Smoke partitions, also known as smoke barriers or smoke curtains, are crucial fire protection systems used in various buildings to contain and manage the spread of smoke and fire in the event of a conflagration. These partitions are designed to maintain tenable conditions within a specified area, allowing occupants to evacuate safely and emergency responders to access the fire-affected areas more efficiently. This article delves into the specific locations within an IBC (International Building Code) where smoke partitions are mandatory.

1. Smoke Protection Areas and Stairwells

In large buildings, such as shopping malls, office complexes, and hospitals, designated areas known as smoke protection areas (SPAs) are created to provide refuge and facilitate the safe movement of occupants during a fire. These areas are typically located near exits and are designed to remain free of smoke for a specific period. Smoke partitions are essential in separating these SPAs from adjacent areas, ensuring that smoke and heat are effectively contained. Similarly, stairwells serve as crucial evacuation routes, and smoke partitions are required to maintain a smoke-free environment within these stairwells, enabling safe egress for occupants.

2. Atriums and Open Spaces

Atriums and other large open spaces pose unique challenges in terms of smoke management. Due to their expansive volume, smoke can quickly spread and accumulate, creating a hazardous environment. To mitigate this risk, smoke partitions are strategically placed within these open spaces to create smoke compartments. These compartments limit the movement of smoke and heat, preventing their spread throughout the entire space. This compartmentalization enhances visibility and provides safe refuge areas for occupants.

3. Exit Corridors and Access Routes

Exit corridors and access routes are critical pathways that allow occupants to evacuate a building during a fire. Maintaining these routes free of smoke and heat is paramount for the safety of occupants. Smoke partitions are strategically placed along these exit paths, creating protected corridors that minimize the exposure of evacuees to smoke and heat. This enables safe and efficient egress from the building.

4. Elevator Shafts and Mechanical Equipment Spaces

Elevator shafts and mechanical equipment spaces are often located in close proximity to other occupied areas. In the event of a fire, these spaces can become conduits for the spread of smoke and fire. To prevent this, smoke partitions are installed to isolate these spaces, preventing smoke migration into occupied areas. This containment helps maintain a tenable environment for occupants and facilitates firefighting operations.

5. Special Occupancies and Hazardous Areas

Certain occupancies, such as healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and assembly venues, have specific requirements for smoke compartmentalization. These occupancies often house vulnerable populations or involve hazardous materials, making smoke management crucial. Smoke partitions are installed in these occupancies to create separate smoke compartments, ensuring that smoke and fire are contained within specific areas and minimizing the risk to occupants.


Smoke partitions play a vital role in ensuring the safety of occupants and facilitating effective firefighting operations. Their strategic placement in designated areas, such as smoke protection areas, stairwells, atriums, exit corridors, and special occupancies, helps contain smoke and fire, enabling safe egress and enhancing the overall fire protection strategy within a building.


  1. Where are smoke partitions typically installed in a building?
    Smoke partitions are installed in various locations, including smoke protection areas, stairwells, atriums, exit corridors, elevator shafts, mechanical equipment spaces, and special occupancies.

  2. What is the purpose of a smoke partition?
    Smoke partitions are designed to contain smoke and fire within a specific area, preventing their spread throughout a building. This helps maintain tenable conditions for occupants, facilitates safe evacuation, and aids firefighting efforts.

  3. Are smoke partitions required by code?
    Yes, smoke partitions are required by the IBC in specific locations within a building, as outlined in the article.

  4. What materials are smoke partitions made of?
    Smoke partitions are typically constructed using fire-rated materials, such as gypsum board, concrete, or steel. These materials are designed to resist the passage of smoke and fire for a specified period.

  5. How are smoke partitions maintained?
    Smoke partitions require regular inspection and maintenance to ensure their proper functioning. This includes checking for damage, ensuring proper installation, and conducting periodic testing to verify their effectiveness.

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