Firestop pillows are passive fire protection items, used for firestopping holes in wall or floor assemblies required to have a fire-resistance rating. The products must be used in accordance with a valid certification listing, subject to listing and approval use and compliance.
A hose-stream test, which is mandatory for firestops in the US and often used in Canada, qualifies the openings and firestop pillow combinations as effective against the force of a 30 psi water stream. To accommodate larger openings that can allow the pillows to become dislodged, wire mesh is sometimes used although one vendor uses heavy-duty grids and claims it is "burglar-proof". Installing firestop pillows correctly is not as easy as one might think or be lead by the literature to believe. One may need to achieve a certain compression rate, which needs to be quantified for each hole. This would entail an accurate calculation of the area of the opening less the area covered by the penetrating items. Then one must factor in the required compression ratio of the pillows to calculate just how many need to be installed. Without this information, there is no evidence the installation conforms with the requirements of the certification listing. If the certification listing applicable to the opening does not mention the compression ratio, using pillows is inadvisable. It stands to reason that one must compress the pillows adequately in order to pass the test. This necessitates the use of a series of calculations, first of the area of the opening, minus the area of the penetrants. Then one calculates the number of pillows required to fill the opening, taking into account the extra pillows needed to achieve the required compression ratio, which was employed in order to pass the fire test. As penetrants are exchanged or removed, this calculation must be redone in order to maintain compliance with the certification listing.
In order to result in an installation which meets listing and approval use and compliance it is usually necessary to ensure pillow coverage between cables. The exact cabling as mandated by the certification listing is important. It is also a physical impossibility to prevent smoke migration through the interior of a cable bundle, if the bundle is not opened up and sealed on the inside during the installation of any firestop, regardless of whether the firestop is intumescent or not. No intumescent can be expected to spread between multiple layers of cables, from the outside towards the inside. If viewed in plan view, each cable represents a circle. In a bundle, as cables are in contact, there are necessarily empty spaces between cables, which invite smoke and heat transfer. An intumescent firestop may reach somewhat into the first layer of cables but to push beyond this takes more force than can be reasonably expected to be generated through an intumescing process. Theoretically, after one calculates the compression rate to determine just how many pillows should be installed, then one has to install the mesh, or grating, or grid, then the pillows. When one uses the mesh, mechanical fasteners are required, including, anchors, bolts etc. In many cases, the effort required negates the touted and perceived benefits of fast installation and "re-enterability" that is typically purported to be provided by this technology.
The last type of pillow comes from an entrepreneur from Cologne, Germany who has been private-labelled it for other companies all over the world. Its basic material is Bayer Fomox intumescent foam, which can be extruded into various shapes. For countries that use a hose-stream test, the Fomox is re-enforced with intumescent graphite, whereas for those who don't use a hose-stream, this ingredient is omitted. The product is basically intumescent foam rubber.
Field installations of firestop pillows do not offer any realistic resistance to air pressure differences or smoke penetration, as is evidenced by the L ratings of North American certification listings of firestops. Particularly if cable bundles are not opened up and spread by firestop, then the triangular spaces between round cables have not been addressed.
The intumescent resins in batt-based firestop pillows contains hydrates, or chemically bound water. On the fire side, the plastic bag will burn off, exposing the intumescent to the fire, releasing the water in the form of vapour or steam. The steam rises and hits the plastic bag interior on the unexposed side, where it condenses back to water, and runs back down to cool the installation below. This concept does not negate the installation listing and approval use and compliance issues. Proper compression of batt-based pillows are held in through friction until the "bounce-back" effect has been reduced through frequent use.
For the fabric bag based pillows, the vermiculite, the fabric bag and the graphite are noncombustible. The graphite expands but forms no bond with anything around it, unlike the resin-based instumescents. There is also no significant release of chemically bound water. Usually the bags are not entirely filled and are, thus, quite floppy, requiring strung mesh or grid installations to stay in during normal operations.
The Fomox-based pillows intumesce.
Older versions of firestop pillows have no intumescent contents, which makes it difficult to pass a hose-stream test. They have not been in use for many years.