Fire Performance of Different Membranes

Fire Performance of Different Membranes

In this article, we will present a formal examination of the fire performance characteristics associated with various membrane materials manufactured by MakMax Taiyo, a renowned provider of architectural tension membrane solutions. Specifically, our focus will center on comparing the fire performance of PTFE-coated glass fibre membranes and PVC-coated fabrics, both of which are commonly utilized in architectural applications.

Fire Performance of Membranes IconTo compare the fire performance of different membranes, we have looked at the four main categories of tensile membrane materials. Within these tensile membrane categories, there is a huge range of different products from many manufacturers. Listed in the table below are some example results that show a typical material fire-testing performance for each main tensile membrane type. This can be used to determine appropriate material types for your projects.

The various membranes MakMax & Taiyo Middle East works with will almost always have been subjected to International fire testing standards by the manufacturer. As a general guide, PTFE coated glass fibre membranes provide the best fire hazard properties, followed by ETFE foil and PVC polyester fabrics.

This is a guide only and within each product category, there will be a range of different results and performance outcomes.

Example BrandGale Pacific Commercial Heavy 430Mehler FR900NAGC Fluon 200micronChuckoh FGT600
Expected Lifespan10+ years20+ years40+ years50+ years
Fire Performance Indices
Duration of Sustained Flaming¹N/AN/AN/A0
Flammability index²:21860
Spread of Flame Index³:8700
Heat Evolved Index³:5100
Ignitability Index³:131600
Smoke Developed Index³:780-10-1
ObservationsVisible smoke, melting, flaming debris. Visible smoke and melting. Will not propagate flame spread.Self-expiring drops (will melt away from fire source but does not drip). Self extinguishing immediately when fire source is gone.Will not propagate flame spread.
RecommendationUsually not suitable for fire escape routes or adjoining buildings.May be suitable for connecting to existing buildings, but usually not suitable for Type-A constructions or fire escape routes.Often accepted for Type-A construction with performance solution from fire engineer, sometimes sprinklered and usually as an externally facing element.Usually accepted for Type-A construction with a performance solution from a fire engineer.
¹ AS 1530.1 Methods for Fire Tests on Building Materials, Components and Structures. Part 1: Combustibility test for materials.
² AS 1530.2 Methods for Fire Tests on Building Materials, Components and Structures. Part 2: Test for Flammability of Materials.
³ AS 1530.2 Methods for Fire Tests on Building Materials, Components and Structures Part 3: Simultaneous Determination of Ignitability, Flame Propagation, Heat Release and Smoke Release.

A Note on Non-Combustibility || Fire Performance

Prior to the 2019 Building Code of Australia (BCA), PTFE-coated glass fibre tension membrane materials were widely regarded as non-combustible within the construction industry. This classification stemmed from the code’s allowance for composite materials to be categorized as non-combustible, provided that the structural components met the requirements of AS 1530.1 and any coatings applied were of sufficiently thin layers.

The inherent non-combustibility of the glass fibre woven structural base cloth within PTFE fabric contributed to this classification, as it typically passed AS 1530.1 standards. However, the PTFE coating itself did not meet these criteria, being combustible, albeit thinly applied.

The 2019 BCA introduced a change in wording that led to a reinterpretation of the classification of PTFE-coated glass fibre membranes. This reinterpretation, largely accepted by certifiers and fire engineers, now tends to exclude these materials from being considered non-combustible. This shift has significant implications for construction projects requiring non-combustible materials, as achieving compliance through the deemed-to-satisfy pathway becomes challenging.

In practice, PTFE-coated glass fibre membranes often necessitate a performance-based solution to meet regulatory requirements for non-combustible construction. Despite this, fire engineers and certifiers are generally familiar with these materials and are often willing to support performance-based solutions based on testing values conducted according to AS 1530 parts 1, 2, and 3.

Comparatively, PVC-coated fabrics have, on occasion, received performance-based solutions permitting their use in areas requiring non-combustible construction. However, such instances are rare due to the inferior fire performance of PVC materials when compared to PTFE-coated glass fibre membranes. This highlights the nuanced considerations and trade-offs involved in selecting materials for construction projects, particularly in meeting stringent fire safety standards while balancing performance and regulatory compliance.