Fire resistant qualities of steel building components investigated

With the affordability of home ownership in Australia and around the world becoming beyond the reach of many, home owners and builders are looking at more cost-effective ways to construct buildings to bridge the gap.

Increasingly they are turning to complex, high strength light steel framed (LSF) wall systems lined with gypsum plasterboard in low and mid-rise buildings.

“The challenge in using these new materials and systems is that the real issue of their fire resistance is not yet fully understood and this poses a potential risk factor,” said QUT Engineering Professor Mahen Mahendran.

Professor Mahendren and team working in the QUT Wind and Fire Engineering Lab

Professor Mahendran and his team of researchers have recently been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC), to investigate the fire resistance of common pre-fabricated steel wall systems, in collaboration with the National Association of Steel-Framed Housing (NASH).

“This project will investigate the thermal and structural behaviour of those wall systems when they are exposed to fire and will develop a generic model for predicting fire resistance levels of LSF wall systems that can inform building codes world-wide,” he said.

While unrelated to the cladding issue currently in the spotlight, Professor Mahendran said he was pleased the project would further increase awareness of fire-resistance levels and make important fire resistance data on LSF wall systems more accessible to the construction industry.

“We want to help make buildings as safe as possible and provide useful information to benefit not only the community, but also the Australian steel industry and the construction sector.
 
 “Once we have developed fire resistance levels for commonly used LSF wall systems, they can be included in a national Fire Design Handbook and we will be in a position to propose improvements to the construction detail of the wall systems, to enhance fire resistance,” said Professor Mahendran.
 
 “This research will address one of the most significant current challenges for ensuring cost-effective but fire safe building construction worldwide.”
 
 The project will include full scale fire tests at QUT’s Wind and Fire Engineering Lab and computer modelling on hundreds of potential wall system combinations and will be completed by June 2021.