Rise in use of toxic and flammable thermal insulations in buildings: Is there a alternative?
There has been a rise in the use of thermal insulation materials inside commercial, public, residential buildings. In India more than 80% of the buildings are made of RCC and bricks thus this insulation is provided at various locations inside or outside the building for the following purposes.
1. for providing insulation above false cieling which is provided to hide pipe work and ductings provided in cieling.
2. for providing wrap around insulation of air conditioning ducts.
3. for insulating material fixed on walls as sound absorption or sound proofing material.
4. for providing insulation from sun heat or snow during winters where this is done from outside being applied above roof.
It has been seen that toxic flammable thermal insulation materials are being used at all the above locations based on the fact that these materials give more insulation in lesser thickness and cost. The advocates of these insulation materials never state the danger to human life during fire due to these or that how fast fire travels due to them and how this falling insulation from roof falls on the heads of unaware trapped people burning them or killing them due to suffocation from toxic fumes created by the burning of these insulations. Another thing seen is that all the fire sprinklers are fixed at the level of false ceiling to dowse fire below it and there is no system provided to douse the false ceiling or the insulation which has caught fire above the sprinkler level which keeps on burning and spreading the fire.
The recent fire during a indoor rock show on 31st december 2004 highlights the fact in the most gruesome form where people who had gathered and there small infant children were killed by the burning foam insulation from roof and many were killed or hospitalised due to inhalation of toxic fumes formed due to burning of the insulation foam.
We give below a list of insulation materials which were previously used for industrial purposes but are now being used extensively for all habitable buildings although safe materials are available which are not even considered.
1. Fibre glass wool / rock wool bats:
Although fibre glass is fire proof and non toxic but the bonding agents used to form batts and rolls out of it are flammable and give toxic fumes. Again the facings on fibre glass batts are of an asphalt - coated kraft or foil kraft paper or similar system these again are flammable and help in the spread of flames. During fire when the ceiling catches fire due to these and disintegrates the glass wool falls on people creates itching on body and cough due to inhalation of its micro particles but no one even thinks of this before recomending there use, since there only aim is to provide insulation and the safety be damned. During fire its skin irritation factor alone can cause people to itch themselves instead of saving others and losing precious time in fight against fire.
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2. Expanded / Extruded Polystyrene Foam ( Thermocole):
This material is combustible and spreads flame or works as fuel for the spread of fire this falling on people from above their heads can burn their clothes and cause severe burns. While burning it creates toxic fumes and CO which is medically not safe to inhale.
3. Polurethane foam ( PUF) & Polyisocyanurate foam sheets or spray applied.
This material is used in the form of sheets has high thermal insulation properties and is extensively being used. It is highly combustible and spreads flame or works as fuel for the spread of fire this falling on people from above their heads can burn their clothes and cause severe burns. While burning it creates highly dense and toxic fumes and CO which is medically not safe to inhale and impairs the ability to think straight and is also known as the silent killer. The loss of visibility due to dense fumes adds to the confusion and wastes valuable survival time for reaching exit points. Inhaling these toxic fumes can cause death as seen in the case of the fire on 1st of January in a indoor rock concert where the fire started due to the igniting of this foam in the roof by a flare.
Many a times manufacturers misguide by stating that there foam is self extinguishing or fire retardent in actual these also burn like hell when there is a continuous fire for a few minutes.
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What are the safer fire proof alternatives:
4. Expanded / exfoliated inorganic naturally occuring materials.
These are widely used for insulation in many countries and are fire proof and can be used as insulation as boards / blocks formed after mixing with fire proof binders such as cement. In the form of boards / blocks made with cement these are non toxic, non flammable and do not give any smoke during fire can be made in very low densities also.These are also used as fire proof plasters for special structural elements in the building. Lower densities provide excelent thermal and sound insulation properties and they do not degrade with time.More info
5. Cementitious cellular concrete thermal insulations.
Cementious cellular concrete thermal insulations resist high temperatures, are non flammable and are non toxic neither do they give any smoke, since very light weight forms can be made they do not harm you if they fall on you. Although there thermal insulation values are lesser than the above but recent improvements in these are bringing them at par with a slight increase in thicknesses. Boards / blocks can be made with these for use both inside the building and outside. These apart from insulating the building protect its vital structure also.
Another major problem during fire is the weakening of the structure during fire ie. due to the heat the steel bars inside coloumns and beams get heated and at higher temperatures over a period of time become ductile thus losing there strength and causing the failure of concrete coloumns and beams as in the case of fire in kirti nagar godown in delhi where due to the structure failing many firemen lost lives. Now what inorganic fireproof thermal insulation materials do apart from providing thermal insulation from air-conditioning point of view they reduce the transfer of heat to the steel inside structures and delay the failure of structure incase of extreme fires so that lives can be saved before collapse or totally save the structure making it usable after fire giving major cost saving during rehabilitation of the building. In another case in gurgaon fire spread through the under construction trade centres of DLF where now the builders have stated that they shall check the strength of their structural elements which if found unsafe would incur huge costs to rehabilitate. Thus today the use of safe non toxic thermal insulation materials is not only a life saving requirement but also a economically viable decision. The trade towers in New York used this and the time delay in their fall was due to their presense on structural elements, although many lives were lost but many lives were also saved due to the delay in transfer of heat to the structural steel by inorganic thermal fire proof plasters giving precious time gap to save many lives.
Thus although options are available but majority of public is not aware of them or wilfully ignores them for materials having higher insulation properties but dangerous due to major insulation companies and applicators pushing them and compromise on the life and safety of the inhabitants.
We at India Architecture Info are committed to provide a safe environment to the inhabitants of various architectural buildings and to provide safe materials to the people in India and also to provide more information on them to the public, architects and builders.
For further information and materials contact
Ishvinder Singh Gill
India Architecture Info
E. Mail: insulbuild@yahoo.co.in
Mbl: 0-9811274373 ( Delhi, India )