Hannah Mansell, head of technical research and insight at the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) and chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum, outlines many important factors associated with specifying a fire door.
Many readers of this article will be responsible for specifying fire doors over the next 12 months. With the continued focus on fire door performance, it’s crucial to understand the factors that ensure a fire door performs as intended – product manufacture, quality, installation and maintenance all play a crucial part.
So where to start? In my experience, it’s best to begin by understanding fire door terminology.
Should I specify a ‘Fire Doorset’ or a ‘Fire Door Assembly’?
The type of fire door you purchase will depend upon user needs, budget and market availability. In very simple terms, the difference between a ‘fire doorset’ and a ‘fire door assembly’ is how they are put on the market. The British Standard BS EN 12519, Windows and Pedestrian Doors, provides the following definitions:
- A fire doorset is a ‘complete unit consisting of a door frame and a door leaf or leaves, supplied with all essential parts from a single source’.
- A fire door assemblyis a ‘complete assembly as installed, including door frame and one or more leaves, together with its essential hardware supplied from separate sources’.
What’s important to remember is that when you specify a fire doorsetyou are buying a pre-assembled, fully finished product from a single manufacturer. Fire door assemblies, on the other hand, are supplied as components from different suppliers to be made up on-site into a finished door assembly. Regardless of which you specify, the following components make up the finished fire door:
- Door leaf
- Frame or lining
- Ironmongery (including hinges, latch, door closers, letterplates, air transfer grilles, eye viewers, door furniture, etc.)
- Fixings and associated installation materials (such as fire stopping materials)
- Intumescent seals
- Cold smoke seals
- Glazed aperture systems
All fire doors placed on the market in the UK, whether sold as a doorset or assembly and regardless of which material they’re made from (timber, metal, composite, glass, etc.), must have test evidence to validate performance claims.
Fire door performance characteristics
Fire doors are classified (in minutes) in terms of their ability to resist fire and cold smoke. These are two different and separate performance characteristics which are measured by two different tests. It’s important that you specify the correct level of fire and cold smoke resistance needed for the type of building and location the door(s) is being fitted in. To help, here are a few things to look out for:
- A door that has been tested to British Standards and can resist fire for 30 minutes is referred to as FD30. Similarly, a door that can resist fire for 60 minutes is FD60.
- A door that can resist both fire and smoke for 30 minutes is referred to as FD30S. For 60 minutes, it is FD60S.
- Fire doors can be tested to either BS 476:22 or European Standard BS EN 1634:1. For doors tested to the European Standards, the ‘FD’ suffix is replaced by ‘E’. For example, E30 and E30S.
Testing and certification
A fire door must be tested by an independent organisation in accordance to British or European Standards. Best practice would dictate that a tested doorset and tested fire door components are covered by an independent third-party certification scheme.
I personally believe that third-party certification is only going to grow in importance following the current investigation into fire doors by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government Review (MHCLG). We can’t ignore that following on from the Grenfell tragedy, issues with product performance supplied by certain door manufacturers have been highlighted in the national press. Through responsible third-party certification, the ongoing testing, independent auditing of control systems and product traceability would be a routine task, helping to drive standards within the industry.
However, it’s important to appreciate that the performance of any fire door is also dependent upon the quality of installation and ongoing maintenance.
Installation and maintenance
In order for a fire door to perform on-site, it should be installed in exact accordance to the complete specification stated within the third-party certification scope detailed on the associated documentation and manufacturer’s instructions. This documentation will detail all limitations of the product (relating to size and configuration), installation instructions and precise specification of all the compatible components that can be used (such as intumescent seals, glazed aperture systems, etc.).
It’s crucial that this specification is adhered to for correct installation and essential ongoing maintenance. It’s important to remember that unless there is clear evidence (e.g. independent third-party certificate, test reports, data sheet, etc.) that the components assembled are compatible, you may have an issue in demonstrating compliance when required to do so, say under Building Regulations or the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO).
There is no denying that fire doors continue to be under the spotlight, and I think we would all agree that this is rightly the case. In December 2018, the BWF welcomed the news that the government is implementing in full the recommendations of the Hackitt Review through the Building a Safer Future Plan.
This plan is a much-needed step forward for the industry, providing an effective regulatory framework and more accountability which will be supported by the introduction of clearer standards and guidance on fire doors. Product safety performance and traceability will be key, with testing and certification intrinsic to driving this forward.