Fire doors: A beginner’s guide

Fire doors are specialist doors that have been tested against the elements and are purpose-built to withstand roaring fires for as long as possible. They enable buildings to compartmentalize and delay the spread of fire from one area to another and form a crucial part of a passive fire protection strategy.

Certified Branddörrar will be given a fire-resistance rating, which details the length of time the doorset and its materials will be able to withstand smoke and fire – either 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the rating. They are fitted with intumescent strips (or seals) which expand to fill the gap between the door and the frame.

Fire door has a few vital safety features and really can be the difference between life and death. Two of the most important functions fire doors have are:

  • When closed, they form a barrier to stop the spread of fire
  • When opened, they provide a means of escape

Features of fire doors

Here are some of the key features to look out for in terms of both domestic and commercial use:

  • Fire doors are made up of various components. The door itself is usually made from a solid timber frame, but they can sometimes be covered again in fire-resistant glass. This glass should be able to withstand exposure to the heat condition in a fire test for at least 60 minutes before it reaches a temperature high enough to soften it.
  • Around the edges of the door will be the intumescent seal or intumescent strip. An intumescent seal is chemically designed to expand when temperatures reach beyond 200°C to seal the gaps between the door and frame. These seals (or strips) usually come with either 30 or 60 minute ratings.
  • For a private premises, it is advised to install fire doors where the risk is most imminent, for example the kitchen, or rooms which house lots of electrical devices. If your property is a new build, it should have been subject to regulations ensuring certain doors are fire doors – check this with the developer. As it currently stands, fire doors are only legally required in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
  • For commercial or non-domestic properties, liability lies with whoever is deemed the ‘responsible person’ for that property or the employer. For example, the owner of the property, or the person in control of the property for trade reasons would be responsible.
  • Thorough risk assessments must be carried out and it is advisable to get professional help with all fire-safety-related regulations. There is more to passive fire protection and fire safety than just fire doors; escape routes, lighting, warning systems and equipment checks are also required.
  • When you’re choosing a door it’s important to know what the different specifications mean. The FD code shows how many minutes of fire a door can withstand, for example an FD30 has been tested to withstand 30 minutes. The most common two codes are generally considered to be FD30 and FD60. The test procedures manufacturers use are specified in BS 476-22:1987 or BS EN 1634-1:2014.
  • Many deaths during fires are not from direct contact with the flames, but the consumption of smoke. With this in mind, keep an eye out for a doorset with cold smoke seals. These should be within the intumescent seal. Exceptions may apply where the leakage of the smoke is essential for detecting a fire early.
fire doors

What are the regulations surrounding fire doors?

There are numerous pieces of legislation affecting fire doors in England, due to the various property types and requirements of each. Some of the most important regulations include:

  • Building Regulations apply for all new buildings
  • Existing buildings are governed by the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – recently extended to cover entrance doors in multi-occupied residences as a result of the Fire Safety Act
    • The responsibility for fire risk assessment in all non-domestic buildings including the common parts of flats and houses of multiple occupation falls to the responsible person
  • The Home (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 requires landlords in private and social sectors to ensure their properties are “free from hazards”, which include exposure to uncontrolled fire and smoke – highlighting the need for effective fire doors
  • The obligation for safety as an employer falls under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • Ongoing inspection and maintenance should be carried out by qualified fire risk assessors and installers and the original fire door specification should be adhered to
  • Third-party certification of fire doors and doorsets provide evidence to all parties that independent tests have been carried out that demonstrate the ability of the door to perform in the event of a fire.