Fire Doors 101

July 1, 2010
From people to property, fire doors protect your assets

Fire doors play a vital role in access control and protecting people and property from more than just the outdoor elements. These passive fire protection systems are designed to protect an opening with a fire-rated barrier.

Fire doors are typically used to protect openings in exits, such as fire-rated stair enclosures, fire-rated exit corridors, and horizontal exits. They're also installed in fire barrier openings that are designed to protect your building and its occupants from specific hazards, as well as compartmentalize your building into specific fire areas, says Chris Jelenewicz, engineering program manager with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

"A fire door will automatically close in the event of a fire or emergency, and can be used as an everyday door," says Starla Middlebrooks, brand manager for the Overhead Door Corp. "By installing an insulated fire door, the need of having a regular door and a fire door is eliminated."

Tried and True
"As opposed to a regular door, building and fire codes require fire doors to pass a fire-resistance test that's conducted by an independent testing agency," says Jelenewicz. "The standard test procedure for fire doors can be found in NFPA 252: Standard Methods of Fire Tests of Door Assemblies." The doors are tested as a complete assembly, which includes the door leaf, hinges, the latch, the closing device, and the frame.

"All fire doors are subject to fire tests conducted by national test agencies, and must withstand the rigors of the fire test," says Jeff Wherry, managing director for the Steel Door Institute. "The Door Safety Council will be implementing an annual inspection program for all fire doors within the year."

If the door passes the test, it's classified by a fire protection rating that's expressed in hours – typically 0.5, 1/3, 0.75, 1, 1.5, and 3 hours.

When testing the door, it's important to make sure the door isn't tied or propped open, says Jelenewicz. Also, check for damage and missing parts.

These tests and annual inspections ensure that your fire door will work properly in fire conditions.

Musts (and Must Nots)
All fire doors are required to have a label indicating the test organization and the door classification in hours. In addition, fire doors must have a closing device and latch. "The closing device will make sure the door closes properly; the latch will hold the door closed during a fire," Jelenewicz explains. If it's required, exit hardware must be labeled as "fire exit hardware."

Because fire doors are tested as a complete assembly, field modifications to fire doors are restricted. "For example, signs can only be installed on a fire door using adhesive," Jelenewicz says. "They can't be installed with nails or screws. Also, kick plates may be installed, but with limitations." He says it's important to consult with NFPA 80: Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives for other field modifications, such as security devices and other hardware installations.

To ensure that you have the highest level of protection, install your fire doors in accordance with NFPA 80, says Jelenewicz. "If there are any questions about the installation of a fire door, consult with your fire protection engineer. Fire protection engineers understand the science and technology, such as passive fire protection, that's used to protect people and property from fire."

Kylie Wroblaski ([email protected]) is associate editor for BUILDINGS.

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