (sprinkler head/water spray nozzles and supply/exhaust fans) activated by smoke/heat detection or sprinkler water flow.
Active smoke control systems must also allow manual operation.
Standby power must be provided for active smoke control systems.
Walls and ceilings within the atrium must have a Class A or Class B interior finish rating.
3. Install Smoke Detectors and Fire Alarms
It goes without saying that states now require smoke detectors to help provide early smoke warnings, giving building occupants more time to evacuate the building. A lot of smoke detectors also have carbon monoxide detection to provide warnings against hazardous gas.
There needs to be at least one smoke detector on every floor, in every office, in hallways and larger spaces like atriums may need a few to cover the space. It’s also important to remember that beeping smoke detectors are not enough to warn occupants of danger. Hearing-impaired individuals need smoke alarms that flash to give them a clear sign to exit the building.
4. Sufficient Fire Exits and Evacuation Plans
It is vital to have several plans in place to help building occupants evacuate the premises quickly and safely. This means having clearly marked exits and egress routes. It’s also important to note that occupants in an atrium may be visitors and not familiar with the building, so making exit routes clear and obvious is even more essential.
A complete evacuation system will typically include voice speakers, light panels and other signaling devices to help people find egress routes. However, it's also highly recommended to complement the evacuation system with smoke protection. Smoke and fire curtains can be used to help clear egress paths and create more time for occupants to leave the building safely.
5. Install Fire and Smoke Curtains
Smoke and fire curtains are some of the most effective means of smoke control within an atrium. A smoke draft curtain will deploy and control smoke by compartmentalizing a building’s spaces. This allows smoke to be channeled in a specific direction, avoiding the spread from floor to floor. Because of this process, clear egress routes are created and building occupants have more time to safely evacuate.
Not only are smoke and fire curtains extremely effective, but they are also virtually invisible since they only deploy when they are in use. Compared to other smoke control tactics involving invasive remodels, smoke curtains can usually be installed in any building regardless of age.
When Are Smoke Curtains Required?
Smoke curtains should be used as a part of standard smoke control systems in most buildings. They may be required to be used in stairwells, particularly those that act as an evacuation or exit path. Here are some ideal smoke draft curtains for atriums.
Perimeter Smoke Curtains
Perimeter smoke curtains are expansive in size and deploy vertically, causing a barrier that smoke cannot pass through. These perimeter curtains may be placed on building floors where there is access to the atrium, including the ground floor.
An excellent example of a working perimeter smoke control system is the Smoke Guard M4000 Perimeter curtain in the Facebook office in California. The M4000 Perimeter was selected for this purpose as it deploys vertically and is capable of covering a large perimeter without requiring any corner posts for installation.
The atrium of the Facebook office, as well as the general open floor plan, is complicated and can make smoke control complicated without an effective smoke control curtain system.
Horizontal Smoke Curtains
Horizontally deploying smoke curtains may also be placed strategically between floors in an atrium to better compartmentalize smoke in one part of the building. This is highly recommended for multi-storied buildings but still offers huge benefits for buildings that may only have 3 or 4 floors.
Find the Right Smoke Curtain for Your Atrium Design
Check out SG Specialties’ full line of fire and smoke curtains. Curious about what this means for your space? Feel free to contact us to learn more about selecting the right fire and smoke protection systems for your building’s atrium.