Designing Roofs for Life Safety and Sound Isolation

Explore expert insights on how to specify sound-rated automatic smoke vents
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The Benefits of Automatic Smoke Vents

Automatic smoke vents are often incorporated in large, single-story, undivided buildings and other types of spaces where they are not required by code. Many architects, engineers, fire authorities, and insurance carriers agree that specifying automatic smoke vents for modern industrial and commercial structures offers significant benefits and dramatically improves outcomes as they relate to the protection of lives and property in the event of a fire. By simply opening a vent door in the roof, automatic smoke vents enable a building’s fire response to better protect the property in a building and the lives of the people and firefighters inside it.

Better Protection for People and Firefighters

These devices remove smoke, heat, and gases from a burning building, which helps people and firefighters move more securely through the compromised interior. People in the building have more time to safely exit the premises and, with less smoke trapped in the structure, the risk of smoke inhalation is decreased. Smoke inhalation is recognized as the number-one cause of death related to fires. This reduction in the amount of smoke inside the building also improves the visibility that firefighters have of the interior once they arrive on the scene. Being able to see the emergency more clearly enables emergency crews to more quickly locate the fire, formulate a plan, and begin fighting it.

When smoke vents open, releasing smoke and hot gases trapped inside, visibility improves for firefighters, enabling them to more quickly locate the fire.

Fires also release dangerous gases into the air, including carbon monoxide, which is lethal. Smoke from fires often contains a whole host of other toxic threats like hydrogen cyanide and inorganic acids. Exposure to these toxicants can be the principal cause of death found in victims that succumb to these events. During fires, potentially explosive fumes can also be released. Automatic smoke vents remove noxious and potentially explosive gases from the area, making the burning environment safe for people and firefighters to travel through it.

Better Protection for Property

Smoke vent solutions also offer improved protection for the building structure and the property it contains. When correctly implemented, the venting strategy protects against secondary ignitions and lateral fire spread, protects the structure from damaging heat, and reduces the total amount of damage that occurs. Let us take a closer look at how vents on the roof can make such a difference.

When fires start, a smoke plume of hot gases and smoke rises directly above the area of combustion until it hits the ceiling. Unable to break through the ceiling plane, the hot gases and combustion products spread out horizontally under the ceiling surface, quickly reaching areas of the building that are removed from the immediate location of the fire. As the fire continues to burn, more smoke and hot gases rise to the ceiling. The layer of hot gas and smoke at the ceiling thickens and gets hotter. The intense heat building at the ceiling will eventually begin to weaken the structure, increasing the potential danger to the people and firemen on the scene and the amount of damage caused by the fire. Automatic smoke vents slow the buildup of these hot gases at the ceiling and can even reverse it, protecting the structure from the damaging levels of heat that can be produced.

The vents also help to prevent lateral spread by allowing the smoke and gases to exit the building near where they impact the ceiling, instead of spreading out, trapped underneath the ceiling plane. Keeping the fire, smoke, and heat from spreading reduces the opportunities for secondary ignitions and helps to keep sprinklers from activating that are not in the immediate area of the fire. This reduces the unnecessary water damage to property and contents not directly involved in the fire.


Automatic smoke vents are an effective solution for mitigating a great deal of the danger and destruction that could occur during a fire event. These life-safety devices are also capable of mitigating exterior noise and creating an interior environment that sounds great under normal circumstances. Look for sound-rated smoke vents to provide the code-mandated safety equipment without compromising the sound performance of the roof.


The BILCO Company For more than 90 years, The BILCO Company has been a building industry pioneer in the design and development of specialty access products for both commercial and residential projects. The ISO 9001-certified company is a wholly owned subsidiary of AmesburyTruth, a division of Tyman PLC.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in August 2020