Every year, house fires cause $6.9 billion in property damages, yet this is a problem that many people completely ignore before it happens to them. People are unaware of how these fires break out or how to stop them, and most start looking up these topics long after they’ve already suffered this damage.
One thing that they never tell you is that it’s not always about stopping fire. Fires break out even due to circumstances you could never control, predict, or avert. Instead, you should work on making your home more fire-resistant.
Doing so will slow the spread of fire, increase the chance that it will wither on its own, and give you time to stop it (or evacuate). With that goal in mind, it might be time for you to learn a thing or two about fire-retardant paint.
Fire retardant vs. fire resistant
First, you must learn the difference between fire-resistant and fire-retardant materials.
- Fire resistant: This is a material that will not burn. These are materials like fire-resistant glass, insulation, or gypsum board. Generally speaking, fire-resistant materials can withstand heat for an extended period without burning or melting.
- Fire retardant: These materials are slow to catch fire, slow the catching of fire, or require incredibly high temperatures to ignite. By using these materials, you can give yourself the time to respond. These materials are often designed with the inhibited combustion feature, which delays the ignition of the material beneath.
It’s also important that you understand that the confusion of the terms is common and happens deliberately and incidentally. There’s no such thing as a fire-resistant paint, yet some fire-retardant paints are labeled fire-resistant.
The main reason is that many people are unfamiliar with fire-retardant, while everyone understands what fire-resistant means. In other words, it’s a benevolent marketing effort to make the product closer to the consumer.
Where should you use fire-retardant paint?
Ideally, all the paint used in your home would be fire-retardant. After all, you never know where the fire will break out. The problem is that, statistically, some areas are more in danger than others. At the same time, fire-retardant paint is significantly more expensive than its conventional counterpart.
In other words, you need to understand where fire-retardant paint will be the most impactful and provide you with the greatest level of protection.
Interior walls and ceilings are your No.1 spot, especially in the kitchen, heater room, etc. If you have one, the utility room is the most important area for fire-proof painting in your entire household.
If you want to do a bit extra to protect your home, focus on attic spaces, basements, and more. These are the installations that are partially finished and have a lot of exposed materials that could catch fire. Even a metal roof has a wooden construction, which is why this matters so much. Also, most heating pipes go through these areas; sometimes, this is the location of the main heat source.
Picking the right fire-retardant paint
Picking the best fire retardant paint is not always a straightforward thing. Naturally, you must start with the intended use in mind. The retardant’s substrate must be compatible with the surface you’re painting on. Some paints are designed for wood; others are best for metal, drywall, or other materials (like painting over wallpaper).
Another thing you must look for is local and national fire safety regulations. Many of these paints are not produced locally; sometimes, they are imported without these considerations.
Then, you need to look into the fire rating. This is often expressed in minutes since this is how their performance in fire tests is measured. These ratings usually include metrics like 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes.
While buying the fire-retardant paint, you should also look into the application method. Do you want to use a roller, a brush, or a spray? More likely than not, you’ll apply it independently, so you must take this factor seriously.
Lastly, maintenance is incredibly important. Some fire retardants may require recoating or periodic maintenance. At the very least, when buying, you must understand exactly what you’re getting into.
How does fire-retardant paint work?
We left this for the end because you don’t need to understand how fire-retardant paint works to use it or even use it effectively. In other words, this is a piece of trivia but an important trivia that will explain what makes it different than regular paint, why you pay more for it, and why this fire-retardant label is not just a marketing trick.
The important thing to mention is that there are a few different mechanisms that can make paint fire-retardant:
- Insulation: Some adhesives expand when exposed to heat. This creates a thermal barrier that insulates the underlying material. It also buys you extra time before the fire burns through this material.
- Release of water or fire-retarding gases: Some fire-retardant paint contains chemicals released when exposed to high temperatures. This reduces the intensity of fire quite effectively.
- Carbonization: Some fire-retardant paint forms a charred surface through carbonization. This acts as a barrier protecting the underlying material from fire.
Endothermic reaction: Sometimes, it’s not the flames that cause the fire to spread but the temperature itself. Well, some fire-retardant paints absorb heat when exposed to flames. This reduces the surrounding area’s temperature, further slowing the fire progression.
- Reduced oxygen supply: Fire can’t burn without oxygen, and some fire-retardant paint contains chemicals that displace oxygen. This reduces the availability necessary for combustion and can effectively suppress fire.
At the end of the day, you, as a customer, must only look at the fire rating. Understanding methodology, although interesting, doesn’t have too much practical use.
In the end, this is just one of many ways that you, as a homeowner, can protect your property. The best part is that this is a one-and-done solution. There are no batteries to check; at worst, you’ll have to reapply the coating in a few years. In other words, it provides passive protection for your home, regardless of how careful you are if you’re around to begin with. The bottom line is that it’s a one-time expense and effort to keep your home and family safer, and that’s all that you have to know about it.