The Similarities and Differences: Fire vs. Smoke Curtains

With so many types of curtains available, it can be difficult to understand the differences between them. When it comes to fire vs. smoke curtains, which one is the best choice for your project? Let’s talk about the similarities and the differences between fire and smoke curtains and learn more about their ideal uses.

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There is a lot of planning involved in designing or upgrading fire and smoke protection for your building. Fully protecting your building and its occupants requires you to have an all-encompassing fire safety plan which should include the use of fire and smoke curtains.

With so many types of curtains available, it can be difficult to understand the differences between them. When it comes to fire vs. smoke curtains, which one is the best choice for your project? Let’s talk about the similarities and the differences between fire and smoke curtains and learn more about their ideal uses.

What Is a Fire Curtain?

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Fire curtains work alongside fire protection systems to create barriers where no partitions are present. They will deploy when prompted by the smoke control system and seal off openings of all sizes, preventing fire and smoke from traveling to other areas.

Types of Fire Curtains

Fire curtains are usually hidden from view until they are deployed, making them an ideal choice for designs that don’t want fire protection to stand out or take away from a building’s aesthetics or want to conserve usable space.

From spaces as small as dumbwaiters and pass-through containers to large, expansive areas like atriums, there are different types of curtains available to provide your building with the fire and smoke protection it needs.

1. Horizontal Curtains

  • Horizontal curtains are typically used to bisect atriums over two stories to compartmentalize smoke.

  • Ideal for multi-story buildings.

2. Vertical Curtains

  • Vertically deploying fire-rated and smoke-rated curtains are installed into ceilings.

  • Ideal for floor-by-floor protection in multi-level buildings that have large open areas like atriums, staircases or escalators.

3. Perimeter Curtains

  • Perimeter curtains are a type of vertical curtain that deploys from ceilings.

  • Ideal for shielding areas like staircases and escalators. They can also be used to create a reservoir for smoke on higher floors of atriums and other large spaces.

What Is a Smoke Curtain?

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The ideal solution for smoke containment, smoke curtains create additional layers of protection to keep your building and its occupants as safe as possible. These curtains help provide a physical barrier against smoke by sealing off elevators and other large openings where smoke can quickly travel through a building.

Smoke curtains offer considerable flexibility. They can be installed in almost any area of a building and are ideal for all types of building architecture. Depending on the application, smoke curtains are either deployed vertically or horizontally.

Types of Smoke Curtains

1. Elevator Curtains

  • Provides elevator shaft smoke protection. They are easy to install above elevator openings and integrate seamlessly with fire-rated elevator doors to create tight-fitting smoke and draft control assemblies that are required by code.
  • They descend from above the elevator’s opening and are an important level of protection because elevator shafts can quickly become dangerous conveyors of smoke.

2. Perimeter Curtains

  • Secures the perimeter of a designated area. They are essential for protecting open spaces, such as non-egress open staircases and atriums from smoke migration.

  • Their installation requires an unobstructed ceiling but no corner posts so they can be installed in both a box-like configuration and in a multi-faceted, open-ended configuration.

3. Draft Curtains

  • Fixed draft curtains protect large spaces such as aircraft hangars, warehouses and manufacturing facilities from smoke hazards.

  • Deployable draft curtains are used for stairs, escalators and other interior applications.

  • They are installed in the upper spaces of a structure and are fixed to assist smoke evacuation systems.

What Are the Differences Between Smoke and Fire Curtains?

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As demonstrated above, both fire and smoke curtains are used to prevent the migration of smoke or fire and increase the time allowed for building occupants to egress from the building in an emergency. Each type of curtain is also commonly used in commercial buildings to help a building meet safety regulations and fire codes. Sometimes they operate separately or as one unit, depending on the type of curtain.

There are also some important differences between smoke and fire curtains. Each type of curtain uses different materials, is tested using different ratings and is intended for specific applications.

Curtain Fabric

Smoke and fire curtains are made from two different types of fabric:

  • Smoke Curtains: This fabric contains fiberglass filaments and uses a special coating that will help prevent the curtain from emitting gas or additional smoke in a hot environment. In the instance of elevator smoke curtains, a transparent, amber-colored film is used in place of fabric. This film also contains a special coating and is tested to the same standards as the fabric.

  • Fire Curtains: Fire curtain fabric also contains fiberglass filaments and a special coating, but also uses stainless steel thread that gives them more resistance to higher temperatures and direct flames.

  • Smoke and Fire Curtains: There are some curtain styles that have been designed and rated to provide both smoke and fire protection (often called hybrid curtains). In this instance, the fabric used to create the curtain is a fire-rated fabric that has also been rated to successfully contain smoke. The Smoke Guard M2100 and M2500 vertical fire + smoke-rated curtain systems are two examples of this type of curtain.

Testing and Rating

Depending on the application, fire and smoke curtains go through different types of testing to gain their respective UL Standard ratings. For these ratings, the entire system is tested as a whole. Below, we will focus on the standards used most often for the curtains SG Architectural Specialties carries.

Base Fabric Tests

Before getting into these important, system-level tests and ratings, each component of the curtain system will be tested and each type of fabric goes through base testing first.

  • ASTM E84 Smoke and Fire Spread Test: This test quantifies how much smoke a fabric will produce when exposed to a direct flame as well as how much flame spread it will have.

  • ASTM E2178 Permeability Test: This test calculates how much air leaks through a fabric and determines whether it will be an ideal fabric to be used as part of a whole smoke control system.

System Level Tests

  • Standard for Fire Rating – UL10D: To achieve this fire rating, fire curtains are rigorously tested up to 2000F using a direct flame application. Fire curtains are tested for their ability to maintain their integrity, meaning no holes are burned through the curtain, it is not falling apart, and openings have not formed where flames can pass through or around the curtain. The standard fire rating is for 2 hours, which is also the average time building walls must maintain their integrity to become fire rated.

  • Standard for Smoke Rating – UL1784: To achieve this smoke rating, smoke curtains are tested for air leakage (and subsequently smoke leakage) at temperatures that range from 75F to 400F.

Application

It may seem like fire-rated curtains are the obvious choice for protecting your building, but that isn’t always the case. Knowing where to use smoke and fire curtains will help ensure you choose the right product for your building design.

First and foremost, always check your building’s code requirements. That will be the first step in determining what you need for fire and smoke protection. Here are some other things to consider when deciding on the type of curtain to use.

Elevators

  • Smoke Curtains are the most ideal choice for elevators. This is because elevator doors are already fire-rated, so you only have the need to add smoke protection to the elevator.

  • Examples Include: Smoke Guard M200, M400, M600 elevator curtains

Applications That Require Large Curtains

  • Most large curtain products will include both smoke- and fire-rated protection. As mentioned earlier, they will be made of fire-rated fabric, which is also tested for smoke protection.

  • Examples Include: Smoke Guard M2100 and M2500 vertical curtains, M4000 perimeter curtains and M3000 horizontal curtains

Applications That Require Draft Curtains

  • Draft curtains that are in large open spaces like warehouses and hangers do not hold a smoke or fire rating. This is because their main purpose is to compartmentalize the smoke and direct it out of the building using an exhaust system.

  • Is there a difference between fixed and deployable draft curtains? Static curtains are always visible and hanging from the building’s rafters. These smoke curtains are usually much easier to install. Deployable draft curtains work the same as static curtains, but they may be hidden for space or aesthetic reasons.

  • Examples Include: SG Draft Curtain

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Regardless of their differences, fire and smoke curtains should both be an essential part of your fire safety plans. Incorporating these types of curtains into your designs help reduce the risk of building damage and increase the level of safety for your occupants. Also, be sure to inspect and test your smoke and fire safety system every six months and keep a record of your testing schedule.

Want to Learn More About Fire and Smoke Curtains?

Check out SG Architectural Specialties’ full line of smoke and fire curtains that will help you keep your commercial buildings safe and up to code. Contact us today and let us help you protect your next project.