What Is Intumescent Paint?

Intumescent paints are paints that are designed to expand in the presence of heat.

Intumescence

The way these paints burn and turn into high-volume char makes them useful as a fire retardant. For those seeking a fire-safe home or work environment for a relatively low cost, intumescent paints are a viable option.

As intumescent paint heats up and burns, it expands and forms a carbon foam that does a poor job of transferring heat. The specific heat of graphite (pure carbon) is very high, meaning it takes a lot of energy to increase its temperature, while the higher volume makes for a thicker barrier.

Degree of Expansion

According to Fire Retardants Inc., a coating of paint 6 mm thick expands to about an inch of black foam in the presence of fire, increasing the volume of the barrier between the wall material and the fire.

Off-Gassing

Intumescent paint, upon expanding, also prevents fire from penetrating the substrate material by leeching oxygen from the material. A lower-oxygen environment cannot combust as readily, further increasing the durability of the coated medium.

Post-Fire Repair

Intumescent paint lowers total damage, and often the substrate material is able to be salvaged. The expanded carbon foam is simply scraped off and the surface can be repainted. In many cases, the coated material will still be structurally sound.

Application

While specific instructions may vary by brand, most intumescent paints can be rolled or brushed on like regular household paints, while others strongly recommend spray-on application. Consult the directions on each product and remember to coat all areas, as a single exposed region can compromise the fire-retardant nature of the entire substrate.

About the Author

Evan St. John is a freelance writer from Austin Texas. St. John graduated from the University of Texas with degrees in English and Linguistics, and is a regular music review columnist on AustinSound.net.