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In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about fire resistant and fire retardant paints, recommend the best fire resistant paints, and help you understand fireproofing standards set forward by NFPA, ASTM, and UL.
Table of Contents
Fire Resistant vs. Fire Retardant Paints
When picking the right paint for your asset, it is important to note the key differences between fire-resistant and fire retardant coatings.
Fire-resistant paints work by creating a barrier against flames. Most of these coatings are intumescent paints, which work by forming a char layer on the substrate when met with flames. These paints are often applied to steel, timber, and plasters to avoid burning and destruction. This paint works by creating gas bubbles that strengthen the paint’s additives when met with flames. When used on steel and timber, the foaming char layer works to add time before flames can penetrate through the substance.
Fire-resistant paints are usually ASTM E-119 tested and certified. ASTM E-119 measures the the time it takes for a coating to fail under extreme heat and flame. Usually these fire ratings can last anywhere from 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
In contrast, most fire retardant paints are not ASTM E-119 tested or compliant. They prevent flame spread and typically have an ASTM E-84 rating. If a building material catches fire, the fire retardant paint works to slow the rate that the flames spread.
However, these paints and coatings are typically not appropriate for critical infrastructure like steel. For most projects that involve structural steel or other critical infrastructure, you’ll need an ASTM E-119-certified fire resistant paint.
FlameOFF’s Fire Barrier Paint provides an eco-friendly fire resistant coating that’s 100% ASTM E-119 and E-84 compliant.
Key features include:
- E-84 compliant: Class A flame spread (tested and certified by a 3rd party lab)
- ASTM E-119 compliant: 1 and 2-hour fire rated for long-lasting protection
- Compatible with steel, wood, gypsum, sheetrock, metal, and more
- Eco-friendly, low VOC, water-based intumescent coating
- Gold Supplier Member of National Fireproofing Contractors Association
Types of Fireproof Paint
Now that we’ve covered “fireproof paint” or, rather, fire resistant paint, it’s time to talk about the types of coatings most commonly used for fireproofing.
Two of the most important types of fire resistant paint are intumescent and cementitious paint formats. Cementitious coatings are an older fireproofing that creates a thicker barrier with a cement-based mixture and a binder that adheres to the substrate. Cement is naturally fire resistant, so the cement essentially augments the paint with fire resistant properties.
Cementitious coatings began surfacing in the mid-1900s when durable fireproofing solutions were needed. Concrete enhances the fire strength of a steel building, thus making cementitious paints an option. Over time, as dense concrete became too bulky, lighter cement paint methods were created. This type of coating is best in areas with low moisture exposure, as high moisture can cause an excess of corrosion and can reduce the effectiveness. Two of the biggest benefits of this coating are its affordability, especially for larger projects as well as its lightweight format.
Intumescent paint is a newer method and works by growing and forming a barrier when exposed to extreme heat.
Intumescent paints are relatively newer to the market but show excellent fire ratings and durability. Rather than being mixed with concrete to provide resistance, these coatings expand and char when introduced to flames. Intumescent coatings have been known to swell up to 25 times their original thickness when exposed to fire! The expansion of this coating is vital, as it allows for the volume to increase and the density to decrease, which in turn slows down the heating process. Intumescent paints are easier to apply, have reduced labor costs, and do not allow for gaps, making them better for moist environments. However, this paint is highly sensitive to changes during curing time and can be a costlier choice if multiple coats are needed.
While both formulas have their benefits and disadvantages, the general fireproofing industry often recommends intumescent paint for the majority of common applications. Cementitious paints are not the best for aesthetic appeal and can add weight, while intumescent paints blend into the visuals of the project.
The table below can help you determine which type of fireproofing is right for your project.
|More cost effective
|Not intended for visible areas of a building
|Coating can crack
If you decide to use an intumescent paint for fireproofing, you’ll want to consider whether you want a water-based or solvent-based fireproof paint.
Water-based fire resistant paint: Water-based intumescent paints have smoother textures and have less odor than other options. Water-based fireproofing also have fewer VOCs, making them more likely to pass EPA regulations. However, water-based paints usually require additional layers of paint and the dry times are longer. These types of coatings work best in conditioned, indoor environments where odor and appearance are chief concerns.
Solvent-based fire resistant paint: Solvent-based coatings have reduced drying times and are more suitable in humid or hot environments. However, solvent-based paints do have stronger odors and more VOCs, making them unsuitable for certain indoor environments. Solvent-based intumescent paints are typically better for field maintenance and outdoor projects.
To summarize: Use water-based fireproofing when odor, appearance, and VOCs are a concern, and consider a solvent-based fireproof paint for exteriors or less visible areas of your facility.
Fire Rating Standards Explained
Before selecting the paint for your project, it is important to pay close attention to the fire rating standards needed in your specific project. While there are a variety of standards, certain standards must be met for different styles of application. Here is a look at some of the most common ratings and their meanings:
- ATSM E-84 – This fire standard measures flame spread along a sample to determine the time it takes for the fire to spread. When working on new projects or renovations, keep in mind that almost all facilities require an ASTM E-84 test.
- ASTM E-119 – This standard specifies the methods for testing the fire resistance duration of various building materials. Simple put, ASTM E-119 sets the standard and tests for how long a particular fire resistant material (e.g. an intumescent paint) can withstand exposure to fire. This rating is used specifically to test load bearing items such as walls, partitions, columns, floors, roofs, and structural beams.
- UL 263 – This standard is very similar to ASTM E-119, and may be used instead of ASTM E-119 depending on your application and location. Similar to ASTM E-119, UL 263 evaluates the fire resistance performance of construction materials used to maintain structural integrity.
- ASTM E-2768 – A newer standard in fire ratings, this test is usually called a 30-minute version of the ASTM E84 test. This test is used for more exact estimates of fire protection.
- NFPA 703 – This standard specifies requirements for fire retardant treatments for wood and the use of fire retardant coatings on building materials. These procedures help determine how materials behave when exposed to fire.
- NFPA 286 – These standards deal specifically with interior walls and ceiling finishes, measuring flame spread, smoke development, heat release rate, and the potential for a flashover (i.e. when a dangerous combustible material ignites leading to rapid flame spread).
Disclaimer: Our understanding of these standards is based on readily available information. Facility managers, building owners, and engineers should ALWAYS consult a fireproofing expert and understand their local laws before making critical decisions about their fireproofing needs.
Featured Fireproof Coatings
With a variety of fireproof coatings on the market, it can be helpful to see which coatings are the most tried and trusted. Here is a list of some of IPP Magazine’s favorite coatings:
|FlameOFF Fire Barrier Paint
|Sherwin Williams Firetex 5090 Paint
|Price per gallon
|ASTM E119/UL 263, ASTM E84/UL 723
|UL 263, CAN/ULC-S101
|ASTM E-119/UL 263, ASTM E84, NFPA 2511, ULC-101-07
|0.06 lbs per gal
|0.17 lb per gal
|0.03 lb per gal
|69% +- 3%
|2 – 8 hours
|1.5 – 16 hours
|Coverage rates at 1 mil DFT
|1138 sq ft per gal
|1104 sq ft per gal
|866 sq per gal
- FlameOFF Fire Barrier Paint: Fire Barrier Paint is a multi-use coating — the same coating can be used on steel, wood, drywall, and various types of metal. Fire Barrier Paint is ASTM E-84 and E-119 certified; in fact, they list their UL and ICC reports on their website. FlameOFF’s premier coating offers a smooth architectural finish that blends seamlessly with other design elements within your facility. It’s easy to order online, or if you have a larger order you can reach out to their friendly and responsive customer service team.
- Sherwin Williams Firetex: This paint is a cellulosic intumescent coating with extremely high aesthetic, durability, and performance ratings. Sherwin Williams’s line of FX paints can be used on woods, steels, and a variety of other surfaces, and come with up to four hours of fireproofing.
- Fireguard E-84: Known for its ability to minimize flame spread, smoke production, and structural damage, this coating is also an intumescent paint. It is quite cost-effective with an average cost of 75 cents per square foot! Also, this paint can be applied to a variety of surfaces with rolling, brushing, or spraying methods.
- PPG PITT-CHAR NX: This paint provides passive fire protection and is suitable for both on and offshore applications. It can be applied to a variety of surfaces such as aluminum, carbon steel, galvanized metals, and stainless composites. This paint features high durability against vibration, abrasion, impact, and deflection.
Finding Industrial Fire Resistant Paint
If you’re a facility manager, contractor, or engineer looking for fire resistant paint for your facility, it’s best to consult a certified coatings supplier before you buy.
We’ve partnered with top-rated fire resistant coatings suppliers that can provide a free consultation and paint specifications. You can start connecting with FlameOFF Coatings here.
Fire Resistant Paint for Metal
When choosing a fire resistant paint for metal, it’s important to consider ASTM E-119 compliance. Most of the time you’ll be painting structural steel, which needs to meet ASTM E-119 standards in the U.S.
FlameOff’s Fire Barrier Paint is a fire resistant coating that’s intended for a variety of metals including steel, sheet metal, and other materials. You should also look for a versatile paint that can be used across a variety of substrate such as wood, sheetrock, and drywall.
Fire Retardant Paint for Wood
It’s obviously more difficult to make wood fire resistant. According to the Timber Trades Federation, “there is no greater likelihood of a fire in a timber frame building than in a building built with other mainstream materials.”
Accordingly, you’ll want a fire resistant paint specifically designed for wood.
Fire resistant vs. fire retardant wood paints and sprays
If you need to protect a structurally critically component part of your building, you’ll need a fire resistant paint that’s ASTM E-119 compliant. That means getting a coating that’s designed to withstand a fire exposure for a specific amount of time.
Older buildings made out of timber frames need to consider intumescent solutions. For example, FlameOFF’s Fire Barrier Paint offers a 1-hour ASTM E-119 fire rating.
Alternatively, if your wooden asset only needs to meet ASTM E-84 standards, you should consider a fire retardant spray or paint.
FlameOFF also offers a product called FR Clear that’s a fire retardant spray — it’s intended to slow the spread of fire, but it’s not ASTM E-119 compliant. FR Clear is an eco-friendly, water-based coating intended for wood fabric. It’s ASTM E-84 compliant with an A flame spread rating (the highest rating possible), NFPA 701, 705, and 260 tested and certified.
FAQs About Fire Resistant and Fire Retardant Paint
Intumescent paints and cementitious coatings are two commonly used fire resistant coatings. Both can be effective, depending on your fireproofing needs.
Typically, fire resistant paints are ASTM E-119 tested and certified, while fire retardant paints are ASTM E-84 certified. Fire resistant paints protect assets for a specific period of time, while fire retardant paints slow the spread of flame.
Intumescent coatings — one of the most popular fire resistant paints — create a char that acts as a barrier between your asset and the fire when heated above a certain temperature threshold.
Fire resistant paints need to be maintained and recoated per the manufacturers guidelines. Most fire resistant paints last between 30 and 120 minutes according to their ATSM fire rating.
An intumescent paint will char, and a protective barrier will form over the coating. Cementitious coatings will resist the fire. Normal paint will likely ignite and burn.
You can apply fire resistant paint additives, but make sure they’re compatible with your paint. It’s much easier to buy a fire resistant paint that comes with additives and attributes you’re looking for.
Fire retardant may or may not work for your application. If you need to meet ASTM E-119 fire ratings, you should consider an intumescent or fire resistant paint instead.
Intumescent and cementitious coatings are among the most fire resistant coatings on the market today.
Certain brands of intumescent paint can achieve a 1-hour or greater fire rating on wood assemblies and assets. We recommend FlameOFF Coatings.
Use fire retardant paint when you need to slow the spread of fire, and use fire resistant paint when you need to protect the structural integrity of your asset.
Fire resistant paints are designed to protect critical, structural infrastructure, while fire retardant paints are meant to slow the spread of a fire without protecting the underlying asset. Fire resistant paints are generally considered better at protecting assets.
Fire retardant paints are generally oil-based, and therefore you’ll need to properly prepare the surface in order to paint over them, which you may need to do in harsh environments exposed to the elements.
Intumescent paints and coatings are not waterproof and generally require a top coat to protect them from the elements.
This article was updated February 18th, 2024 with the latest information about fire resistant and fire retardant paints