How Fire Bead Accelerated Firestopping for an Historic Mixed-Use Structure
The historic Centennial building in St. Louis, Mo., located on the corner of Tucker Boulevard and Olive Street in the city’s vibrant downtown neighborhood, has received a $15 million makeover — in the form of 51 impressive new apartments and three floors of commercial space. The building (now dubbed Front Page Lofts) was once the home of the prominent St. Louis Post Dispatch newspaper from 1917-1960, and according to that same publication, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. With eight floors and 129,175 square feet of floorspace, around 95,000 square feet of which required complete renovation, finishing this project was no small feat.
Within all this modernization, D&L Painting & Drywall — the drywall contractors brought in for the framing, hanging and finishing for this massive project — saw an opportunity to utilize new technology to supercharge their ability to make Front Page Lofts’ new apartments fully code compliant.
Having already successfully experimented with new forms of code compliance solutions in the past (like Trim-Tex’s Fire Rated Expansion Bead), the folks at D&L Painting & Drywall took another step into the future of firestopping. They handpicked a crucial Trim-Tex accessory to outfit all their head-of-wall joints that needed protection against the passage of smoke and fire: Fire Bead.
Why Front Page Lofts favored Fire Bead: ‘Speed and simplicity’
Fire Bead is a code-compliant spin on Trim-Tex’s popular Wall-Mounted Deflection Bead; it installs the same way and provides a similar amount of protection against deflection. The huge difference is that Fire Bead is armed with a strip of intumescent tape that expands to over 30 times its size when exposed to heat, effectively choking of smoke and fire from passing through the wall joint. There are two options of Fire Bead, one for one-hour fire rated walls and another for two-hour fire rated walls. (D&L used the former, the more economical of the two choices, as their building codes only called for one-hour rated assemblies.)
Because the crews at D&L Painting & Drywall had already been installing the regular Deflection Bead for years — including at Front Page Lofts, which used about 5,000 linear feet of Deflection Bead within its units, while using 4,500 linear feet of Fire Bead between each unit and between the units and common areas like hallways — there was essentially no learning curve to start installing the cutting-edge Fire Bead. By using this fire rated deflection bead, they gained access to a one-stop shop for a flawless finish at the head-of-wall, while also saving them from having to come back to apply fire caulk in all those joints. The whole process was condensed into a single accessory.
“It's been pretty easy,” said Bill VanGels, the superintendent for D&L Painting & Drywall and our tour guide when we went down to St. Louis to check out the jobsite for ourselves. “The guys have been putting Tear Away Bead on for years, so it goes on very much like Tear Away. Then it puts your fire caulking in the same step as your [Wall-Mounted Deflection Bead] installation, so you're not dropping back with one more time in the unit to actually fire caulk. You're actually doing that step while you're doing the [Deflection Bead], so it's a lot more efficient … With fire caulks, you bring in a crew back into the unit, one more time in the unit, versus doing it all in the same trip.”
What set Fire Bead apart for the crew at Front Page Lofts, not just from the more out-moded fire caulks, but from the rest of Trim-Tex’s line of fire rated drywall accessories? Other code compliance solutions from our arsenal, like Hotrod XL and Fire Gasket, may offer more unencumbered building movement, but these lofts aren’t in some seismically unpredictable zone like San Francisco — this is the heart of the Midwest, and the 1/4” of joint movement that Fire Bead offers was exactly the right, most cost-effective fit for the job. Plus, Fire Bead is tailor-made for concrete ceilings like these.
By using Fire Bead, the D&L crews were far more efficient and used far less material (besides just eliminating fire caulk, the added backing materials those sealants require add up), and where caulks only come with short-term performance warranties, this new solution is designed to last for the life of the building. The choice of Fire Bead would wind up saving countless hours and dollars to finish the building’s extensive renovations. The fact that Fire Bead also leaves a better, cleaner finish than a sealant-applied joint, as one D&L finisher told us while installing it? That’s a pretty great bonus.
“Speed and simplicity — we're always looking for the easy button,” Bill told us. “Anything that can make it easier for the guys in the fields is going to be a time-saver for us.”
Finishing Front Page Lofts
Not all parts of the finishing process were quite as easy as installing the firestopping accessories: given Front Page Lofts’ location in such a densely urban environment, loading in hardware for the job proved to be a troublesome task for the drywalling crews.
“Probably the biggest challenge with Front Page Lofts has been getting material in the building,” Bill said. “I mean, it's a chore. That job, everything has to be stocked with a crane. Then trying to complete units starting from the top, coming down — we're starting on the eighth floor and coming down.”
As a result of this unique predicament, to tour Front Page Lofts from the fourth floor (where the apartments begin, as the lower floors are for its commercial occupants) going all the way up to the eighth feels as though you’re watching many months of renovation work in a matter of minutes.
On the lowest level of the renovations, you can see just how much work had to be done on this project — seemingly only the outer walls and ceilings remained of the original building, and almost everything else needed new construction. At this time during our visit, the D&L team had just finished framing, and were only just starting to hang the drywall.
“These buildings are old buildings,” Bill told us. “You're working with what's here. I mean, the bones are staying, the concrete ceilings are all staying, the exterior walls are staying, so it's not a total new finished product. I mean, you're working with what was here when we got here.”
Floors five through six, meanwhile, were in various stages of the finishing process — in some areas, they were starting to install their Fire Bead to their head-of-wall joints, applying staples every six to eight inches along the mud legs.
In others, they had begun to apply a coat of joint compound to the entire length of the Fire Bead, simply using a taping knife and a full mud pan.
And in still others, the fire rated joints had already been quickly inspected (another advantage of our fire rated drywall accessories, given their bright pink hue), and there were a couple coats of fresh paint to make the beads practically invisible in the wall assembly's deflection gap.
By the time we reached the top floors of Front Page Lofts, the units were fully painted and getting close to move-in ready, besides some cardboard remaining on the floors and a few odds and ends. The apartments themselves were enviable, with high ceilings, huge windows and great views of the downtown St. Louis skyline, the tip of the Gateway Arch just visible over the buildings facing southeast.
The units felt as though the building’s developers and construction crews, like those at D&L Painting & Drywall, had carefully struck a balance between preserving the history of the structure and providing an elegant, modernized space that breathes new life into the building.
Front Page Lofts will begin moving in tenants starting in July 2021.
Fire Bead was the perfect fit for D&L and Front Page Lofts due to its cost-effectivity and efficiency as an all-in-one code compliance and drywall finishing solution — “speed and simplicity,” as Bill says. Before you dive into your next construction project, you may want to see if it’s the right fit for you, too, or if there’s another cutting-edge firestopping tool to suit you. All you have to do is visit www.FireBead.com, or hit the button below, and don’t forget to grab a copy of the full technical catalog while you’re there.