Addressing Common Misconceptions Regarding Corridor Doors

Corridor doors are one of the most common components of the means of egress, yet their significance is often overlooked, possibly because there are so many of them in a hospital. This article will address the different concerns and issues surrounding corridor doors in a healthcare occupancy that may not be considered common knowledge.

The Life Safety Code (LSC) does not require corridor doors to patient rooms to have closers, but if they do have closers, then they can have the type that have hold-open friction-catch closer arms, that requires someone to physically close them.  Hospitals are defend-in-place facilities, so the question asked by some is why do we rely on people to accomplish the closing of the door rather than allow a closer to do it?

As mentioned, corridor doors to patient rooms are not required to have closers, and this is in accordance with section of the 2012 LSC. But the Annex section of says the concept of having corridor doors to patient rooms without closers allows staff to visibly see into the room to detect any fire or smoke condition. If the door had a closer, then the Annex section recommends the room be protected with a smoke detector. The basic premise of a healthcare occupancy is there is adequate staff on hand to make these observations.

Which brings us to the issue of those patient room corridor doors that have signage added, and coat hooks applied; would they be considered acceptable?

Coat hooks on a non-fire rated patient room corridor doors would be allowed. But a coat hook on a fire-rated door typically would not be acceptable (even if it is applied with adhesives) because any garments hanging from the coat hook would likely contribute to the fuel load of the door. But signage that was informational (i.e. contact precautions; oxygen administered; diet restrictions, etc.) would be permitted, even if they were combustible.

Are corridor doors that are located in a 1-hour fire barrier permitted to be only fire-rated for 20 minutes and not ¾-hour? The answer is no. If a corridor door is part of a fire-rated barrier that serves some other function, such as a vertical opening, exit, or hazardous area, then it must meet the most restrictive requirements of either. But where corridor doors are located in a 1-hour fire-rated barrier the corridor door must be at least a ¾ hour fire rated door, mounted in a fire-rated frame, with self-closing and positive latching hardware. Vertical openings are elevator shafts, mechanical shafts, stairwells, and the like. Exits are direct exits, horizontal exits and exit passageways. Hazardous areas are storage rooms >50 sq. ft. containing combustibles, soiled utility rooms, fuel-fired heater rooms, laundries >100 sq. ft., paint shops, repair shops, trash collection rooms, laboratories, and medical gas rooms (storage rooms with >3,000 cubic feet of compressed gas).

There is one exception to the above rule where a corridor door located in a 1-hour fire rated barrier must be ¾ hour fire rated: When the corridor door is also located in a 1-hour barrier separating the corridor from an atrium. According to section 8.6.7 (1) of the 2012 LSC, the atrium must be separated from adjacent areas with a 1-hour fire rated barrier, but the openings in the 1-hour fire rated barrier are only required to be same as is required for corridors. This means the doors in the atrium separation could be non-rated and only required to resist the passage of smoke, since atriums are only permitted in fully sprinklered buildings.

However, I don’t see where a patient room door would be part of any of these fire-rated barriers, although a patient room door could be part of a smoke barrier, separating smoke compartments. Even though the smoke barrier is required to be 1-hour rated, it is not a fire rated barrier, because the doors in a smoke barrier are only required to be 1¾ inch thick, solid-bonded, wood core doors, or of such construction to resist fire for at least 20 minutes, and must be self-closing. They are just like corridor doors in a non-sprinklered smoke compartment, but must have closers on them.

It’s important to realize that not all corridor doors have to meet the NFPA 80 requirements for fire-rated doors. However, if the corridor door is a fire-rated door, it must be compliant with the requirements of NFPA 80. If the door has a fire rated label, then it is a fire-rated door, and it must be mounted in a fire-rated frame, equipped with a self-closing device, and have positive latching hardware.  The problem that I observe in many hospitals is they installed labeled fire-rated doors in walls and barriers that are not fire rated. Therefore, even though the wall or barrier is not required to have a fire-rated door, the fact that the door is fire-rated means the organization must maintain it as such, according to section of the 2012 edition of the LSC. So, if you have a fire-rated door in a corridor wall, and the corridor wall is not required to be fire-rated, then you must still maintain the fire-rated door to the requirements of NFPA 80, which includes annual testing.

Where I often find this problem in hospitals is the smoke compartment. Some designer/architect sees that smoke barriers are required to be 1-hour rated so they specify ¾ hour fire rated doors. Again, a smoke compartment barrier wall is not a fire-rated wall; therefore, the conditions of apply where 1¾ inch thick, solid-bonded, wood-core doors are allowed. Also, some designers/architects see that smoke barrier doors that are of such construction that resists fire for at least 20 minutes are permitted, so they specify 20-minute fire rated doors for smoke barrier openings. Again, this is not required to have fire-rated doors, but since the 20-minute fire-rated doors was installed, you must maintain it to NFPA 80 requirements, which means it must be mounted in a fire rated frame, be self-closing, and positive latching. I see a lot of 20-minute fire rated doors in smoke compartment barriers that do not have positive latching hardware, which is non-compliant with NFPA 80. The organization must maintain the door to NFPA 80, or simply remove the fire rated label, then the door is no longer a fire-rated door that is obvious to the general public, and does not need to be maintained as such.