Joe Cilia, FIS Technical Director, says never assume that the fire door you want to specify or install is compliant. It is your responsibility to engage with manufacturers to gather advice and evidence about performance to ensure a compliant design.
How many of the witnesses up before Sir Martin Moore-Bick at the Grenfell Inquiry wished they had asked more questions, insisted on having more data and proof of performance before designing, specifying, purchasing, managing or installing components used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower?
Things must change and the witness statements provide a lesson to every single person involved in the build process from design to installation.
Although the issue of fire doors will not be looked at until phase two of the inquiry there are some clear lessons already for anyone starting the process now and who should be concerned that they have done everything reasonably possible to be compliant.
BS 476 part 22 or EN1634-1 are the current tests used for fire door assemblies, made up of:
• the door;
• the frame;
• seals; and
• any apertures, grills, or letterboxes.
When these tests are carried out in the laboratory a report will be produced detailing:
• the test installation;
• the detail of the components installed; and
• the results.
But because they can contain commercially sensitive information, these reports are sometimes reduced to simply a ‘manufacturer’s certificate’, which without all the details can leave specifiers and contractors vulnerable when, as in the case at the Grenfell Tower inquiry, probing questions are asked about product performance.
Several leading manufacturers go the extra step by having third party certification from an independent and UKAS-accredited certification body produced for their door assemblies. Unlike testing alone, re-testing is required every five years or 250,000 doors to check that the make up and construction of the doors hasn’t changed over time and includes audited production processes, whereas testing alone proves only that a door passed a test on a given day.
So where does this leave anyone who specifies a fire door for a project when looking for evidence that the door complies and will be installed correctly? We asked the experts from The British Woodworking Federation. The Guild of Architectural Ironmongers and members of FIS on what advice they would offer to anyone undertaking the process today.
British Woodworking Federation advice
Kevin Underwood, Technical Director at the British Woodworking Federation, says that the terms used to describe doors can be very confusing, as they can be called doorsets, door kits, door assemblies, or simply ‘doors’.
Doorsets are door leaves and door frames that are factory prepared and fitted with the hinges, latches, locks, intumescent seals and, when required, closers needed for the door to perform. Door kits are effectively doorsets but supplied in two or more parts to be assembled on site. Both doorsets and door kits are supplied from a single source. Where the final assembly created on site is formed from components from more than one source then this is a ‘door assembly’.
He said: “It’s also possible to buy door leaves supported by fire resistance test evidence, but it’s important to know what door frame and ironmongery should be used to ensure it meets the requirements of the test evidence.
“To help pick through the detail of test reports the test standards set out the requirements for what is to be included in the final document, and product certification bodies are accredited to the international standard ISO/IEC 17065 to provide product conformity certification and follow their documented schedules for the different product types listed under their accreditation.
Fully glazed fire doors
Peter Long, Fire and Certification Manager at Optima Products, raised a different issue with glazed fire doors, saying that fully glazed fire doors with metal frames are a very specific class of fire door, and will require a range of ironmongery to operate; such as:
• door closing devices with hold-open or swing-free function;
• automatic door drives; and
• electronic locking devices for access control.
He says that specifiers should ask for fire test evidence specific to this type of fire door and not just assume that because it has been tested on a timber door the evidence will suffice.
Independent verified third party certification
Jim White, Associate Technical Director at Forza Doors, said: “Designers and contractors should ensure they engage early with manufacturers to ensure effective guidance is obtained to enable a compliant design. “We support the ‘independent verified third party certification’ route because of the regular revalidation and audit processes, and they include a ‘scope of certification’ or a ‘field of application’ detailing the parameters such as the size limits that the performance claimed allows the doors to be manufactured to.
“The earlier that designers engage with manufacturers, the more advice and performance data they can gather to ensure a compliant design using the preferred design options.”
Jim cautioned against the temptation to alter the specification or components as it may not be possible to provide test data required to show compliancy.
Fire door ironmongery
Douglas Masterson, Technical Manager at the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers (GAI), said: “If there is one resounding piece of advice GAI would give to anyone involved in the specification of fire door assemblies, it is to ensure that the ironmongery has been specified and supplied by someone who is competent to do so. A competent person is defined as ‘someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.’
“The specification of ironmongery is not something that should be considered lightly. It can take up to three years for a person to be fully qualified to GAI Diploma (DipGAI) status and even then, this is only the start of a lifelong journey of continuing professional development for those who are truly competent.
“Specifying the correct ironmongery for a fire door involves detailed knowledge of more than 60 relevant British and European standards as well as the appropriate approved documents and legislation covering aspects such as accessibility, acoustics and fire safety.
“Incorrect specification of essential items such as hinges, door closing device and locks will have a huge impact on the ability of a fire door to work correctly and its ability to close from any angle over any obstacle or latch. Don’t leave it to chance – always consult the experts, a list of GAI member companies and experts can be found on the GAI website at: www.gai.org.uk
Wayne Naylor, Doors Account Manager Komfort Partitioning Limited, said: “Surprisingly, only 43% of people understand that the purpose of a fire door is to keep the fire contained for a specific time, this is measured in minutes and includes how the door insulates (E) as well as its integrity (I).
“Because a door is one of the few moving parts in a building and fire doors are likely to be in high traffic areas it’s important that the doors and ironmongery will stand up to its expected use, so don’t be tempted to save money through value engineering or the door may fail if, for example, the closer fails to close the door properly.
“Installers should check that the tested fire doors have a permanent label or a ‘plug’ denoting its performance, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Installers often miss the requirement for an intumescent seal behind the hinges if required or forget to check that the doors have the specified gap between the door and the frame.
“The simple purpose of a fire door in everyday use is just as any other door. However, since a breakout of fire is never predictable, the fire door, unlike any other door, must then perform its primary purpose – to protect lives and offer protection to the remainder of the building and to those fighting the fire.”
Mandeep Bansal, Technical Advocacy Director of Knauf UK & Ireland, (plasterboard system manufacturer), said: “It is very important that fire door assemblies of various types and sizes are required to demonstrate their fire resistance performance with its surrounding structure, supported by the required testing standard and procedures.
“Within flexible wall constructions (drylining), a key talking point is variability. Due to the significant number of flexible wall solutions, offering a range of fire resistance periods and wall thicknesses, it is important that fire door assemblies can demonstrate and provide the necessary range of fire resistance data, including the interface of the aperture.
“Designers and contractors need to ensure quicker and closer collaboration between flexible wall system and fire door assembly providers so that discussions can be had early to ensure the appropriate opening door apertures are designed for fire resistance compartmentation in accordance with what has been tested. There is a heavy lean towards manufacturers of fire door assemblies to provide such data.
FIS Service Penetrations Guide
FIS recognises that fire safety is the number one issue in construction and continues to support the dedicated Working Groups looking at competence in the supply chain. We are also focused on developing specialist best practice guidance wherever possible (including our recently published Service Penetrations Guide that we developed with industry) because we work in a community where the need to raise standards based on shared values is understood. We are keen, however, to see work on updating the Building Regulations themselves accelerated to ensure that risk is managed in all cases, not merely contractualised.
The proposed Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill will provide umbrella legislation for more detailed legislation which will change how we design purchase, supervise and install and the questions about product performance using recognised terms will become every day, leading to evidence of complacency at all levels.