Controlling Smoke Movement Within a Building

Your building may be outfitted with high-tech sensors, alarms, sprinklers and other fire safety equipment, but have you installed a smoke management system?

Between 2014 and 2016, fire departments across the United States responded to over 100,000 fires in non-residential buildings. These fires resulted in $2.4 billion dollars in property damage, 90 deaths and over 1,350 injuries. The majority of deaths and injury aren't from burns, however, but rather from smoke inhalation.

Controlling smoke through integrated smoke management systems will help keep occupants safe and reduce damage to the building itself.

Basics of Smoke Movement in Hot and Cool Smoke Zones


Gaining a basic understanding of smoke zones and how smoke moves through a building helps when choosing a smoke management system and any additional equipment.

Firstly, when it comes to smoke movement within an enclosed building, there are two zones to be aware of: the hot smoke zone and the cool smoke zone. Smoke characteristics differ greatly between these two.

Hot smoke zones are almost always within the room where the fire ignited and are characterized by fast smoke movement. As the name suggests, smoke with a hot temperature moves upwards towards the ceiling, pulling in clean air from below. When a fire is exhibiting a strong plume, this is a hot smoke zone.

Hot smoke zones are high-energy and can quickly spread, with the smoke leaving through doorways, windows and other openings within the room.

Cool smoke zones are areas in the building where hot smoke has escaped to and cooled. Although cool smoke is still moving, it isn't as energized as hot smoke and may even look like it's simply hanging in the air.

Building size also plays a role in smoke movement. For example, in low buildings, the smoke will rely on air pressure and heat convection to move. Tall buildings are more challenging when it comes to smoke control and removal because the stack effect (vertical air flow) exacerbates normal convection and air pressure.

Smoke Management Systems for Commercial Buildings


There are various types of smoke management systems on the market, but there are four main methods of smoke control used within these systems: Dilution, Pressurization, Buoyancy and Compartmentation.


Dilution is the method of removing smoke from cool smoke zones through the introduction of make-up air (clean air that's ventilated in) coupled with exhaustion. The purpose of this is to remove smoke from a room through an exhaust vent until it reaches acceptable levels.


Pressurization refers to the use of smoke control through fans or some other form of mechanical ventilation. The fans work to induce pressure difference in spaces with airflow resistance to force the smoke to move towards exhaust fans. This makes pressurization ideal for use in stairwell and elevator shafts where the stack effect can be difficult.


The Buoyancy method works within hot smoke zones by venting the hot air outdoors through the use of vents. These vents can be powered by fans or work passively. This method is useful for smoke control within large buildings that have multiple open floors (e.g. an office building atrium).


The final method is Compartmentation. Compartmentation is a passive method of smoke management and focuses on the use of barriers to limit the movement of smoke physically. Walls, floors and doors are compartmentation barriers that will already be present, but the use of smoke curtains should be considered as well.

Compartmentation is all too often an afterthought of a smoke management system, despite it being incredibly effective. For this reason, more and more commercial building owners are having smoke curtains installed for maximum protection.

Utilizing Smoke Curtains as Physical Smoke Barriers


Smoke curtains have numerous benefits and will fit in with any existing smoke management system. These curtains are specially designed to deploy vertically or horizontally to block off doorways and other openings within a room.

They can be incorporated into fire safety systems and be set to deploy when the alarm from a local smoke detector is triggered. In addition to ramping up the strength and capability of your fire and smoke management systems, smoke curtains also help in protecting lives.

By forming a physical barrier between smoke and unaffected rooms, it allows building occupants to be able to leave the building more quickly, with a much-reduced risk of smoke inhalation. In a similar manner, smoke curtains used throughout a building for compartmentation allows firefighters to enter more quickly.

Since the smoke and fire will be within enclosed spaces, emergency personnel is able to more quickly access the situation and begin extinguishing, reducing damage to the building and improving occupant safety.

If your building currently lacks a dedicated smoke management system in addition to your fire safety equipment, a good place to start is by having a professional perform an inspection. They will be able to pinpoint weaknesses in your building and which areas of the building are at a higher risk for fire.

A fire safety inspector should also be able to help you get in contact with a reputable contractor that specializes in installing smoke control systems. You can then determine where you can install smoke curtains to further protect your employees and your business.

Contact Smoke Guard for more information on smoke curtains or to find a distributor today.