Tag Archives: Life safety

Understanding Fire Protection Engineering

Fire Suppression System Supply Test for Flamable Liquid Storage Tank

Images courtesy Burns & McDonnell

by Tony Schoenecker, PE
Keeping costs down while maintaining the highest standard of safety and meeting building requirements is a goal for any project. In most cases, this is easier said than done, but following best practices in fire protection engineering can provide oft-overlooked ways to achieve this goal.

Neglecting to consider the big picture when making specifying decisions is a common oversight; minor points can quickly add up. This practice often leads to choices that benefit a specific area without taking into account other disciplines (i.e. building classification, fire alarm, passive fire protection, etc.). This may result in increases in capital or maintenance expenses. For example, to reduce cost of a fully sprinklered boiler room enclosure, the smoke partition exception may be provided instead of a one-hour fire barrier. However, this may now require smoke dampers to be installed in the air transfer grilles that were previously not required, in addition to smoke detection for initiation.

Two of the most effective ways to employ a consolidated life safety and asset protection method are merging systems and eliminating unnecessary ones. Incorporating fire-resistive construction, using the building code and its exceptions tothe specific project’s benefit, and employing proper design techniques also present opportunities to implement a holistic approach. Given there are multiple fire protection systems in place, it is vital to have a coordinated and cohesive plan.

Simplicity through multi-disciplinary coordination
Harmonizing multi-disciplinary systems—such as egress, public address, fire alarm, and storage—presents an opportunity to simplify maintenance and design while also lowering project costs. Since fire protection is a multi-disciplinary practice (i.e. architects for egress and fire barriers, mechanical engineers for sprinkler assemblies, and electrical engineers for fire alarm systems), the synchronization of these systems is often overlooked.

By coordinating and understanding a building’s classification and egress system early on in the design phase, projects are more likely to stay on schedule and see increased interdisciplinary coordination. If changes in the building classification or modifications to the floor plan to address egress issues (e.g. number of exits, dead-end corridors, common paths of travel, or maximum travel distances) happen after the fact, the design budget and project schedule can be considerably hampered. It is always best to solidify these early in the project and long before the permit review set is issued.

When it comes to building systems, more is not always better—this is certainly true for public address and fire alarm systems. Some buildings have separate public address and fire alarm systems, but integrating them into one, such as a fire alarm voice evacuation and paging system, is an efficient and effective way to control project costs.

Merged systems can sometimes provide all the same functions as two separate ones as well; fire alarm voice evacuation systems can be zoned and programmed to take audio input from a phone paging system, or provide background music, just like a public address system.

Human behavior studies have also demonstrated building’s occupants respond more quickly and effectively during an emergency when given voice instructions. It is consequently critical to ensure the performance criteria for intelligibility and sound power are clearly noted in the voice evacuation system’s specification, so it meets not only the building’s life safety requirements, but also the paging needs.

Just as with fire alarm and public address systems, synchronization is critical when planning storage and sprinkler systems. Coordinating the two make for a more effective process and offer simpler maintenance. An inefficient storage system can drive up water fire demand for the sprinkler systems, even to the point where a fire pump becomes required. By harmonizing these two systems in the design phase, including limiting the product storage height, providing open shelving, employing wood instead of plastic pallets, increasing the aisle width between racks, or providing single- versus double-row rack systems—all strategies that can reduce fire water demand.

Using the code and the exceptions within
Knowing and using the building code and its exceptions to the specific project’s benefit can pay dividends. This all begins with planning that happens before converting the schematic design into a building.

Constructing a building with the most restrictive occupancy requirements in mind can reduce passive fire protection such as fire walls, fire barriers, and fire partitions. As an example, when designing for a building with both business and assembly occupancies, one may be able to eliminate the fire barrier around assembly areas. If the whole building can be constructed within the allowable area of the most restrictive occupancy—in this case, the assembly occupancy—the building can then be classified as a mixed-use, non-separated, and assembly/business occupancy. This removes the need for this fire-rated barrier.

Being aware of the ‘10 percent rule’ to reduce fire-rated construction will also help a project team take advantage of the building code and its exceptions. With this rule, when the limiting occupancy is less than a tenth of the overall building area, it can be considered an accessory to the main occupancy, removing the requirements for fire-resistive construction between the occupancies. It is important to remember this is the aggregate of all accessory occupancies involved.

For example, if a factory has a lunch room (assembly) and offices (business), and the sum of the assembly and business occupancies exceed 10 percent of the total floor area, the code will not allow both to be considered accessory to the factory. Given these circumstances, it is most advantageous to consider the assembly occupancy as the accessory occupancy, which is then pulled from the equation and is no longer a restricting factor of the maximum allowable building area.

High Expansion Foam System Release

An example of high-expansion foam system release.

Having only the factory and business occupancies left offers a larger total building area and may give the option of calling the building a ‘mixed-use, non-separated, factory/business occupancy.’ This classification not only eliminates the fire-resistive construction around the lunch room, but around the office area as well. It is important to remember both of these options do not eliminate the need to apply the more stringent egress requirements—howev

er, they do help reduce the need for walls with fire-resistive construction, in addition to any Underwriters Laboratories (UL)-listed opening protection at building system penetrations.

When considering other areas to simplify building maintenance, implementing smoke barriers and sprinkler systems only when absolutely necessary present two opportunities to do just that. It is not uncommon to see smoke barriers provided where not required. Smoke barriers are only required in a limited number of conditions:

  • creating smoke compartments in underground buildings, in Group I-3 and I-2 buildings, and ambulatory care buildings;
  • some elevator lobbies; and
  • for areas of refuge.

Although sprinklers provide distinct advantages, such as eliminating fire-rated corridors and removing fire ratings around incidental rooms (e.g. furnace, boiler, an

d laundry rooms), they are often not required in smaller buildings. Consequently, a quick cost-benefit analysis should be done to determine whether adding a sprinkler system is the most advantageous approach for the facility in question.

It is important to note, however, that when removing fire barriers around incidental areas with the sprinkler system exception, smoke partitions are still required. Utilizing smoke partitions rather than fire barriers in these instances is often a more economical approach. Smoke partitions are only obligated to limit the passage of smoke (not restrict it) and, therefore, have more relaxed construction requirements.

Utilizing fire-resistive construction
While subtracting fire systems such as sprinklers can help increase project savings, adding fire-resistive construction can also yield the same outcome. For example, if the building has a hazardous area that is increasing the water demand for the sprinkler system, it may be beneficial to enclose this single room in fire-resistive construction equal to the duration of the demand, allowing the sprinkler designer to use the room design method to reduce the fire-water demand for the building. Sometimes, these hazardous areas can drive the need for a costly fire pump, but adding fire-rated construction eliminates that necessity.

Fire-resistive construction can also be used to divide hazardous materials (e.g. flammable or combustible liquids) into several control areas, which keeps them under the maximum allowable quantities and prevents having to classify any portion of the building as a ‘hazardous occupancy.’ Once a building is classified as such, other systems such as sprinklers, fire alarm, and additional or limiting restrictions on egress routes are required. By subdividing the hazardous areas into individual control areas, the building can remain under the limitations of the primary occupancy.

While many buildings require fire resistance to be added, some may already have that feature inherently built in, negating the need to strategically classify areas. For example, if occupancy separation is required between floors, one should consider checking the second floor slab construction on the underside of a deck before specifying fireproofing spray to gain the required fire-rated separation. This is because the deck’s 76 to 102-mm (3 to 4-in.) concrete floor may inherently provide the required fire resistance. Concrete systems using composite metal deck will require protection of the steel, since the steel deck provides some of the structural support. A steel form deck (non-composite deck) may not require protection if the concrete is thick enough, since the metal deck is not a structural component of the floor system and is there only to support the concrete while it cures. It is also important to ensure the primary and secondary supporting structural members are also protected.

Design for low-maintenance costs
There are several fire protection practices that have lived on due to inertia. Some are simply overlooked, while others still are mislabeled or mishandled, causing unneeded stress and headaches. For a project to run smoothly, it is important to address these issues head-on and ensure they are done right the first time. Better yet, these practices should be designed from the get-go.

Life Safety and Egress

It is critical paths of egress and other life safety considerations are taken into account early in the project planning.

One of the most common mistakes in fire protection is adding smoke detectors to areas where codes do not require them. Break rooms, corridors, electrical rooms, and server rooms—these are all common locations for non-required smoke detectors. An overabundance of smoke detectors is not only found in these rooms, however. Duct smoke detectors are often provided in air-handling systems that do not require them, or on both the supply and return when only one is required. An added benefit of installing only code-required smoke detectors is a reduction in the number of nuisance alarms.

Additional smoke detectors are a relatively minor problem compared to the potential long-term maintenance issues presented by mismanaging sprinkler drains and test connections, which are notorious for creating problems in a fire protection system. Since the rusty water discharge can stain sidewalks, erode the landscape, or create icy conditions on walking surfaces, it is important to ensure the water is discharged to a safe area. Although this not always the most convenient or aesthetically pleasing choice, it can prevent future headaches or safety issues.

Commissioning is another commonly overlooked aspect of fire protection systems. Although acceptance testing is the bare minimum when it comes to commissioning, it is normal for a building owner to receive the acceptance testing certificate and then assume the building system is good to go.

In addition to the acceptance testing, one should consider employing third-party commissioning, which ensures each device is physically tested in accordance with the requirements of the applicable codes and standards. This process may include testing every sprinkler system valve and alarm device, verifying operation of all detectors and correct reporting to the fire alarm system, and validating the integrity of all the fire alarm circuits.

Commissioning also confirms the correct materials were installed in accordance with the approved drawings—not just the code minimum—and looks at field conditions that may not have been apparent during shop drawing review. Most importantly, third-party commissioning agents ensure there are no surprises during acceptance testing, allowing the owner to occupy the building without delays.

Mislabeled systems create headaches for building owners. Fire alarm, fire suppression, and passive fire protection systems are often not labeled at all, increasing the time it takes to test and troubleshoot problems. Additionally, specifying minimum clearances around and in front of valving and other equipment ensures adequate clearances are provided for performance-based systems such as sprinklers. Taking the time to coordinate these items and clarifying them in the specifications can also reduce maintenance down the line.

Taking a holistic approach
The importance of a fully coordinated building fire protection system is often overlooked because of the multi-disciplinary nature of fire protection. As a result, building fire protection is frequently not addressed in a holistic manner that looks for opportunities to decrease expenses or increase the long-term durability of the building.

One should begin his or her next project using an all-inclusive approach, and finish it off with a thorough commissioning effort to make for a successful, fully code-compliant building.

Tony Schoenecker, PE, is a senior fire protection engineer with Burns & McDonnell in their Minneapolis-St. Paul office. For the past 18 years, Tony he been involved in projects for medical, education, government, military, institutional, commercial, utility, and industrial clients. As a fire protection engineer his experience includes fire suppression, fire alarm, mass notification, life safety and building code analysis, smoke management, passive and active fire protection assemblies, deflagration venting and mitigation, smoke and egress modeling, and hazard analysis. Schoenecker can be reached at aschoenecker@burnsmcd.com

More great walls of fire: Exterior separations

by Jeff Razwick


A fire-rated curtain wall provides lot line protection in a dense city. All images courtesy TGP

As shown in this author’s previous article, fire-rated walls typically stand guard inside buildings, ready to compartmentalize fires from within at any moment. As urban density and demand for daylight and visibility in the building envelope increase, these assemblies are also proving valuable for a growing number of exterior applications.

Fire-rated curtain walls can prevent a fire from traveling to or from neighboring buildings without restricting visibility. Unlike gypsum, masonry, and other opaque fire-rated materials, this multi-functionality can bring fire and life safety goals in line with the aesthetic design intent where building codes deem the threat of fire is significant from adjacent construction.

For design professionals evaluating when to use the assembly in the building envelope, it can be helpful to look at situations where it can benefit exterior separations with fire safety requirements.

Property line protection
As it becomes more efficient to build upward and closer together in cities to accommodate growing populations, property line setbacks are narrowing. This is generating an increase in the number of buildings required to use fire-rated materials as exterior separations—a safeguard building codes typically only require for structures in close proximity to each other.

Generally, lot line protection is required when a building is close to its neighbor, regardless of whether that adjacent structure is on the same lot. To provide clarity on this requirement, building codes specify the horizontal separation distances requiring fire-rated materials. For example, see International Building Code (IBC) Sections 705.5 and 705.8. In Section 705.3, IBC uses an imaginary line to determine whether buildings on the same piece of property are in close proximity to each other.

Where codes deem it is necessary to protect against the spread of fire between buildings, fire-rated curtain walls make it possible to do so while maintaining visibility and light. For example, they can provide lot line protection without sacrificing light transfer. Well-designed fire-rated curtain walls can even extend the surface area through which light can transfer to help illuminate a building’s core and better support green building goals. Some fire-rated curtain walls are available with fire-rated insulated glass units (IGUs) incorporating tinted or low-emissivity (low-e) glass for more efficient solar energy management, while taking advantage of daylighting techniques.

Transparent fire protection
Opaque fire-rated materials like gypsum and masonry can satisfy property line requirements and provide compartmentalization for both exterior and interior spaces. The downside is they restrict light transfer and visibility. Fire-rated glass curtain walls can serve as a clear alternative given their heat blocking characteristics; specifically, their classification as fire-resistance-rated wall construction.

Fire-rated curtain walls are tested to ASTM E119, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 263, Fire-resistance Ratings. Receiving classification as non-directional fire-resistance-rated construction (meaning they can maintain the same fire-rating from both sides) rather than an “opening protective,” they can exceed 25 percent of the total wall area to provide transparency from the outside where fire and life safety is a concern.

Exterior cladding performance criteria
The air and water penetration resistance of fire-rated steel curtain wall systems (tested per ASTM E283, Standard Test Method for Determining Rate of Air Leakage Through Exterior Windows, Curtain Walls, and Doors Under Specified Pressure, at 30.47 kgf/m2 [6.24 psf] and per ASTM E331, Standard Test Method for Water Penetration of Exterior Windows, Skylights, Doors, and Curtain Walls by Uniform Static Air Pressure Difference, at 20 percent of design wind load, respectively) is typically better than comparable, non-rated aluminum systems. The steel profiles are protected from air and water penetration by a continuous, full-width silicone gasket mounted to the face of the profiles in the glazing pocket.

Regarding thermal performance, the increased thickness of the rated glass in fire-rated curtain walls can help reduce potential for heat flow. Where energy-efficient curtain wall design is critical to building goals, fire-rated IGU constructions allowing low-e glass to be incorporated in the ‘glass sandwich’ can further improve energy performance. As an added benefit, narrow steel frames paired with high-performance fire-rated glazing can help lower the potential for heat transfer and therefore increase condensation resistance. Simulations of the actual construction can be modeled, giving the designer the ability to know how the fire-rated curtain wall will affect the sizing of the building’s HVAC systems.

Fire-rated curtain walls with steel frames can also work in close conjunction with surrounding materials to help ensure a sound building envelope as the temperature changes. Steel’s coefficient of expansion is nearly half that of aluminum, and is similar to glass and concrete. This also reduces the size of perimeter sealant joints, especially at locations where expansion is being addressed.

Tested to ASTM E119 and UL 263, fire-rated curtain walls can provide fire protection from the outside in.

Tested to ASTM E119 and UL 263, fire-rated curtain walls can provide fire protection from the outside in.

Support for demanding applications
Industry standards for exterior curtain wall frames typically limit deflection due to wind load to L/175 or 19 mm (¾ in.)—whichever is less—for spans under 4 m (13 ½ ft), and L/240 for greater spans (where L equals the length of the span between anchor points). These standards were originally developed to prevent sealant failure of insulating glass units due to mullion deflection.

In fire-rated curtain walls, the rated glass may impose stricter limits on the framing, such as L/300. Since steel has a Modulus of Elasticity three times that of aluminum, it can more easily meet these deflection limits without increasing the system profile size. It can also reduce the need to reinforce the frame members. As a best practice, one should consider verifying deflection requirements with the glass manufacturer before accepting typical industry standards.

For all the ways fire-rated glass can enhance building design goals for interior fire separations, there is an almost equal amount of options to do the same for exterior fire-rated glazing applications. To ensure the safety of people and property while still providing a high-performance product required by specification for exterior applications, it is important aesthetic goals align with fire and life safety standards in local building codes. Where necessary, the design team can consult with the manufacturer or supplier.

Jeff Razwick Head ShotJeff Razwick is the president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. He writes frequently about the design and specification of glazing for institutional and commercial buildings. Razwick is a past-chair of the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Fire-Rated Glazing Council (FRGC). He can be contacted via e-mail at jeffr@fireglass.com.


Great walls of fire: Interior separations

by Jeff Razwick

Fire-rated curtain walls can satisfy life safety requirements without sacrificing transparency. All images courtesy TGP

Fire-rated curtain walls can satisfy life safety requirements without sacrificing transparency. All images courtesy TGP

Glazed curtain walls are best known for their ability to visually integrate two otherwise separate spaces. Less talked about—though, perhaps more important—are curtain walls with the capability to retain visibility and access to daylight while standing guard against fire.

Tested to ASTM E119, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 263, Fire-resistance Ratings, fire-rated curtain walls can satisfy life safety requirements without sacrificing transparency—for better safety and aesthetics. Their multi-functionality is critical to helping design teams meet a complex set of performance criteria with one product, eliminating redundant systems and streamlining construction.

Simply put—fire-rated curtain walls allow design teams to do more with less in areas where fire and life safety is a concern. For design professionals interested in using the tough-yet-transparent form of such curtain walls to tackle multiple project demands for interiors, certain questions may arise during the specification process.

1. What constitutes a fire-rated curtain wall?
Fire-rated curtain walls block the transfer of flames and smoke, as well as radiant and conductive heat, for the duration of their given fire rating. To achieve this level of defense, fire-rated curtain walls incorporate fire-resistive glass and framing.

Fire-resistive glass is typically a clear, multi-laminate product with an intumescent interlayer that turns opaque during a fire. This reaction allows the glass to carry fire ratings up to 120 minutes, pass the fire and hose stream tests, and remain relatively cool on the non-fire side of the glass for its designated fire rating.

Fire-resistive frames serve as the support structure in fire-rated curtain walls, and can block the transfer of radiant and conductive heat for up to 120 minutes. While many framing systems employ fire-resistive insulating materials to achieve the necessary defense, those using inherently heat-resistant framing materials like carbon steel do not typically require thermal barriers within their core to protect against heat transfer. Regardless of the material chosen, packing the perimeter of the framing system to the rough opening with firestop insulation or an appropriately rated intumescent sealant is critical to the system’s overall performance.

Some manufacturers offer comprehensive fire-rated curtain wall systems, complete with frames, glass, seals, and component parts. These integrated assemblies ensure all components are designed and tested in the same assembly and to the same standard. This is critical since the International Building Code (IBC) requires all elements within a fire-resistive glazing assembly to provide the same category of fire resistance and carry the minimum fire rating as stated in the code.

Fire-rated frames can be wet-painted or powder-coated to match virtually any color scheme.

Fire-rated frames can be wet-painted or powder-coated to match virtually any color scheme.

2. Where are fire-rated glass curtain walls suitable for use?
Fire-rated curtain walls are typically suitable wherever building codes require an assembly designated “fire resistant” to enclose a space. Examples include wall applications requiring a 60-minute or greater fire rating that must meet temperature-rise criteria, such as stairwells, walls in exit corridors, or other fire barriers dividing interior construction exceeding 25 percent of the total wall area.

Since the choice to incorporate fire-rated curtain walls is often at the design team’s discretion, it is important to evaluate whether the daylight and visibility provided is advantageous to occupant safety and well-being. For example, an expansive multi-story, fire-rated curtain wall may prove beneficial to people working in a hard-to-light office. Similarly, a single-story fire-rated curtain wall enclosing a stairwell, lobby, or gathering area can extend line of sight to boost safety levels or create a sense of collaboration.

3. Are fire-rated glass curtain walls suitable in areas where they are susceptible to impact?
Fire-rated curtain walls are available with glazing that provides up to Category II (Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC] 16 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] 1201, Safety Standard for Architectural Glazing) impact-safety ratings. This is the highest rating, indicating the glass can safely withstand an impact similar to that of a fast-moving adult. As such, fire-rated curtain walls are ideal for use in high-traffic areas, including schools, gymnasiums, and hospitals.

4. How do fire-rated and non-fire-rated curtain walls compare?
Unlike the bulky, wraparound form of traditional hollow metal steel frames, modern fire-rated frames have a slender profile and sleek aesthetic. They can be much narrower, have well-defined edges (rather than rounded profiles), and have vertical-to-horizontal framing joints without visible weld beads or fasteners.

In areas where a frame-free exterior surface is desirable, it is now possible to specify fire-rated curtain walls with the smooth, monolithic appearance of a structural silicone glazed system. One available assembly is silicone-sealed and requires no pressure plates or caps. Its toggle retention system becomes completely hidden once installed, creating a seamless, uninterrupted surface appearance.

5. What finishes are available for fire-rated curtain wall systems?
Design professionals can achieve nearly any look when it comes to fire-rated frame appearance. Carbon steel frames can be wet-painted or powder-coated to match virtually any color scheme, from aluminum to bright greens and blues. Framing materials also include polished or brushed stainless steel.

Fire-rated frames are also available with finished stainless steel or aluminum custom cover-caps to provide design professionals with even greater aesthetic flexibility. The face caps are available in numerous shapes and sizes—from H- and I-shapes to custom configurations. Stainless caps are typically brushed finish while aluminum ones can be wet-painted, anodized, or powder-coated to match the framing.

Modern fire-rated frames have a slender profile and sleek aesthetic to improve sightlines and views between spaces.

Modern fire-rated frames have a slender profile and sleek aesthetic to improve sightlines and views between spaces.

6. Are there any limitations to be aware of?
Since mismatched fire-rated glass and framing ratings can jeopardize the safety of a fire-rated curtain wall, it is important to verify the entire assembly provides the same type of fire protection and has a fire rating equal to or greater than the code requires. This includes the glass, frames, hardware, and all component parts.

From a performance standpoint, use of fire-rated glass requires stiffer deflection limits due to imposed wind loads. Typical curtain walls will allow L/175 (where L = span of the framing member between anchor points) or 19 mm (3/4 in.), whichever is less. Due to the nature of the fire-rated glass, deflection is limited to L/300. This may not be critical for interior applications where the only wind load is from mechanical systems, but it becomes important when designing fire-rated curtain walls for exterior applications.

Regarding installation, it is helpful to keep in mind many frames in fire-rated glass curtain walls are shipped as knock-down (K-D) kits ready for onsite assembly. While frame components may be pre-assembled or welded in the factory, pre-assembly is often done on a case-by-case basis. If pre-assembly is critical to a job’s timeframe, one should verify the manufacturer has the resources to assist with this process.

While one of the primary advantages of selecting a fire-rated glass curtain wall system is the ability to do more with less, aesthetic goals should never come at the cost of safety. Manufacturers and suppliers are available to help problem solve or create a custom work-around to balance life safety with design goals.

Jeff Razwick Head ShotJeff Razwick is the president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. He writes frequently about the design and specification of glazing for institutional and commercial buildings. Razwick is a past-chair of the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Fire-Rated Glazing Council (FRGC). He can be contacted via e-mail at jeffr@fireglass.com.


Understanding New Accessibility Requirements for Doors

All images courtesy Allegion

All images courtesy Allegion

by Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI

The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design went into effect in March 2012, but there are several requirements that continue to surprise architects and specifiers.

This article examines four particular changes related to doors on an accessible route:

  • door hardware must now operate with 22.2 N (5 lb) of force—a limit most panic hardware does not meet;
  • any low-energy automatic operators actuated by a motion sensor must meet the safety requirements for a full-powered automatic operator—possibly including safety mats and guide rails;
  • bottom rails of manual swinging doors must be at least 254 mm (10 in.) high, and no hardware may protrude from the push side within the bottom 254 mm (10 in.); and
  • automatic operators on doors that do not provide proper egress-side maneuvering clearance for a manual door must have standby power.
A change submitted for the next edition of International Code Council (ICC) A117.1, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, would limit rotational force to 3 N-m (28 inch-pounds), and operation by a pushing/pulling motion to 66 N (15 lb).

A change submitted for the next edition of International Code Council (ICC) A117.1, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, would limit rotational force to 3 N-m (28 inch-pounds), and operation by a pushing/pulling motion to 66 N (15 lb).

Some of these issues are specific to the 2010 ADA, while others are also addressed by International Code Council (ICC) A117.1, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. This standard is referenced by the International Building Code (IBC), International Fire Code (IFC), and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101, Life Safety Code, for doors on an accessible route.

Operable force for door hardware
An editorial change was made to the 2010 ADA to limit the operable force for door hardware to 22.2 N (5 lb). Editorial changes are normally used to address errors or make clarifications that do not affect the scope or application of the code requirements. These changes do not go through the normal code development process (i.e. committee hearings and opportunities for public comment). In other words, this change was unexpected.

In the 1991 edition of ADA, door hardware was required to have:

a shape that is easy to grasp, and does not require tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate.

This is the same language currently included in A117.1. No force limitation was mentioned with regard to the operation of hardware.

The 2010 edition of ADA changed the section that applies to door hardware, by referring to Paragraph 309.4–Operation:

Operable parts shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.

A low-energy automatic operator must be actuated by a knowing act (e.g. this wall-mounted push button), or must comply with the requirements of a Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) standard.

A low-energy automatic operator must be actuated by a knowing act (e.g. this wall-mounted push button), or must comply with the requirements of a Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) standard.

By referencing Paragraph 309.4, a limit for the operable force of hardware was established.

Conflicts and clashes
This change created conflicts with other codes and standards, and even within the 2010 ADA standards. For example, in ADA, Section 404.2.9 addresses door and gate opening force—the force required to physically open the door. This section states the 22.2-N (5-lb) limit on opening force does not apply to the force required to release the latchbolts. This implies the allowable force required to release latchbolts could be greater than the 22.2-N (5-lb) opening force. The U.S. Access Board unofficially acknowledged there was a conflict between the opening force section and the operable force required by reference, but to date the standards have not been modified.

Another conflict lies with IBC, IFC, and NFPA 101, for which panic hardware is required to operate with a maximum of 66 N (15 lb) of force to release the latch. In an attempt to establish a level of operable force aligned with other codes and standards, a change proposal was submitted for the 2015 edition of ICC A117.1. If approved, the proposal would establish a limit of 66 N (15 lb) maximum for hardware operated by a forward, pushing, or pulling motion, and 3 N-m (28 inch-pounds) maximum for hardware operated by a rotational motion.

Additionally, the 2013 California Building Code (CBC) includes language virtually identical to the 2010 ADA operable force requirements, and requires hardware to operate with 22.2 N (5 lb) of force, maximum. However, the code contains conflicting language in Section 1008.1.10–Panic and Fire Exit Hardware, which requires panic hardware to operate with a maximum of 66 N (15 lb) of force.

Given the change to CBC and the delay in addressing the conflict within the 2010 ADA standards, there are projects where the 22.2-N (5-lb) limit is being enforced for both lever-operated and panic hardware. For each project, a decision must be made regarding whether to use hardware meeting the requirements of IBC (and its referenced standard, ICC A117.1), or whether to specify hardware that meets the 22.2-N limit to avoid a conflict with ADA standards.

If a motion sensor is used to actuate a door with an automatic operator, then guide rails and safety sensors are typically required.

If a motion sensor is used to actuate a door with an automatic operator, then guide rails and safety sensors are typically required.

Actuators for automatic operators
From a codes and standards perspective, there are three basic types of automatic operators for swinging doors:

  • power-assist;
  • low-energy; and
  • full-power.

Power-assist operators reduce the opening force so the door can be manually opened more easily, but some manually applied force is still necessary. These operators are usually activated by pushing or pulling the door, although occasionally a wall-mounted actuator is employed to reduce the force only for users who need that feature.

Low-energy operators are often used when the door will be opened manually by some users and automatically by others. The doors are subject to limitations on opening speed and force to curtail the generation of kinetic energy and the potential for injury. Further, they must be operated by a ‘knowing act,’ as described later in this article.

Due to these limits, most doors with low-energy operators are not required to have safety sensors, control mats, or guide rails. Both power-assist and low-energy operators must comply with American National Standards Institute/Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (ANSI/BHMA) A156.19, Power-assist and Low-energy-operated Doors.

Full-power operators are typically found on high-use openings like the entrance to a grocery store or department store. These operators are not subject to the same restrictions on speed and force, and safety sensors or control mats and guide rails are required to prevent the doors from opening if someone is in the path of the door swing. Full-power operators must comply with ANSI/BHMA A156.10, Standard for Power-operated Pedestrian Doors.

The 2007 edition of ANSI/BHMA A156.19 introduced a requirement for power-assist and low-energy-power-operated doors to be activated by a ‘knowing act,’ and this requirement carries forward to the 2013 standard. The ‘knowing act’ method may be:

  • a push-plate actuator or non-contact switch mounted on the wall or jamb;
  • the act of manually pushing or pulling a door; or
  • an access control device like a card reader, keypad, or keyswitch.

The A156.19 standard also makes recommendations regarding the mounting location of a knowing act switch. Actuator switches should be located:

  • a maximum of 3.7 m (12 ft) from the center of the door (0.3 to 1.5 m [1 to 5 ft] is preferred)—when further, the recommended increased hold-open time is one additional second per 0.3 m (1 ft) of distance;
  • where the switch remains accessible when the door is opened, and the user can see the door when activating the switch;
  • in a location where the user would not be in the path of the moving door; and
  • at an installation height of 864 mm (34 in.) minimum and 1219 mm (48 in.) maximum above the floor.

The 2010 ADA and ICC A117.1 contain requirements pertaining to the actuators for automatic doors in addition to what is included in the referenced standard. Clear floor space for a wheelchair must be provided adjacent to the actuator, and beyond the arc of the door swing. The mounting height is variable, depending on the reach range associated with the switch location. However, the range recommended by ANSI/BHMA standards is acceptable for most applications. Actuators must not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate, and the operating force is limited to 22.2 N (5 lb) maximum.

This door lacks proper maneuvering clearance on the egress side. If an automatic operator were to be installed to overcome this issue, the 2010 ADA requires standby power for the operator.

This door lacks proper maneuvering clearance on the egress side. If an automatic operator were to be installed to overcome this issue, the 2010 ADA requires standby power for the operator.

Stepping into the field of a motion sensor is not considered a knowing act. If automatic operation via a motion sensor is desired, automatic doors must comply with the standard for full power operators—ANSI/BHMA A156.10, instead of A156.19. This means even though the door may have a low-energy operator, it has to meet the same requirements as a full-power operator, including the safety sensors or control mats and guide rails.

Typically 762 mm (30 in.) high, guide rails are required on the swing side of each door. For some locations, the need for guide rails may mean motion sensor operation is not feasible. When certain criteria are met, walls may be used in place of guide rails. When doors are installed across a corridor, guide rails are not required if the distance between the wall and the door in the 90-degree open position does not exceed 254 mm (10 in.).

The 2013 California Building Code requires two push-plate actuators at each actuator location—one mounted between 178 and 203 mm (7 and 8 in.) from the floor to the centerline, and the other mounted between 762 and 1118 mm (44 in.) above the floor. Vertical actuation bars may be used in lieu of two separate actuators, with the bottom of the bar at 127 mm (5 in.) maximum above the floor and the top at 889 mm (35 in.) minimum above the floor.

Actuators must be in a conspicuous location, with a level and clear ground space outside of the door swing. The minimum size for push plates is 102 mm (4 in.) in diameter or 102 mm square, and the minimum operable portion for vertical actuation bars is 51 mm (2 in.) wide. Both types of actuators must display the International Symbol of Accessibility.

While all these requirements have the same basic intent, it is best to check state and local codes to see which standard has been adopted, and what the specifics are in reference to actuators for automatic operators. It is important to verify the actuator type/quantity, location, and any additional requirements. Further, one must keep in mind additional safety features—including sensors and guide rails—may be required for low-energy operators actuated by a motion sensor.

Some jurisdictions require actuators mounted in two positions, or a vertical bar actuator that will allow the door to be operated by a hand/arm or a crutch, cane, or wheelchair footrest.

Some jurisdictions require actuators mounted in two positions, or a vertical bar actuator that will allow the door to be operated by a hand/arm or a crutch, cane, or wheelchair footrest.

Standby power for automatic operators
The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act includes revisions to the section on automatic doors with regard to clear width and maneuvering clearance. (These have not been included in A117.1 to date.) The ADA standards read:

404.3.1 Clear Width. Doorways shall provide a clear opening of 32 inches (815 mm) minimum in power-on and power-off mode. The minimum clear width for automatic door systems in a doorway shall be based on the clear opening provided by all leaves in the open position.

404.3.2 Maneuvering Clearance. Clearances at power-assisted doors and gates shall comply with 404.2.4. Clearances at automatic doors and gates without standby power and serving an accessible means of egress shall comply with 404.2.4.
EXCEPTION: Where automatic doors and gates remain open in the power-off condition, compliance with 404.2.4 shall not be required.

According to both accessibility standards and egress requirements, most doors have to provide at least 815 mm (32 in.) of clear opening width. (For pairs of doors, at least one leaf has to provide this.) The aforementioned Paragraph 404.3.1 states the required clear opening width must be provided “in power-on and power-off mode.” The clear opening’s full width is considered—for example, a 1.5-m (5-ft) pair of automatic doors would provide sufficient clear width even though neither leaf meets the minimum clear width for a manual door.

Maneuvering clearance for manual doors is addressed in Section 404.2.4 of the 2010 ADA. This section establishes the minimum space around the door needed by a wheelchair user to manually operate the door. The previously cited Paragraph 404.3.2 requires power-assisted doors and gates (manually operated but with reduced opening force) to have the same maneuvering clearance as manual doors. Automatic doors and gates serving an accessible means of egress without standby power would also need the required maneuvering clearance. Therefore, automatic doors and gates with standby power do not need the maneuvering clearance that would be required for a manual door.

Manual doors on an accessible route must have a smooth surface on the push side with no protruding hardware within 254 mm (10 in.) of the floor or ground. In the photo at left, these components could inhibit passage through a door opening by catching a crutch, cane, walker, or wheelchair.

Manual doors on an accessible route must have a smooth surface on the push side with no protruding hardware within 254 mm (10 in.) of the floor or ground. In the photo at left, these components could inhibit passage through a door opening by catching a crutch, cane, walker, or wheelchair.

If an existing door serving an accessible means of egress does not have the required maneuvering clearance and an auto operator is added to overcome that problem, the operator needs to have standby power (unless the door stands open on power failure per the exception). This applies to doors part of a means of egress that must be accessible in an emergency, and is intended to avoid entrapment of a person with a disability if there is a power failure. The standard does not include a requirement for how much standby power must be provided.

It is important to keep in mind automatic operators on fire-rated doors are required to be deactivated upon fire alarm. Therefore, an automatic operator with standby power should not be used on a fire-rated door to overcome maneuvering clearance problems because it will not be functional when the fire alarm is sounding.

Flush bottom rails
For many years, ICC A117.1 has included a requirement for a 254-mm (10-in.) high flush bottom rail on manual doors, and this requirement is now included in the ADA standards. The text of both standards is similar, except ADA also addresses existing doors. (This requirement appears in the “Manual Doors” section of both publications, so it does not apply to automatic doors.)

The purpose is to avoid projections that could catch a cane, crutch, walker, or wheelchair and inhibit passage through the door opening, so the requirement applies to the push side of the door only. The 254-mm (10-in.) measurement is taken from the floor or ground to the top of the horizontal bottom rail, extending the full width of the door. Prior to the 2003 edition of A117.1, the required dimension was 305 mm (12 in.).

Manual doors on an accessible route must have a smooth surface on the push side with no protruding hardware within 254 mm (10 in.) of the fl oor or ground. In the photo at left, these components could inhibit passage through a door opening by catching a crutch, cane, walker, or wheelchair.

Manual doors on an accessible route must have a smooth surface on the push side with no protruding hardware within 254 mm (10 in.) of the floor or ground. In the photo at left, these components could inhibit passage through a door opening by catching a crutch, cane, walker, or wheelchair.

The standards require the surface of swinging doors and gates within 254 mm (10 in.) of the finish floor or ground to have a smooth surface on the push side that extends the full width of the door or gate. Narrow bottom rails and protruding surface bolts, surface vertical rods, kick-down stops, and full-height door pulls installed on the push side of the door would not comply with this requirement for a 254-mm (10-in.) high smooth surface. Horizontal or vertical joints in this surface must be within 1.6 mm (1/16 in.) of the same plane. If a kick plate is added to a door with a narrow bottom rail to resolve this problem, the cavity between the kickplate and the glass or recessed panel must be capped.

There are several exceptions to this requirement. Sliding doors are not required to comply. Tempered glass doors without stiles are not required to have a 254-mm (10-in.) bottom rail (if the top of the bottom rail tapers at 60 degrees minimum from the horizontal), but protruding hardware is not allowed in the 254-mm (10-in.) high area. Doors that do not extend to within 254 mm (10 in.) of the finish floor or ground are also exempt.

As outlined in ADA, existing doors are not required to provide the 254-mm smooth surface, but if kick plates are added to widen the bottom rail, the gap between the top of the plate and the glass must be capped. Existing doors are not addressed by A117.1, which is typically used for new applications as referenced by IBC. Now the standards are consistent, and increased awareness and enforcement of this requirement seem likely.

With regard to these changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, some accessibility requirements are not prescriptive and enforcement varies by jurisdiction. Therefore, it can be difficult to apply the standards, especially when conflicts exist. Additionally, some states have established their own accessibility standards. Following the most stringent requirements can help to avoid problems, and the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) can also provide assistance to determine what is required.

Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, is the codes and resources manager for Allegion. She has been in the industry for more than 25 years, and used to be a hardware consultant writing specifications. Greene is a member of CSI, the Door and Hardware Institute (DHI), the International Code Council (ICC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) Codes and Government Affairs Committee. She has a monthly column on code issues in Doors & Hardware, and blogs at www.iDigHardware.com (or www.iHateHardware.com). Greene can be contacted via e-mail at lori.greene@allegion.com.

Standards and Terminologies

In the May 2014 issue of The Construction Specifier, we published the article, “Passive Fire Protection and Interior Wall Assemblies,” by Gregg Stahl. Soon after, a reader contacted us regarding what he considered inaccuracies. We reached out to the author and, in the interest of continuing the discourse about this important topic, excerpts from both sides are included below.

Reader: The first issue is the reference to ASTM E603. The author mentions this is one of two standards that rates assemblies. Actually, ASTM E603 is a “guide” standard, and is used to explain the various types of fire tests, whether they are ASTM, NFPA, UL, or FM, and how they can be compared and contrasted. This standard is not a test method.
Author: The reader brings up several good points in regard to the article on passive fire protection. It should be noted, however, this piece was intended to provide a general overview on the basic principles of passive fire protection. As to the first point, the reader is technically correct. E603 is in fact an ASTM “Guide,” not an ASTM “Standard.” In the “Scope” section of this guide, it does state one of the purposes is to “allow(s) users to obtain fire-test-response characteristics of materials, products, or assemblies, which are useful data for describing or appraising their fire performance under actual fire conditions.” In the subsequent paragraphs, I go on to describe how A603 is used as well as differentiating it from the E119 fire test, which is testing the effectiveness of a particular assembly.

Reader: The second issue is the article states ASTM E119 tests the effectiveness of an assembly as a “fire barrier.” Although not untrue, the use of “fire barrier” seems to limit the type of fire-rated assembly that is tested, since a “fire barrier” is a specific type of fire-rated assembly used by the IBC and NFPA. ASTM E119 is used to test any type of assembly for fire-resistance, whether it is a wall, roof system, floor system, column, beam, etc.
Author: I should have been more precise in the selection of the terminology used. The intent of the term was to use a dictionary meaning, not a fire test assembly meaning. A Google search for the term will produce numerous definitions, such as the one below:

fire barrier: a continuous vertical or horizontal assembly, such as a wall or floor, that is designed and constructed with a specified fire resistance rating to limit the spread of fire and that also will restrict the movement of smoke. Such barriers might have protected openings.

Reader: The third issue is mentioning the hose stream test is used to “measure an assembly’s resistance to water pressure.” This is misleading. The hose stream test is not really a measure of an assembly’s resistance to water pressure, but to test the system’s integrity. As the commentary to the standard states, the hose stream tests the “ability of the construction to resist disintegration under adverse conditions.” In other words, it is a way of testing, from a distance (it is very hot) the assembly’s integrity from falling debris.
Author: The reader references “the standard,” but I do not know to which standard he is referring. ASTM E2226, Standard Practice for Application of Hose Stream, states:

1.3 – The result derived from this practice is one factor in assessing the integrity of building elements after fire exposure. The practice prescribes a standard hose stream exposure for comparing performance of building elements after fire exposure and evaluates various materials and construction techniques under common conditions.

The application of the hose stream does exert pressure on the assembly after it has completed either the full cycle of an E119 fire test or 50 percent of the time of the rated wall assembly. I agree the single word “pressure” does not go far enough to explain—the intent was to determine the integrity of the remaining assembly.

Reader: The fourth and final issue is the use of “area separation firewalls” in the article, and its associated endnote. The use of “area separation” walls was dropped when the IBC was published in 2000, and is not a term used by NFPA’s standards. The correct term used by both the IBC and NFPA is “fire wall” (not a single word). The endnote (no. 3) gives the impression these “area separation firewalls” are used to separate residential units or commercial tenants. This is incorrect. A fire wall divides a building—residential or commercial—into separate buildings so they can be considered independently when applying the code. “Fire partitions” are used for residential unit and commercial tenant separations within a single building and do not require the type of requirements described in the article.
Author: I respectfully disagree with the reader, who seems to be making the reference to area separation walls fit his use without recognizing the term can have more than one use or intent. It was employed here with no reference to NFPA or IBC, and was not intended as the reader interpreted it.
The term “area separation wall”—or “ASW” as it is commonly abbreviated—is used for a particular type of fire-rated wall assembly with a two-hour fire resistance rating, which is typically intended to permit controlled collapse of one unit in a multifamily residence, while still remaining intact and able to protect the adjacent unit in a fire situation. This is a common term in the construction industry. The reader can check the literature of various manufacturers and find this type of assembly. There are also various UL assemblies for this type of construction.