Fire Safety Doors

Emergency fire exit sign direction to doorway in the building green colour and narrow.

What are fire safety doors?

A fire safety door is a crucial safety feature of any building in which people live, work or visit. A fire safety door is a sealed door between compartments or areas. They act as a barrier to the spread of fire, heat and smoke, limiting its effect whilst allowing enough time for occupants to evacuate to a place of safety.

At a glance, fire safety doors don’t look too different from the other internal doors in a building. However, they need to be sturdy enough to stop the fire but otherwise easy to use under everyday circumstances. These dual roles are reflected in the doors’ design. A well-designed timber fire safety door will delay the spread of fire and smoke for perhaps up to 30 minutes, without causing too much hindrance to the everyday movement of people and goods. In other words, fire safety doors save lives.

How to identify a fire safety door

When you’re trying to identify a fire safety door, follow this simple check:

  • Certification. The most reliable way to identify a fire safety door is to look for its certification label.
  • Signage – Fire safety door regulations require signage clearly indicating that a fire safety door is indeed a fire safety door; this is not always upheld.
  • Gaps – The gaps around the tops and sides of the door should be less than 4mm thick. You can use a pound coin to check this; these are roughly 3mm thick.
  • Intumescent Seals – An intumescent seal is a heat-sensitive material which prevents the spread of flame and smoke by swelling in the event of a fire, and thus sealing the gap between door and frame. Check the frame and door profile for a thin strip running down the middle.
  • Hinges – A fire safety door should always have a minimum of three hinges.
  • Closing Mechanism – A fire safety door should close itself firmly from a halfway-open position and should not stick.

The differences between a fire safety door and a fire exit door

The issue of fire safety doors and fire exits can be confusing. A fire safety door is an internal door.

Examples of locations of fire safety doors include but are not limited to:

  • Stairwells, where they protect the stairs from corridors opening on to them.
  • Kitchens / catering facilities.
  • Storage areas that house combustible materials such as paper and card.
  • Boiler rooms.

Fire safety doors have to be kept closed at all times unless certified fire safety door retainers are installed (not just a door wedge), which hold the fire safety door open until a fire alarm is set off.

A fire exit door on the other hand, is an external door. It can be left open and does not have to be fire resistant. The purpose of the fire exit door is to allow a quick and unhindered escape through a well-lit door into a place of safety while stopping unauthorised access from outside the building.

Fire exits doors should open easily and, wherever possible, in the direction of traffic flow. If it is a security door that is usually kept locked but will be used by members of the public in an emergency situation, it will have to be fitted with a panic or push bar. By enabling the swift passage of people to a place of safety, the final exit door will have performed its function; it does not have to be a fire safety door to accomplish this.

Fire exit doors can also be opened from the outside if, for example, a panic bar with a key lock override is fitted. Fire exits must never be obstructed and have to be clearly marked and well lit. Best practice dictates that fire exit signs are fitted above fire exits.

Types of fire safety doors

The effectiveness of a fire safety door, as well as the type required, is determined by its location in the building and the types of fire dangers it faces. There are various types of fire safety doors, ranging from different materials to different fire ratings and levels of protection.

Types of fires safety doors include:

Wooden Fire Safety Doors – Particleboard, flax board, timber or mag board are some of the different materials used to make the solid core found in most wooden fire safety doors. A lipping around the core with a veneer finish, MDF or plywood glued to the core or a timber frame with a laminated outer finish are some of the different ways in which the core is finished. Provided that the necessary fire rating is met, any of these finishing methods can be used. It is worth noting that you should always remember to use fire-retardant paint if you plan on painting a fire safety door made of wood.

Steel Fire Safety Doors – Whilst glass or wooden fire safety doors are known to provide around 30 to 60 minutes of fire protection on average, steel fire safety doors can extend this time to up to four hours. Thanks to their durable and strong nature, these fire safety doors may be preferred over other available options when enhanced security is required. In applications where higher levels of hygiene are necessary, such as hospitals and kitchens, among others, steel fire safety doors are also preferred as they are easy to clean.

Glass Fire Safety Doors – For internal doors that comply with all the necessary fire safety regulations, pyropanel glass fire safety doors are increasingly seen as a better looking alternative to the traditionally popular wooden and steel fire safety doors. Fire-rated glass must be used on all pyropanel fire safety doors. To prevent the spread of smoke and flames, fire-rated glass has been tested and approved as an effective barrier. It is also possible to prevent the spread of heat with some types of fire-rated glass. While ordinary glass cannot withstand temperatures over 120°Celsius, fire-rated glass can survive temperatures exceeding 900°Celsius. It is important for your glass fire safety door(s) to comply with the applicable fire safety guidelines, especially given that building fires normally burn hotter than 600°Celsius.

Double Fire Safety Doors – Double doors are an excellent fit for buildings with a higher number of occupants or wider door openings.

Pre-hung Fire Safety Doors – In a new build or large construction, pre-hung fire safety doors can be used to save money and time. A single package made up of various components, including the architraves, frame and leaf, is supplied ready for installation when using pre-hung fire safety doors. These doors are installed once all of the construction work is complete to decrease any risk of damage to the door, which would render it non-compliant with the applicable fire safety regulations.

Fire safety door ratings

The FD rating assigned to fire safety doors is dependent on the amount of time it can stand up to fire. A thorough fire risk assessment must be carried out when selecting a FD rating. Fire safety doors providing 30 minutes and 60 minutes of protection have an FD30 and FD60 rating, respectively. FD ratings are assigned after stress testing according to the guidelines laid out in BS 476 part 22:1987.

Some of the commonly seen ratings include:

  • FD30: 30 minutes of protection.
  • FD60: 60 minutes of protection.
  • FD90: 90 minutes of protection.
  • FD120: 120 minutes of protection.

Fire safety door regulations

Fire safety doors are a legal requirement in all non-domestic properties, such as businesses, commercial premises and public buildings. They are also required in residential flats and houses of multiple occupancy. In the event of a fire, internal fire safety doors are meant to divide the building into separate compartments. This way, for the amount of time indicated by the FD rating of the doors, occupants have a protected way out of the building or space.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 brought together several different pieces of legislation into one. It applied to all non-domestic premises, including communal areas of residential buildings with multiple homes. The Order also designated a “Responsible Person” for fire safety whose duty is to undertake assessments and manage risks, with the Order enforced by Fire and Rescue Authorities. The Order also covered any house in multiple occupation (HIMO) with shared facilities of any height.

The Fire Safety Act 2021 establishes new rules for any building, including flats, from two-unit conversions to multiple flats in purpose-built blocks. The Act prepares the ground for secondary legislation to implement the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report.

All fire safety doors must satisfy the disability regulations under the Equality Act 2010.

Fire safety door requirements for domestic buildings

In domestic buildings above two levels, every door leading to the stairwell at all levels must be a fire safety door, where the door leads to a habitable room.

Fire safety doors are also required:

  • In loft conversions.
  • Between a house and any integral garage.
  • Between the business and residential elements in a mixed-use building.

According to the new Fire Safety Act 2021 apartment owners or leaseholders need to make sure that fire safety doors are compliant by ensuring that:

  • The fire safety door(s) is fire rated. You will be able to tell if you have a fire safety door on your flat/apartment if it has a label attached to the head confirming its certification number and manufacturer. Alternatively, it may have a coloured plug inserted by the manufacturer which confirms that the door is at least a 30-minute resistant fire safety door.
  • The fire safety door(s) should be at least 44mm thick.
  • The fire safety door should be affixed to the door frame by three certified or BS approved hinges made of steel. These hinges should not be leaking oil, and should include intumescent material pads at the back of each hinge plate.
  • If the fire safety door is fitted with a letter plate, that is the plate that covers the letter box, then the door must have a certificate to prove that it is fire-resistant and smoke-stopping.
  • The fire safety door handle and lock must be fire rated and certified. They must be comparable with the door installed.
  • The gap between the door and frame must be between 3mm and 4mm and up to 10mm at the bottom of the door.
  • The fire safety door should have a self-closing device fitted either at the top or centre of the door.
  • The fire safety door should fully close onto its rebates; that is, the door stops.
  • The fire safety door must not be twisted in its frame and should sit flush into its rebates.
  • The fire safety door frame or the edge of the door must have combined heat and cold smoke seals installed. Older doors may have a 10mm seal, whilst later doors will have 15mm seals.
  • The fire safety door frame must be in a good state of repair with no major failings. It should be secured to its opening correctly with fire stopping being provided where the frame and wall meet along the top and either side.
  • The fire safety door must open fully and close unhindered at a reasonable speed.
  • If the fire safety door has glazing, then it must be rattle free and should be correctly installed with appropriate glazing proprietary systems in place. Any glazing panel in the door should have a Kitemark or be stamped to show that it will provide at least 30 minutes of fire resistance.
  • Unfortunately, cat flaps are not permissible in fire safety door installations. So, if your apartment/flat door has a cat flap it is not compliant with the Fire Safety Act 2021.

Fire safety door requirements for non-domestic buildings

The guidelines are categorised into two separate sections, based on vertical and horizontal escape routes, when it comes to commercial and non-domestic properties. The process of evacuating all occupants of a building with multiple levels using a flight of stairs is referred to as vertical evacuation. On the other hand, occupants move horizontally, into a fireproof compartment or space on the same level/floor, to get away from the fire, in horizontal evacuation.

While the decision between horizontal and vertical evacuation is made independently, per building, the safety and speed of each option when it comes to the evacuation of a building’s occupants is the main determining factor, with vertical evacuation being the best fit in most cases.

According to the Fire Safety Order 2005, this route must be lined with fire safety doors at the very least. The door’s surroundings, location and building type are all considered in an independent evaluation used to determine the most suitable FD rating of the fire safety doors to be installed.

In accordance with Article 3 of the 2005 Fire Safety Order, the installation of fire safety doors in a commercial building is the duty of a “responsible person”.

Fire safety door frame regulations

Door frames, to go with certificated fire safety doors, should conform to the requirements stated on the door leaf’s data sheet. Frames certificated to meet the requirements of specified door leaves can be purchased from the door leaf manufacturer, a company licensed to manufacture the door frames, or a distributor.

Fire safety door frames or linings can be made from various timbers and timber-based materials. They must match the species, type and density, profile and frame dimensions given in the door leaf’s data sheets and confirmed in the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Fire safety door frames should be of the material types, density and dimensions, including the size of the stop, stated on the fire safety door leaf’s data sheet.

Fitting new fire safety doors into existing frames is risky because the existing frame may not be fit for purpose or compatible with the certification of the new fire safety door leaf. If you are fitting new fire safety doors and components into existing frames there are a number of checks that should be made on the frame before taking the decision to only upgrade the door leaf. If it is not compatible, then certification becomes invalid.

Fire safety door frames should be fitted into partition walls that have at least the same proven fire resistance as the resulting fire safety door assembly.

The limitations on the size of gap that is permitted between the door leaf and the frame is extremely important and is documented on the door leaf manufacturer’s data sheet. In general, the gap should be between 2mm and 4mm along the two long edges and across the top of the door leaf.

Fire safety door maintenance regulations

Article 17 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO/FSO) makes it a legal requirement to ensure that fire-resisting doors and escape doors are correctly installed and adequately maintained in order for them to be fit for purpose. The RRO/FSO applies to all buildings other than domestic housing, and replaces 118 pieces of previous fire legislation, including the old fire certificate.

The law now shifts responsibility from the fire authorities for fire safety to whoever has day-to-day control of premises. The authorities have the power to enforce the RRO/FSO and do prosecute or even close buildings down where breaches are discovered.

Just like any other passive fire protection system, it is essential for a fire safety door to perform as intended in the event of a fire. Any slight alteration to the door or its surroundings can affect the performance. As such, a fire safety door should be regularly checked to ensure it functions correctly and will perform to its designed standard in the event of a fire.

Periodic checks should be carried out at least once every six months although newly occupied buildings may require more frequent checks in the first year of use. Where the fire safety door is in high use, it should be checked more frequently than other doors in the building, for example once per week or month.

Regulations for installing fire safety doors

Depending on what type of fire safety door you buy, for example set versus assembly, you will need to have them installed in different ways. If you are installing a fire safety door set, the installation needs to meet EN 1634. If you are installing a fire safety door assembly, then the installation will need to meet BS 8214 2016. Any ironmongery used as part of a fire safety door assembly will need to meet BS EN 1906:2010 and BS EN 1935.

British standard for fire safety doors

Fire safety doors must conform to a British safety standard known as BS 476 Pt 22.

BS 8214: 2016 is the code of practice for fire safety door assemblies.

BSI, the British Standards Institution, has revised BS 8214 code of practice for fire safety door assemblies. The updated standard gives recommendations for the specification, installation and maintenance of timber-based fire safety doors. BS 8214 now includes updated guidance associated with the sealing between the door assembly and the surrounding structure.

The recommendations are applicable to timber-based hinged or pivoted pedestrian door assemblies or door leaves, fitted into frames of any material.

Other changes to the revised standard from its predecessor, BS 8214:2008, include new fire precautions in the design, construction and use of building to ensure the standard is harmonised with recently revised BS 9999 code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings.

BS 8214 was revised with suppliers of door assembly components in mind, many of whom are looking for ways to align their offering with the reliability of assembly offered by door sets. The revised standard reflects changes in the industry to meet its usability, particularly in relation to the installation and maintenance of fire safety doors, and is particularly relevant to those who work in the fire performance and smoke control sectors.

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