Fire Rated Doors in Non-Fire-Rated Walls

Q: If a fire door is in a wall that is not a fire-rated wall, will the wall need to be brought to be a fire-rated wall?

A: No… not typically. The location of fire-rated barriers (i.e. walls) are determined by the design professional (i.e. architect) when the facility is designed and constructed. Often times, after the facility is built and operating for a few years, new locations that require fire rated barriers are identified. These could include rooms that are newly designated as hazardous areas, or perhaps a building separation from a new addition.

It is not uncommon for some design professionals to specify fire-rated door assemblies in barriers that are not fire-rated. This may be due to a building code requirement, or it may be due to a misunderstanding of the codes and standards. For whatever reason, once these fire-rated door assemblies are installed, you must maintain them in accordance with NFPA 80 which includes annual fire-door testing and inspections. But there is no requirement to designate a barrier to be labeled as a fire-rated barrier simply because it has a fire-rated door assembly installed in it. To be sure where the fire-rated barriers are actually located, refer to the Life Safety drawings and/or original construction documents of the facility.

Fire Door Inspection Qualifications

Q: In regards to fire door inspections, what are the qualifications of the person to perform the inspection?

A: NFPA 80-2010, section 5.2.3.1 says fire doors must be tested by individuals with knowledge and understating of the operating components of the door assembly, but NFPA 80 does not identify or describe what ‘knowledge and understanding’ actually means. The word ‘qualified’ is not found in this context of describing the individual who performs this inspection. When the codes or standards are vague (as they often are), then it is up to the authorities having jurisdiction to decide how to interpret the code or standard (see 4.6.1.1 of the 2012 LSC). When the AHJ does not make an interpretation of the code or standard, then it is up to the individual facility to decide what’s right.

In this case, no national AHJ has published an interpretation for hospitals on what ‘knowledge and understanding’ is required to test and inspect fire door assemblies. Therefore, hospitals and other healthcare organizations have the right to decide what that means. However, during a survey or an inspection, the AHJ surveyor has the right to question how the hospital determined their individual has the ‘knowledge and understanding’ and if it is not satisfactory to the AHJ surveyor, then a citing may be in order.

My advice to healthcare organizations on this issue is to document why they believe their individual has the ‘knowledge and understanding’ to perform the inspections. If their maintenance person has worked on fire doors for 20 years then that may be sufficient evidence.

I also recommend healthcare organizations to sign their people up for an online course on fire door inspections, by using the link and coupon code located at the right-hand side of this web-page, to the International Fire Door Inspector Association (IFDIA).

Door Undercuts

Q: What is the maximum you can have between the bottom of door and the thresholds for a fire-rated door assembly? I have some stairwell doors with 1 inch to 1 ¼ inch gap between the bottom of the door and the threshold.

A: That will be a problem. According to section 8.3.3.1 of the 2012 Life Safety Code, you must install fire-rated door assemblies in accordance with NFPA 80-2010. Section 4.8.4.1 of NFPA 80-2010 says the clearance under the bottom of the door shall be a maximum of ¾ inch. Also, section 7.2.1.15.2 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says you must maintain the fire rated door assemblies in accordance with NFPA 80.

Any clearance under the bottom of the door (while it is in the closed position) that exceeds ¾ inch will be considered non-compliant. There are after-market devices available that you can install on the door to fill that gap, but you must be very careful as you can only install devices that have been listed by an independent testing laboratory (i.e. UL, FM Approval, Intertek) that have been approved for that purpose.

Keep in mind that there are limitations on the door material, amount of clearance, and the rating.  Here are links to information on 3 products suggested to me by Lori Greene (see her website at www.idighardware.com), but there may be more:

Zero:  http://idighardware.com/2013/03/solution-for-oversized-undercuts/

NGP:  http://idighardware.com/2015/01/new-products-for-oversized-fire-door-clearances/

Crown:  http://idighardware.com/2014/06/a-fire-door-test-first-hand/

Doors Wedged Open

Q: It has been our practice to not allow door hold open wedges on any door within the hospital. As far as code requirements go is it rated doors only, or does it include any door with a closer?

A: It applies to any fire rated door assembly, any non-rated door assembly that is required to be self-closing, and all corridor doors regardless of their fire-rating and regardless if they are self-closing.

Look at section 19.3.6.3.10 of the 2012 LSC, which says doors shall not be held open by devices other than those that release when the door is pushed or pulled. This section is part of section 19.3.6.3 “Corridor Doors” so it is referring to corridor doors only. Approved ‘push or pull’ release devices to hold a door open are the friction-fit type hold open that are integral to the door closer, and magnets. The logic here is a person could quickly push or pull the door closed, but if the door was wedged open, then the closing of the door would be slower and more difficult; therefore, wedging a door open would not be permitted.

Section 19.3.7.8 (1) of the 2012 LSC says doors in smoke barriers must be self-closing. The term ‘self-closing’ means the door has to close by itself without assistance. A smoke barrier door that is wedged open will not close by itself. Section 3.3.238 of the 2012 LSC defines “Self-closing” as a door equipped with an approved device that ensures closing after opening. All doors in hazardous areas are required to be self-closing regardless if the door is fire-rated or just smoke resistant.

To further make the point, section 19.2.2.2.7 of the 2012 LSC says any door in an exit passageway, stairway enclosure, horizontal exit, smoke barrier, or hazardous area enclosure shall be permitted to be held open only by automatic release device that complies with 7.2.1.8.2. The implication here is these doors must be self-closing and may only be held open by a device that releases the door (and allows the door to self-close) upon activation of the fire alarm system or sprinkler system.

And to finally address fire-rated door assemblies, section 8.3.3.1 requires all doors required to have a fire protection rating to comply with NFPA 80, which requires self-closing devices on the doors. So, any fire-rated door assembly may not be wedged open.

That applies to nearly all doors in a hospital. But there are some doors that you could actually wedge open, although you probably would not want to inform your staff. Doors located inside a suite of rooms that do not serve an exit or a hazardous area would be permitted to be wedged open because those rooms inside a suite are not required to have doors. But that’s about it.

Annual Test on Fire Rated Door Assemblies

Q: In regards to the new annual fire rated door assembly inspection, are we to inspect every door that has a fire rating or the doors that are located in fire-rated walls? I have noticed that not all fire doors in the building are located in fire rated walls, according to my Life Safety drawings. What do you say?

A: It is not uncommon for fire-rated door assemblies to be found in walls and barriers that are not fire-rated. This is often due to conflicting building codes that require 20-minute fire rated doors in all corridors, or a misunderstanding by the design professional. But make no mistake: You are required to test and inspect those doors on an annual basis.

My interpretation is based on section 7.2.1.15.2 of the 2012 LSC which says: “Fire-rated door assemblies shall be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 80…” This section of the LSC does not have any exceptions for fire-rated door assemblies that are located in walls and barriers that are not fire-rated.

Therefore, all fire-rated door assemblies must be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 80 on an annual basis, regardless where they are located.

Another way of looking at this issue is to review section 4.6.12.3 of the 2012 LSC which says existing life safety features that are obvious to the public, if not required by the LSC, must be either maintained or removed. The interpretation of what’s ‘obvious to the public’ is certainly open for discussion, but most fire-rated door assemblies can be determined by looking at a fire rating label on the hinge-side edge of the door, and that is viewable by the public. Whether it is obvious or not is a matter of opinion, but if you take the hardline on that, then all fire-rated doors (with a fire rating label) have to be maintained even if they are not located in a fire-rated barrier.

Either way… I think the LSC is pretty clear… you need to test and inspect all fire rated door assemblies regardless if they are located in a fire rated barrier. And by the way, the first test of the side-hinged swinging fire doors is due in a couple weeks: July 5, 2017. Better have it completed by then.

Poly Vinyl Mural on Fire Doors and Walls

Q: Is it permissible to completely cover a fire rated door in a hospital with a polyvinyl picture/mural? Also, is it permissible to cover a fire rated wall, from floor to ceiling in hospital with the same product?

A: No. You are not permitted to cover a fire-rated door with anything. Period. The reason why is, whatever is placed on the door will likely change the fire-resistive characteristics of the door and may likely allow the door to not last as long as it is designed.

Assuming the mural is newly installed, a poly-vinyl picture mural on the walls of the hospital may be permitted if it meets the requirements for interior finish. Class A interior finish is permitted on walls, and Class B is permitted in rooms where the capacity does not exceed four persons. A Class A material has a flame spread rating of 0 -25, and a Class B materials has a flame spread rating of 26 – 75.

Ask your supplier/vendor to provide the interior finish classification or the flame spread ratings to determine if you are compliant.

Fire Door Smoke Detectors

Q: I have a life safety consultant doing our annual inspection, and he keeps saying that I need to have individual smoke detectors for my corridor fire rated doors. The corridors on both sides of these doors are completely protected with smoke detectors, but he says regardless, that area smoke detectors are required next to the doors. Is this correct?

A: No, I don’t believe what the consultant is telling you is correct. Section 17.7.5.6.1 of NFPA 72 (2010) allows for either area smoke detectors or complete corridor smoke detector protection to activate the release of a hold-open on a door serving a fire barrier or a smoke compartment barrier. So, in regards to the cross-corridor doors that are held open by magnets connected to the fire alarm system, you are permitted to have one of the following:

  • A smoke detector on either side of the door mounted within five feet of the door; or smoke detectors mounted on both sides of the door within five feet if the transom above the door is greater than 24 inches.
  • The entire corridor where the cross-corridor door is located is properly protected with smoke detectors. A smoke detector must then be located within 15 feet of the door. For mounting locations for an area protected with detectors, the detectors must be no more than 15 feet from the wall (this is based on one-half of the maximum spacing distance between detectors which is 30 feet). The cross-corridor doors must be considered ‘closed’ when designing the detector locations, so that constitutes a “wall” and a detector is required within 15 feet of that wall.

Where consultants and surveyors have problems is they see a cross-corridor door held open by a magnet, and then they do not see a detector within five feet, and they believe that is a violation of NFPA 72. What they don’t consider is the corridor is completely protected with smoke detectors and NFPA 72 (2010) 17.6.3.1.1. (1) allows a detector to be one-half of the maximum spacing.

Fire Rated Door Assemblies

Q: I recently attended a conference where the speaker in the Life Safety session talked about the fire rating of the doors. She spoke of having the fire information labels on the doors. When I returned to the hospital, I found I only have about half the doors in my facility with the fire-rating labels. What do I need to do about this? Do I assume that all the doors are rated the same?

A: Fire-rated doors assemblies are required to have labels on the doors and on the door frames identifying that they are indeed fire-rated. The labels can be located on the side of the door or on the top of the door. Non-fire-rated door assemblies are not required to have any labels since there is no requirement for them to be fire-rated. In your case, it is reasonable to assume that not all door assemblies in your facility are actually required to be fire-rated and therefore do not have labels. You need to refer to your Life Safety drawings (or your original construction documents if your LS drawings are not accurate) to determine the location of the fire-rated doors assemblies in your facility, and then examine those door assemblies for compliance with the labeling requirements.

As a side note, I’ve been told by Mr. Jerry Rice, VP of DH Pace Company, Inc., that there is one exception to having labels on both the door and the frame. This would be on a ‘fire door assembly’ that comes from the factory as a complete assembly. These types of fire doors only have one label (none on the frame), and it is located under the top cap. The only sticker on the door is on the top cap that reads something like “Fire label under cap – Remove to view”. So, you would need to get on a ladder and take the cap off with a screwdriver if you want to see the label. Some AHJs deem that process is ‘not readily visible’ and push back, but most know of the door manufacturing process and accept the practice.

I personally have not seen these types of door assemblies in hospitals, but you need to be aware that they may be part of your facility.

 

Fire Door Maintenance

Q: If a door is a fire-rated door is it required to be maintained as a rated door in compliance with NFPA 80, regardless if its location doesn’t require a rated door? I was told by a facilities employee that there isn’t any information that he can find that states this. Really my fight with him is simple that a fire rated door regardless of location and function needs to meet the standards at all times i.e. door closer, holes in door and frame etc.

A: According to the 2012 Life Safety Code, section 8.3.3.1, openings required to have a fire protection rating must meet the requirements of NFPA 80. So, based on this passage, if the fire door is installed in a non-rated barrier, one could assume that testing the fire doors would not be required.

But one would be wrong. According to section 19.2.2.2.1 of the 2012 LSC, doors must be in compliance with section 7.2.1 of the same code. Section 7.2.1.15.2 says fire rated doors assemblies must be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 80. This section does not differentiate whether the door is in a fire-rated barrier or not. Therefore, all fire rated doors must be inspected and tested (and maintained) in accordance with NFPA 80.

The requirements of the occupancy chapter always over-rule the requirements of a core chapter when the two chapters conflict. So, in this case, section 19.2.2.2.1 has precedence over section 8.3.3.1, and requires all fire rated door assemblies, regardless if the door is installed in a fire-rated barrier or not, to be tested and inspected in accordance with NFPA 80.

You win… your friend loses… Start planning on testing all of the fire doors and have your first test completed by July 5, 2017.

Fire Rated Door Frames

Q: We have a mechanical room door that is ¾-hour rated. The mechanical room is a 10 foot x 10 foot room with two electrical panels and a small gas fired heating unit. The metal door frame does not have a rating label on it. Does the frame need to be ¾-hour rated?

A: Anytime you have a fire-rated door assembly, the frame needs to be labeled as a fire-rated frame. Door frames typically (but not always) just have a label that says it is a fire-rated frame without any time associated with it. Those frames that are just labeled as being fire-rated are good for 3-hours, according to information that I seen on the manufacturer’s website. After 3-hours, then the frame needs to be labeled with the specific fire-rating needed.

The room that you are describing is required to be classified as a hazardous room since there is a fuel-fired heating appliance in the room. A hazardous room in a healthcare occupancy under existing conditions is required to have 1-hour fire rated walls with a ¾-hour fire-rated self-closing and positively latching door if the room is not sprinklered. However if the existing room is protected with sprinklers then the Life Safety Code allows you to have smoke resistant walls with a non-rated smoke resistant self-closing positively latching door.

If the hazardous room qualifies as new construction (or renovation), then the room must be constructed with 1-hour fire rated walls with a ¾-hour fire-rated self-closing positively latching door and the room must be protected with automatic sprinklers.

Even if the fire rated door that you refer to is not required, you must maintain it as such, which means the frame must also be labeled as being a fire-rated frame.