Unfortunately, fires are a large risk in California. They may start inside or outside of your building and end up putting people’s lives at risk and damaging your property. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2018, there were 499,000 building fires in the United States. Building fires do notinclude wildfires. Almost 4,000 people died in these structure fires, and they caused almost $26 billion in property damages. Add the increased risk from California wildfires, and it is no wonder that so many business owners take the requirement to have fire doors in their buildings seriously.

However, you may wonder if these commercial rated fire doors are safe. Doors and door hardware of all kinds vary in quality. Are fire doors different? Yes, The Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) found that 75% of all doors inspected in 2019 were not safe. Here’s what you need to know about how safe commercial fire rated doors are, and how you can ensure your door meets code.

What is a Fire Rated Door?

A fire-rated door is one that has a rating to tell you how well or how long it can resist, not just a fire, but also the transfer of heat and smoke from one room to the next. Fire doors may be closed at all times, or they make automatically close when the fire alarm is triggered so that they are simpler to operate when there is no fire.

Notably, fire doors may still be made of combustible materials such as wood. They are then only designed to resist fire, and the indirect effects of fire, for a certain period of time. These doors can slow the spread of fire and smoke through a building so that occupants have more time to escape, and so that the fire department can arrive at a smaller, more controllable fire.

Other fire rated doors are incombustible, but the framing around them and the walls will eventually give way to the fire instead. Or, very intense fires may melt the door instead of lighting it on fire.

As a business, you may be required to have fire rated doors outside of specific rooms in your building, such as the kitchen or a utility room. You may also be required to have a fire-rated door as an exterior door. It all depends on your local building codes and the kind of property and business you are running.

The National Fire Protection Association’s Standards

You may be wondering, more specifically, what kind of door counts as a fire door? First, a fire door should be rated. Typically, you can find a door’s fire rating as a small symbol on the hinge side of the door. You may see a sign for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Warnock Hersey (WH). The rating may include a number, which you can look up to understand the rating. Or it may include an hourly rating, such as a one or to hour fire rating. It may also include an S-label or a smoke rating and a temperature rise rating.

That rating might encompass all kinds of standards that make the door more resistant to fire. For example, the National Fire Protection Association requires these minimum standards for a fire rated door:

  • There cannot be any breaks or open holds in the door or frame, or smoke would pass through.
  • The door, frame, hinges, hardware and noncombustible threshold must be intact and free of visible damage.
  • The latching hardware secures the door when it is closed.
  • There is no additional hardware installed on the door that interferes with the operation of the door. That makes you cannot add additional locks such as chain locks to a fire door.
  • There is an operational self-closing device that will ensure the door is shut after use.
  • If there is glazing, vision light frames or glazing beads, they are secure and operational.
  • If there are coordinators installed on double doors, they close the inactive leaf before the active leaf.
  • The gaskets and edge seals, if there are any, have been inspected by a relevant professional.
  • You have not modified the door in any way that voids its rating.
  • Door clearance must adhere to code, based on the material of the door. Wood and metal doors have different clearance requirements.

It should go without saying that the fire door should also be closed, and not held open by a wedge, a string, or any other device.

How Safe is a Commercial Fire Rated Door?

If your commercial door says it has a fire rating of an hour, does that mean it will keep smoke and heat out of the adjoining room for a whole 60 minutes? It depends. While test conditions seek to mimic real-world environments, there are too many factors involved to say for sure. Tests are also performed on brand new doors, so older fire doors may not perform as well as expected. Ultimately, a fire door is about buying people time, not about creating a fire-proof environment.

Fire Door Testing in California

California has adopted testing procedures for fire doors from international building code bodies. The relevant tests are ASTM E119 and UL 263. Both tests determine how long a door can contain a fire, as well as the smoke and heat generated by the fire. They also test how well the door keeps its structural integrity under fire conditions.

Is Your Commercial Fire Door Safe Enough?

Are you not sure if your commercial fire door is safe? Follow these steps to get a rough idea:

  • Make sure that your door is fire rated. Ask the experts if you’re not sure what the rating means.
  • Make sure the fire door remains closed and that no one is propping it open.
  • Once it has been in a fire, replace the door.
  • If there is any damage to the door or its hardware, get it professionally repaired or replaced.

Do you need to know if your fire rated door meets building code in your area? Or do you need professional guidance to choose and install a new commercial fire rated door? The team at CLAD is here to help you make your building safer from a fire with quality fire doors.