Fire-rated doors are a necessary safety requirement in every commercial building nationwide. And while they keep occupants safe and potentially save lives, they are often not the most aesthetically appealing doors to look at, especially in the world of clean, modern design.
At SG Architectural Specialties, we are consistently asked to help find better design alternatives that still offer the same level of safety as traditional fire-rated doors. We are often asked specifically if fire doors can have glass panels in them without compromising or negating the regulations required by commercial building codes.
We put together this guide to answer those questions and provide some aesthetic alternatives that don’t disrupt the safety or beauty of your design.
What Is a Fire-Rated Door?
A fire-rated door is a heavy door that is constructed and installed to slow or stop the spread of fire and, in some cases, smoke. They are more common in commercial buildings than residential and are often mandated by the International Building Code (IBC).
Fire doors help keep building occupants safe, are fundamental to creating shielded evacuation routes, and can provide enough time for emergency services and professionals to put the fire out and save the building from further damage.
But fire and smoke-rated doors are often clunky and unsightly, leading many architects to look for product alternatives or ways to make the doors more aesthetically pleasing within a space.
Can Fire-Rated Doors Have Glass Panels?
Yes! Fire-rated doors can have fire-rated glass panels and still be an effective safety barrier while offering design flexibility and inviting aesthetics.
Fire-rated glass panels open up a space and encourage transparency. They allow natural light flow to create a vibrant and mood-boosting environment. And during a fire, the transparent glass makes it possible to identify the location of the threat and safely plan an escape route that avoids damaged or dangerous areas.
Fire-rated glass is also specially designed to provide protection from a fire. It acts as a barrier to stop flames and smoke from spreading further throughout the building. And in some cases, the panels are heat resistant and double as thermal insulators.
However, it is important to know the local code requirements and restrictions when it comes to dimensions. Fire-rated doors need an appropriate framing material that can support the glass panels, and they still need an intumescent seal around the edges to seal the gap between the door and the flame.
Some local codes may have restrictions on the amount of fire-rated glass that can be used in relation to the frame that can limit some of the design flexibility.
What Are the Basic Code Requirements?
All fire-rated glass used in fire door applications must meet minimum safety requirements and pass routine testing and inspections.
Glazed fire doors must meet the basic requirements established in the NFPA 80, the NFPA 101, the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC). The fire rating of the wall dictates the fire rating of the door. The door must be self-closing and positive latching, and they must be tested by third-party testing agencies and properly labeled.
Fire-rated glass must be able to withstand fire resistance testing, hose stream testing, temperature rise and heat transfer testing, and tests for smoke and air leakage. There are also requirements for fire-door installation, maintenance, signage, lighting and additional smoke protection systems.
In recent years, the IBC has tried to make glazed fire-rated door codes clearer. Recent advancements in fire-rated glass have made glazed doors more popular, but the regulations are just now catching up and can sometimes be tricky to know what actually applies.
In addition to the IBC and other international codes, it is important to be aware of local codes as well.
For instance, the California Fire Code goes into more detail on fire door dimensions, construction, dimensions and signage that need to be accommodated for structures within the state. The city of Los Angeles has further fire requirements for its buildings that differ from the more rural parts of California.
Regions known for elevated risk of fire will typically have their own set of requirements that must be met in addition to the international codes and are important to be aware of when choosing the right opening protectives.
Keeping up with the international, regional and local regulations can become overwhelming when trying to incorporate design into essential safety equipment. But fire-rated glass is not the only solution to keeping a space open and vibrant.
How SG Specialities Can Help
Fire doors are a necessary measure of protection, but glass fire doors can also be a beautiful addition to any design. Fire-rated glass is the perfect aesthetic solution that can transform an unsightly fire door.
But ensuring these glass panels are up to code and keeping up with the required maintenance and testing can become costly and cumbersome.
Another solution to the poor aesthetics of fire doors is fire and smoke curtains. These can be seamlessly tucked into any design and are virtually unnoticeable when not deployed. Fire and smoke curtains can also be used where there are no walls in true open concept spaces.