How many times have you taken on a job, discovered that there wasn’t an approved solution for the specs in front of you, and lost hours trying to figure out what to do? It’s inevitable. There are countless ways of designing the many different systems that make up the different components of construction, and only so many solutions that regulators can approve.

When it comes to fire protection, this can be a deadly problem. Gaps in fire-rated construction are inevitable, and regulations require that contractors close those gaps. Any resulting solution must be able to prevent the migration of toxic gases, smoke, and fire into other areas of the building, thus containing any potential fire.

For use in this scenario, a firestop assembly must undergo third-party testing and approval. Designers and architects typically do what they can to make the gap fit with existing solutions, but unanticipated changes and hindrances can change the result. Often, the final substrate opening and penetrating item do not accommodate any current firestop tested assembly.

Engineering judgments allow contractors to fill that gap.

What is an engineering judgment?

An engineering judgment, more commonly known in the industry as an EJ, is a document that shows the efficacy of a newly developed firestop system. An EJ represents a system that would be expected to pass if it were subject to the actual UL 1479/ASTM E 814 burn test.

To be valid, an EJ must meet certain conditions set forth by the International Firestop Council. It must be:

  • Written and issued by qualified technical professionals, either in the employ of or in collaboration with the manufacturer
  • Designed based on tested systems used in similar conditions
  • Customized to the unique construction elements of the situation and the anticipated behavior of those elements under fire conditions
  • Created and used for a specific job

A qualifying EJ includes:

  • Full descriptions of critical elements,
  • Instructions for the assembly’s installation, and
  • Laboratory justification for its design.

A complete EJ will be relevant and useful to the client as well as the on-site contractor.

When does a contractor need one?

An engineering judgment is necessary when no tested and classified system exists for a presenting set of conditions. The International Firestop Council states explicitly that contractors should not use EJs if there is a third-party tested system available.

The purpose of the EJ is twofold. It should:

  1. Show why the assembly presented is effective for fire prevention, and
  2. Effectively instruct contractors in its use.

Because only properly installed firestops are effective, the second function is an essential component for the first.

How does an engineering judgment benefit the contracting team?

An engineering judgment is a solution when otherwise there isn’t one. Better yet, it’s a solution that comes from an expert in the particular critical safety function that a project faces.

1. An EJ includes complete installation requirements.

As part of its list of basic presentation requirements for an engineering judgment, the International Firestop Council includes “clear directions for the installation of the recommended firestop system.” Such instructions benefit everyone on the job site, but particularly the person who is responsible for allocating labor.

Today’s job site supervisors often find themselves with a high percentage of less experienced laborers. When this happens, the specificity of the EJ can be a significant asset. The foreman or supervisor can hand it off to any worker with a basic understanding of the materials and techniques involved, knowing that the result will be as pictured.

2. An EJ verifies that the solution works.

The IFC also requires an EJ to show how the solution addresses the fire protection vulnerability. To qualify, the EJ must touch on all necessary design elements based on the vulnerability. Categories include:

  • Object penetration
  • Moving joints
  • Duct enclosures
  • Perimeter gap
  • Head-of-wall continuity issues.

Within each category, the EJ must describe all elements present in full detail. The document is complete only when it answers any question that an installer, parts buyer, or regulatory compliance official may have. For supervisors, that means not having to find the answers themselves.

3. An EJ saves time.

Because an engineering judgment includes instruction for assembly, supervisors can devote their time on-site to other tasks. Detailed directions help the laborer to complete the job efficiently, freeing his or her time for the next task, and moving the project forward.

In the end, the project gets done faster but with no sacrifice to quality. Instead of worrying about or forcing a solution, the supervisor can focus on pleasing the client. All team members walk away less stressed.

4. An EJ saves money.

Without a custom firestop assembly, the contractor’s only other option would be extensive and costly re-design to sit the gaps to an existing approved assembly. That kind of redesign not only increases time-to-completion; it also wreaks havoc on a contractor’s budget.

5. An EJ keeps the contractor in good standing.

Any chance of fire is too much of a risk for a contractor to take. Containment procedures are necessary to prevent the kind of fire spreads that cost lives and cause extensive property damage. Such events can also do severe damage to the reputation of a client and a contractor.

Also, by ensuring the correct installation of the custom firestop assembly, the EJ makes sure that it works well and thus further decreases liability.

It is essential for all contractors to remain in good standing with their communities. By protecting against accidents, the EJ helps the contractor to stay as a desirable hire.

A Final Word

When job conditions result in compliance problems, there need to be new solutions. An EJ allows the contractor to come up with that solution quickly and efficiently while demonstrating no negative impact on the job. Those kinds of things are what lead to new contracts.