During a fire event, flames are not the only source of risk. Smoke is the greatest risk, and is the cause of most fatalities. Additionally, reduced visibility due to smoke is a significant safety threat that may make it difficult for occupants to identify and follow egress paths.

Smoke baffles versus smoke containment curtains: which is which?

A number of design solutions are used within building design to combat the problems associated with smoke, including smoke baffles and smoke containment curtains. Both solutions contain smoke and separate it from building occupants, allowing it to remain hot and buoyant and therefore capable of more efficient removal from the building. There are, however, significant differences between the two.

Smoke baffles are non-combustible curtains that partition space, usually at ceiling level, and direct heat and smoke during a fire event. These are typically paired with a smoke ventilation system that pulls smoke out of the building. Smoke baffles are usually located at ceiling level and are used in larger buildings, where expansive floor plans necessitate a ventilation system. They do not always need to deploy to the floor and generally do not need side guides.

Smoke containment curtains, on the other hand, do not need to rely on smoke control ventilation. Also fabricated from non-combustible textiles, smoke containment curtains simply separate smoke from egress paths to keep these clear and with maximum visibility. Smoke containment curtains must have side guides to create an efficient smoke seal. They can incorporate soft surface egress doors directly into their surface, eliminating the need for separate exit doors. During a fire event, occupants may pass through the curtain to the shortest path to safety, with the curtain closing safely behind them.

Key considerations for specification

When deciding between a smoke baffle and smoke containment curtain, designers must take into account the scale and nature of their building. Smaller projects typically do not require additional ventilation, and compact floor plans may make separate exit doors an impractical addition to an already cramped space.

Designers should also consult the European Standard EN12101-1:2005 – Smoke and heat control systems – Part 1: Specification for smoke barriers, which provides a helpful design guide.  Encompassing everything from performance requirements to evaluation of conformity, the guide is a required starting point for designers using smoke curtains.

EN12101-1 also specifies the maximum acceptable amount of smoke leakage at the edge of a smoke curtain to ensure that any opening allows only minimal amounts of smoke to pass through. Whilst the designer can specify to minimise gaps down to 0mm, maximum permissible gaps between a wall and smoke curtains are based on the height of the curtain, and are as follows.

  • No more than 20mm where the curtain is less than 2m tall
  • No more than 40mm where the curtain is between 2 and 6m tall
  • No more than 60mm where the curtain is taller than 6m

Greene Fire SmokeStop™ evacu8® 

Ideal for high egress paths, aged care facilities, conference centres, and transport facilities, Greene Fire’s SmokeStop™ evacu8® is a fully tested smoke curtain system. A patented bi-roller system is combined with narrow interweaving/overlapped panels that provide egress through the curtain itself without the need for a separate exit door. Evacuees can simply walk through the fabric panels, which fall back into place using a patented anti-tangle overlap retention system. The overlap between panels prevents smoke penetration, while a self-levelling bottom bar ballast incorporated at the base of the panels allows for proper, immediate closure.

Greene Fire SmokeStop™ evacu8® is recommended for use in conjunction with the SmokeStop™ Active Smoke Barrier to ensure maximum protection from the spread of smoke. Alongside their broad selection of high performance products, Greene Fire’s team of passive fire protection experts provides design advice to ensure a fit for purpose solution for every project.

Learn more about Greene Fire and how their smoke curtains can prevent smoke leakage at http://greenefire.com.au/product-category/fire-curtains-and-smoke-curtains/smoke-curtains/.