Elevator Shaft Smoke-Containment Doors

May 19, 2006

The Organization
The primary focus of assisted-living facilities is to provide care for elderly persons who can no longer maintain independent-living standards. Their facilities are typically commercial construction with a residential design element. Fire and life-safety concerns are a priority that can be made more difficult by the added challenge of ensuring accessibility for mobility-challenged persons. In some cases, a balanced approach is used when more stringent codes are required for the addition of a skilled nursing facility.

The Problem/Opportunity
Sections 707.14.1, 909.20.5, and 1004.3.2.1 of the 2003 Intl. Building Code (IBC) require fire-rated smoke barriers to prevent the migration of smoke from the elevator shafts to the fire-rated egress corridors of a building. In a fire- or smoke-related event, elevator shafts tend to act like chimneys, allowing smoke to migrate from the fire’s origin to upper floors and endanger the lives of occupants or persons using the egress routes.

John Donelan, retired chief fire marshal for the California Office of Statewide Planning and Development (OSHPD), explains, “Several potential problems occur when a separate elevator lobby is designed. Lobbies present a hazard to building occupants because, during a fire, it creates a smoke filled area that someone could accidentally enter. These openings typically are not maintained or functional due to change in building use and tenant improvements.”

The use of fire sprinklers has not been documented to be an effective method of stopping or slowing the spread of smoke (Building Safety Journal, April 2006). Architect Anthony Loscavio with Devenney Group LTD. in Phoenix faced the following obstacles when designing a multi-level, senior assisted-living residence combined with a skilled-nursing facility:

  1. The design of separate elevator lobbies restricted the clear corridor egress width.
  2. A separate elevator lobby decreased the owner’s usable space.
  3. Projections of the doors and hardware presented obstacles and potentially hazardous conditions for mobility-impaired individuals.
  4. IBC codes restrict projections no more than 7 inches into corridor. (Conventional fire-door assemblies have difficulty meeting this compliance issue.)
  5. Projections of the doors and hardware created compliance issues for the access of emergency care first responders and the routine movement of wheelchair and litter-bed patients to, from, and inside the skilled nursing facility portion of building.
  6. Conventional fire-door assemblies create long-term maintenance issues for the owner.
  7. Conventional fire-door assemblies made it difficult to maintain continuity of architectural design.

The Solution Process
The architect requested the consulting services of Scott A. Sabatini. Sabatini has over 30 years experience in the commercial door, frame, and hardware industry, and has achieved the highest professional level as an Architectural Openings Consultant (AOC) from the internationally recognized Door and Hardware Institute (DHI). This unique distinction comprises the attainment of all three industry certifications: Architectural Hardware Consultant (AHC), Certified Door Consultant (CDC), and Electrical Hardware Consultant (EHC). Sabatini also is credentialed with the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) as a Certified Construction Products Representative (CCPR).

The architect and consultant worked with the owner’s representative and general contractor to analyze several different solutions of compliance, balanced construction, cost impacts, and design requirements.

Final Decision
Several alternative options were rejected because of compromised life-safety trade-offs, lack of functionality, and/or cost considerations. The architect, owner, and contractor made the joint decision to use an integrated door opening assembly that swings over the face of the elevator shaft opening. The model approved and specified was The RITE Door® by Adams Rite Manufacturing Co., an ASSA ABLOY Group company, located in Pomona, CA, for the following reasons:

  1. The door system complied with all of the strict building codes issues and was tested and approved as a complete fire-rated assembly, which was more appealing to the fire-inspection authority having jurisdiction.
  2. Door assembly listing provided a fire-labeled oversized door opening width that was not available with conventional fire doors. This allowed openings to meet the design criteria by being pocketed to appear concealed and flush with wall construction, providing clean sight lines down corridors.
  3. The entire assembly could be painted to blend in and match the wall finish to improve the aesthetic appeal and help maintain desired design continuity.
  4. The door hardware is factory installed, which reduced the field labor cost and potential for installation errors, adjustment issues, and maintenance problems.
  5. The doors were provided with dependable heavy-duty, full-length continuous hinges that swung the door edge and face out of the opening along with inset operating hardware, which is practically flush with door face.
    a. The flush inset hardware and swing clear hinges increased the functionality of the opening by increasing the usable clear opening width, preventing interference from objects moving through openings and possible barriers or injury to mobility impaired individuals
    b. The increased clear opening width also provided excellent compliance to accessibility and means of egress, which is not offered with conventional fire doors.
  6. The inset hardware with patented top-latching mechanism, along with door and hinge edge protection, decreased the potential for long-term maintenance issues caused by floor strikes, astragals, automatic flush bolts, and coordinators. Simple mechanical operation and easy installation further reduce maintenance issues for end-users.
  7. The openings were offered with superior features for enhancing the infectious disease control efforts in the skilled-nursing facility portion
    a. Continuous hinges were provided with a unique “medical bearing” that prevented collection of airborne particles caused by the increased air exchange in healthcare environments
    b. Flush inset hardware also assisted the infectious disease control effort by reducing protruding areas that collect dusts and debris
    c. Optional finishes were available that inhibited growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, molds, fungi, and other microbes.
  8. Product was able to be competitively bid as an installed package from several local sources and met the project budget considerations.

The RITE Door by Adams Rite was specifically designed to be a single, all-in-one solution, one that would appeal as much to designers and owners as it does to installers and maintenance crews. Every aspect of The RITE Door is designed to work together, to give flexibility in planning and consistency in application.

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