Fire door safety: How can specifiers help?

Consider specifying automatic-closing doors where needed

There are three categories of fire door operation recognized by NFPA 80. Self-closing fire doors close after each time they are opened. Automatic-closing doors may be held open but will close automatically if a fire occurs; the model codes require these devices to be smoke-actuated (rather than heat-actuated) in most locations. Fire doors may also be power-operated (equipped with automatic operators), but NFPA 80 requires the operator to automatically deactivate if a fire occurs.

The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) publishes standards for each product category. Referencing them in the hardware specification will help to establish the desired level of quality for the products supplied for the project, affecting the durability and performance of the fire door assemblies. Photo courtesy Allegion

When self-closing fire doors are specified in locations where they might be inconvenient for the user, it increases the likelihood of doors being propped open with a door wedge or other method.  Open fire doors are of no value if a fire occurs and will allow smoke and flames to spread through the opening. By considering where doors may need to be held open, and specifying automatic-closing devices for those doors, specifiers can reduce the possibility of users propping doors open in a non-code-compliant manner. For fire doors that may need to be held open for only a minute or two, delayed action closers could be helpful. The short delay occurs when the door is pushed to a fully open position and is controlled by a valve limiting the closer fluid; no electrical wiring or fire alarm connection is required.

Be aware of which doors require smoke gasketing

The codes and standards do not specifically state where smoke gasketing is required for fire doors and smoke doors. The key is to look for a reference to UL 1784, Standard for Air Leakage Tests of Door Assemblies, in the adopted code, and a limit on air infiltration—typically 0.015424 m3/(min.*m2) (3 cf/[min.*sf]) of door opening at 24.9 Pa (0.10 in.) of water for both the ambient temperature test and the elevated temperature exposure test. To limit airflow to this level, doors will almost always require smoke gasketing. The gasketing must be listed for this purpose, and if installed on a fire door assembly, it must also be listed to UL 10C or NFPA 252.

Self-closing and self-latching fire doors between interior corridors and residential dwelling and sleeping units help to prevent the spread of fire from the unit of origin and protect the means of egress.

Ensure the glass and glazing spec section is up to date

Prior to the 2003 edition of the IBC, there was an exception in the code which exempted glazing in fire doors from the impact requirements applying to safety glazing in hazardous locations (including doors and sidelights). Traditional wired glass was used in fire doors for decades; however, since it was exempt from the safety standards, it did not protect against breakage on impact and was quite hazardous. The exception was removed from the IBC in the 2003/2006 editions, so glazing used in fire door assemblies must now meet the requirements for both fire protection and impact. There are wired glass and clear glazing products available today that comply with both sets of standards—traditional wired glass does not. Current codes require each piece of glazing to be labeled to indicate compliance with the test standards.

Include the initial fire door assembly inspection in the spec

Beginning with the 2013 edition of NFPA 80, fire door assemblies are required to be inspected after installation, after maintenance work, as well as annually. Including the initial fire door inspection in the specification benefits the end user and verifies if fire door assemblies are installed correctly and are code-compliant from the beginning. It is very common to see new fire door assemblies with perimeter clearances more than what is allowed by NFPA 80, hardware not installed with the correct fasteners, or fire doors unable to close and latch properly. If fire door assemblies are not installed correctly, it can be very difficult to correct them later, and the fire doors may never function properly. If these deficiencies are noted in the inspection conducted directly after installation, the future performance of the fire door assembly will be significantly improved.

NFPA 80 requires fire door assemblies to be inspected after installation, after maintenance work, and annually. Including the initial inspection in the specification helps to ensure the assembly is code-compliant from the start. Photos ©


Investigators still do not know all the facts related to the January 2022 apartment fire in the Bronx, New York. However, it is clear there are many ways specifiers can help to ensure fire door assemblies function properly for years after they are installed. If they are hung properly, with hardware of the appropriate level of quality and durability, maintenance issues should be reduced. If a specifier plans for how the doors might be used, whereby specifying the ideal electrified or mechanical lock function and code-compliant hold-open devices where needed, building occupants will be less likely to prop doors open or defeat the positive latching hardware.

Specifying door hardware is complicated, especially for fire door assemblies and smoke doors, but choosing the right products from the start can have lasting effects on the safety and security of these openings. There are many experienced door and hardware consultants who can assist with product selection, choose the items needed for each hardware set, and create the specification. Working together, the safety of multifamily residential buildings, as well as buildings of other occupancy types, can be improved.

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