Fire retardant paint: protect your property and safety

The New Zealand Fire Service attended 5,236 structure fires last year – there were about 112 structure fires per 100,000 people, 78 of which were residential. Increasing the fire safety of your property or building is not just something to think about in the future, it is something to do now. As well as active fire protection systems like fire/smoke alarms, fire hose reels, and extinguishers there are passive fire protection methods which can greatly reduce the risk of fire or extreme fire damage. Fire retardant paint is a passive fire protection coating that acts to resist the spread of fire. In the case of a fire, fire retardant paint (also called flame retardant paint or flame damping paint) can provide vital extra time for firefighters and does not add fuel to a fire. Fire retardant paint:

  • Can deplete a small fire of its fury and so starve it completely
  • Gives extra time for firefighters to get the blaze under control before it gets to the point of building collapse
  • Allows more time for discovery and evacuation

In this article we look at the different applications of fire retardant paint and products for wood, concrete and steel. We also provide information on fire safety standards and regulations in New Zealand.

The mechanism behind fire retardant paint

The mechanism which allows a fire retardant paint to hold off flames is also activated by flames. When exposed to heat, a fire retardant paint will release a flame damping gas or chemical which deprives flames of the fuel they need to burn. The paint itself also does not propagate fire, meaning it does not provide an alternative fuel source. These two factors combined mean that when a fire reaches a flame retardant coating it slows in its progress. Once the flame damping gases are exhausted, the effect of the coating is lost.

Fire retardant paint is categorised by the amount of time it actively works to combat flames.   A fire retardant paint needs to:

  1. Prevent flame spreading further than 165mm from the point of ignition in the test time of 10 minutes (a Class 1 fire rating based on British Standard 476 pt 7)
  2. Does not propagate the fire, limiting the amount of heat released from a surface during a fire

If the coating meets both these requirements it is categorised as Class 0 under BS476, meaning it protects from the spread of flames and from fire propagation. The causes of residential fires are mostly unintentional: unattended cooking, smoking in bedrooms, candles, heaters left unsupervised. A fire retardant paint can minimise property damage and work to protect against these accidental blazes.

Fire retardant paint for wood prevents flame spread and propagation.

The difference between a flame test for a fire retardant treated vs. untreated wood.

Where to use fire retardant paint: walls, ceilings, fabric, steel, wood

Fire retardant paints are a flexible and versatile coating type that can be applied to a wide range of materials and substrates – the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch uses fire retardant paint to protect the cardboard tubes that make up its roof. Below we look at some of the common fire retardant coating applications.

Fire retardant paint for wood

Wood, from weatherboard to solid timber, is a hugely popular New Zealand building material. It is also, unfortunately, flammable. Fire retardant paint for wood is an effective method of upgrading the fire protection of a wooden substrate. Fire retardant paint for wood can be a clear varnish or an opaque paint, and can be applied as a sealer or as a final coat. In order for the flame-damping effect of a fire retardant paint to work, you need to make sure it is the top coat of whatever system you use.

If you are looking to build with wood, a timber impregnated with fire retardant chemicals is a good option, where building codes allow it.

Fire retardant paint for metal

Though metal is not known for its flammability, the heat of a fire will compromise metal substrates. Steel, in particular, loses strength at 300ºC and will begin to fail above 500ºC. Fire protection coatings are vital for the security of metal structures. In the case of structural steel, the main coating used for protection is intumescent, a coating which swells and chars when exposed to heat.

When using a fire retardant paint for metal, it is applied as a top coat over the base layer of intumescent coating in what is called a duplex system. The fire retardant delays the swelling reaction and together the two coatings can extend fire protection for up to 2 hours for a substrate.

Flame resistant paint for fireplaces

If you are planning to build and paint or recoat a fireplace, you need to make sure you choose a paint that is heat or flame resistant as well as attractive. This will make the fireplace safer and make it less likely that the heat will degrade the paint during the cold winter nights.  It will also protect against the occasional spark from over-enthusiastic stoking or accidents.

Fire retardant paint regulations and standards in New Zealand

All buildings in New Zealand must comply with the Building Code. This Code is contained in regulations under the Building Act 2004, which sets out the rules for the construction, alteration, demolition, and maintenance of new and existing buildings in New Zealand. The Ministry for Business, Innovation, and Employment (MPIE) is the overarching regulator of New Zealand’s building system, providing policy and technical advice on the rules and standards in New Zealand’s building system through their website (including protection from fire compliance).

There are six Building Code clauses related to protecting people in buildings from fire, each with an objective and products and determinations. Buildings designated for different purposes (residential, hospital, etc) require different levels of fire safety precautions. For a look at fire safety designs, the MPIE has released a guide to design compliance.

Get your fire retardant paint job certified

A fire protection coating is a job for a professional. A trained contractor can apply the coating accurately and to specification, giving you peace of mind about a job well done. They will also provide certification for their work, an important step for proving compliance or for insurance policies and claims.

Where to find fire retardant paint products and specialists in NZ

There are international and homegrown companies providing fire protection paint for the New Zealand market. Not only that but we have specialists and contractors throughout the country capable of providing a professional finish including PJF Services Ltd, TBS Group in Auckland, Alchemis (Fireseal), and Advanced Applicators based out of Christchurch. The manufacturers of fire protection coating in New Zealand include Altex Coatings, Resene Paints, Dulux, and Firepro.

Below we have compiled a list of products and their uses. If you have a fire retardant paint project and would like to be connected with the right coating for the job, get in touch! Our experts are here to help. Just click through to the “Request a Quote” contact form from the link beneath this article and tell us about your needs. We will do the rest.

Fire Retardant Paint ProductDescription
Cyndan Fabric Fire ProofingA water based solution for the treatment of most types of fabric. Can be used in-situ to treat curtains, carpets and soft upholstery materials.
Firepro FR29Formulated for protecting carpet, cotton, acrylic, hessian, and canvas drapes and coverings in theatres, restaurants, lifts, passageways etc.
Fire Retardant Liquid NF – Timber Flame Retardant Clear Coating Clear coating fire retardant solution used for treatment on all softwood timbers.
Flame Check Plus – Fire Retardant SprayA colourless, odourless, non-toxic fire retardant for cotton, polyester, or polycotton mix.
NZ Fire-Shield Inspecta-ShieldA versatile, broad spectrum, odourless, colourless, multi-use, penetrating, class ‘A’ fire retardant. For interior use only on synthetic and natural materials including timber.