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Fire doors are an all-important safety aspect of a building, providing reassurance that people can pass through escape routes before flames spread throughout the building.

Fire doors must be in compliance with local codes. While most municipalities have similar rules, they can very slightly based on the edition of the adopted building or life safety codes. For example, most fire doors require compliance with the dominant standard in the industry today, NFPA 80. But some municipalities can adopt different standards, or take on the broad framework of NFPA 80 while adding amended requirements.

NFPA 80 requires that all fire doors must be evaluated, tested and certified by an independent third-party certification agency. The predominant test standard for evaluation and certification of fire rated doors is UL 10C. In order for a fire door to be compliant with the UL10C standard, for example, it is placed in a furnace and subjected to fire conditions. This test, the dominant in the industry, is the positive pressure test. The pressure is slowly but steadily increased on the top of the door. The door must prevent any flames from passing through for the duration of the test.

Fire door testing and certifications vary depending on local codes and the end user’s plans for the door. The minimum amount of time a door must be subjected to fire testing is 20 minutes. Thereafter, it can be tested for 45 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes and, continuing in 30-minute increments, up to three hours.

Fire Door Test

Fire Door Test: This photo, courtesy of WDMA member Masonite, shows a fire door after testing at Masonite Architectural’s Fire Test Lab.

In the United States, any door subjected to fire testing for more than 20 minutes must also undergo hose stream testing. The real-life situation being simulated in the hose stream test is a firefighter delivering constant stream of water to the building’s interior in an attempt to extinguish the flames. By applying a specific pressure for a set duration, the test evaluates whether a door can withstand impact by the water stream without compromising structural integrity of the door. Any gaps exceeding the conditions described in the test standards disqualifies a fire door from certification.

When a fire door passes construction and testing requirements and becomes certified, it can be installed in a building. A local Authority Having Jurisdiction, or AHJ, is tasked with ensuring that the door is installed in compliance with local building, fire and life safety code requirements. An AHJ can be a fire marshal, building official or municipal inspector.

After the door has been checked and approved by the AHJ, it does not need to undergo additional fire testing at any time. Fire doors can last decades. The 2007 and all subsequent editions of NFPA 80 require annual inspections to ensure that fire door assemblies operate as intended and remain code compliant.

There are three main types of fire door assemblies:

1

Self-closing doors are, by default, closed, and only open when someone is walking through. After the person walks through, the fire door shuts on its own.
2

Automatic doors are, by default, open. If a fire breaks out or when the automatic-closing device is activated, an automatic door closes itself.
3

Power-operated doors are integrated with the building’s fire alarm system. If the fire alarm system detects smoke or flames or if there is loss of power, the doors are retracted in the closed position.

Architects specifying fire doors should keep three things in mind. First, it is essential to ensure that a fire door meets building and life safety code requirements of the local jurisdiction in question. Second, architects should emphasize the importance of component compatibility within the fire door assembly. And third, architects should prioritize proper storage and installation to minimize wear or damage to the door.

Remodelers, like architects, should double-check that any renovation project does not push fire doors out of compliance with local building and life safety codes. For example, if a renovation project calls for a new fire door and a new floor material, the overall dimensions of the door may change because the floor height may change. A remodeler cannot rely on the old dimensions of the door, but should re-measure to ensure that the door perfectly fits against the floor and door frame.

That is not the only mistake people can make with fire doors. Fire doors are designed to guarantee safety, and missing or incorrect components can compromise safety in the event of a fire. Anyone handling a fire door should periodically check that all components are present and functional. Moreover, fire labels should never be removed or obscured.

Fire Test Furnace

Fire Door Furnace: This photo, courtesy of WDMA member Masonite, offers a look at a fire door subject to UL10C fire testing at Masonite Architectural’s Fire Test Lab.

Rossen Marinov

Rossen Marinov is director of codes and standards for Masonite International, a member of the Window & Door Manufacturers Association. For more information about high performance windows, doors, and skylights, please visit www.openuptoperformance.com.

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