Fighting Fires and Saving Lives in Large, Single-Story, Undivided Buildings

A closer look at the need to incorporate automatic smoke vents into these designs
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Sponsored by The BILCO Company
By Jeanette Fitzgerald Pitts

Selecting the Right Automatic Smoke Vent for a Project

Automatic smoke vents are an important and effective fire management tool for buildings with large expanses of unobstructed space, such as convention centers, auditoriums, retail stores, schools, theaters, manufacturing facilities, and warehouses. However, the types of buildings included on this incredibly diverse list have unique needs that may be best addressed with slightly different automatic smoke vent solutions. Let’s take a closer look at some of the options and features available, and identify the types of projects that need them.

Photo courtesy of The BILCO Company

Vents can be supplied with polycarbonate covers to add daylight into a building and reduce energy costs.

Built-In Skylight

Most automatic smoke vents feature a cover constructed from solid aluminum or steel. In addition to melt-out dome models, mechanical automatic smoke vents are available with translucent polycarbonate covers that allow daylight to penetrate into the interior, while the covers are in the closed position, effectively transforming the smoke vent into a fire-responsive skylight. These daylighting covers are designed to resist UV degradation and offer superior insulation performance. These solutions are often sought to provide access to daylight for reduced energy costs and to improve the interior environment in manufacturing facilities, large atriums, and even schools.

Acoustical Sound-Rated

While outside noise may not be particularly disruptive to manufacturing and storage activities, the experience created in theaters and auditoriums can be materially diminished by unwanted noise intrusion. Automatic smoke vents that have achieved a sound rating can be used to help soundproof the interior space. Look for products that have sound transmission class (STC) and outdoor–indoor transmission class (OITC) ratings. These ratings indicate how well a device attenuates airborne sound, making these products ideally suited for concert halls, theaters, auditoriums, and other interior applications where exterior noise infiltration needs to be minimized.

Electric Activation

Automatic smoke vents can also be designed to be activated in response to a smoke detector or fire alarm in addition to the fusible link activation that will open the vents when the fusible link mechanism melts. These automatic smoke vents include an electric latching mechanism, which enables the vents to open when they receive a electric signal from the smoke detector or fire alarm control panel. This feature can be especially useful in applications where the smoke vents are more centrally located and will ensure that if there is a fire in the building, even if it is not located near the vents, the vents will be open, and smoke and hot gases will be able to escape.

Motorized or Winch Operation

Sometimes it’s nice or necessary to open the automatic smoke vents to ventilate a work area, even if there is no fire. Automatic smoke vents can be equipped so that they can be opened on demand too. Motorized smoke vents can be opened with push-button control, or a rigging can be installed at the floor level which will allow an operator to use a manual winch to open the vents.

Photo courtesy of The BILCO Company

Smoke vent options include motorized operation for daily natural ventilation in manufacturing environments.

Explosion Vents

Automatic smoke vents have also been designed to respond to explosions as well as fire, and they are available as either explosion vents or as combination fire/explosion vents. The explosion release mechanism is preset and factory tested to release in response to pressure on the underside of the covers.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2019