Active Vs. Passive Smoke Management

Protecting your property from smoke damage is easier than ever before with today’s technology. Currently, there are two common methods of smoke management — active and passive — which mitigate the spread and damage of smoke, protect your building and save lives. Let’s explore the difference between active and passive smoke management and how to implement both systems in your building.

The landing of a black stairwell between the first and second floor with a white sign reading “Press to Operate Fire Curtain.”

Protecting your property from smoke damage is easier than ever before with today’s technology. Currently, there are two common methods of smoke management — active and passive — which mitigate the spread and damage of smoke, protect your building and save lives.

Let’s explore the difference between active and passive smoke management and how to implement both systems in your building.

What Is The Purpose of Smoke Management?

There’s no smoke without fire as the old saying goes, and any smoke management system — whether passive or active — is designed to go into effect after a fire has begun. As frightening as a fire may be, the real danger comes not from the flames but from the smoke. In addition to reducing visibility, smoke can suffocate and make building evacuation difficult if not impossible.

The point of smoke management systems is to clear the air of as much smoke as possible for as long as possible, or at the very least, contain that smoke in a controlled area to allow as many inhabitants as possible to safely egress.

Smoke management systems also make the jobs of firefighters much easier and safer. A building with a smoke management system won’t have nearly the same visibility issues as a building without a smoke management system.

In addition to saving lives, limiting the spread of smoke will keep items like furniture and upholstery from absorbing the smell of smoke, saving you thousands of dollars in replacement costs. Furthermore, if smoke triggers your building’s sprinkler system, the water damage done might be worse than what fire could ever do. Smoke management systems save you money in case of disaster and make your building much safer even in a worst-case scenario.

Active Vs. Passive Smoke Management: What’s The Difference?

What Is An Active Smoke Management System?

Active smoke management systems suck the smoke out of the air through vents in the ceiling or high up on the walls of your building. They require intricate planning early in the design process of a building. If you’re trying to implement an active smoke management system in a pre-existing building, you’ll probably have to make significant modifications to the building’s structure.

Most of the time, you’ll want to get an engineer to design your active smoke management system and the power supply to go along with it. Active smoke management systems will need their own independent power source, usually a generator, that can go into service if the building’s power is knocked out by a fire.

What Is A Passive Smoke Management System?

Rather than focusing on getting smoke out of the building, a passive smoke management system keeps the smoke in one place. Let’s say a fire starts in a conference room. To keep the smoke in that room from spreading, a passive smoke management system would have smoke and fire-rated curtains close over the room’s exits and effectively seal it off from the rest of the building.

These passive smoke management systems don’t require nearly as much time, energy or planning as active smoke management systems, and the undeployed curtains can blend in easily with the design of the building with minimal structural modifications during the installation process. Passive smoke management systems are perfect for existing buildings which would have to be significantly altered to have an active smoke management system.

What Are Fire and Smoke-Rated Curtains?

Smoke curtain between two exit doors. There is a red exit sign above the door.


Smoke-rated curtains are made of large pieces of fire-resistant fabric strategically placed around your building which, in the case of fire, drop to prevent the spread of smoke. Where regular curtains block out light, smoke curtains block out smoke. Typically, they’re placed in front of openings or passageways, such as elevator entrances, entrances to corridors and stairwells.

Smoke curtains have two functions — they contain smoke, and they protect evacuation routes. With a little planning, you can use smoke curtains to create a safe, navigable environment in your building for inhabitants as well as fire and rescue teams. Though smoke curtains are fire-resistant, they are not quite the same as fire curtains.

How Does Smoke Containment Work?

Picture a big hotel atrium with walkways running along the inner wall of the atrium at every floor. If a fire began on the third floor, a passive smoke management system would contain the smoke from that fire in two ways.

First, a horizontal fire and smoke-rated curtain would extend from the underside of the fourth-floor walkway, crossing over the width of the atrium to effectively create a new ceiling across the atrium — this reduces the volume of air that the smoke evacuation systems need to handle. Smoke partitioning in the atrium increases evacuation time for building occupants.

Then, another smoke curtain would extend just below the third-floor walkway, extending across the atrium below where the smoke is gathering, creating a new floor that prevents the gathering smoke from getting pushed down into the lower levels of the atrium.

As people evacuate the building, you could implement vertical smoke containment systems around the perimeter of the atrium to prevent smoke from entering each floor. Now, instead of having an atrium filled with smoke, you’ve contained it via horizontal and vertical curtains into a manageable space.

In addition to splitting an atrium horizontally, you can also split an atrium vertically using similar methods.

Whether deployed horizontally to stop the rising of smoke or vertically to keep smoke from spreading across a building floor, passive smoke management systems are cost-effective and help inhabitants safely leave the building without the dangers of inhaling smoke.

Active vs. Passive Smoke Management System: Why Not Both?

An atrium with abstract art hanging from the ceiling that is protected by a vertical smoke curtain.


Rather than choosing between an active and passive smoke management system, it’s possible to incorporate them both into your building’s design — we frequently call this belt-and-suspenders, two different tactics working together towards the same goal. By using a passive system that contains smoke and an active system that removes smoke, you can effectively isolate a fire and neutralize the most immediately dangerous aspects of that fire — the smoke.

Top smoke curtains nowadays can withstand 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours, giving your property plenty of time to be evacuated and for the fire department to arrive. With both a passive and active smoke management system, the fire is the only thing you’ll have to worry about, and with smoke curtains, the damage should be limited to one contained space.

Looking For More Information?

If you’re interested in implementing a passive smoke management system for your building or business, head over to Smoke Guard Architectural Specialties to take advantage of their offer on passive smoke management systems.

At SG Architectural Specialties, we handle the installation and maintenance of Smoke Guard products in California and Nevada and have worked on a wide variety of buildings and businesses.

Have a look through our options, and feel free to reach out to our team if you have any questions about protecting your building or business with a passive smoke control system.