When designing for commercial buildings, aesthetics and layout are important, but fire safety measures are crucial.
There are many codes and regulations a building must adhere to, including the presence of fire-rated doors, but it is always better to be over-protected than implement the bare minimum required.
What Are Fire-Rated Doors?
Fire-rated doors are a crucial part of a passive fire management system and are required for most commercial buildings in order to adhere to the International Building Code (IBC) regulations.
A fire-resistant door is specifically constructed to slow down and prevent the spread of fire. They also help:
Occupants evacuate quicker and easier when exit routes are clearly marked and protected.
Prevent a fire from consuming an entire building.
Fire-rated doors also buy time for firefighters to get in and do their job. These doors even make it easier for emergency personnel to enter the building, locate the source and address the problem.
The regulations for a fire-rated door are not strictly about the door itself but include all components like the frame and hardware involved. So even if a door is made to be fire-rated, not having the correct components means it does not meet the specified requirements.
Where Are Fire-Rated Doors Usually Used?
The primary function of fire-rated doors is to protect emergency exit paths. Therefore, fire-rated doors are typically installed in every opening along this path.
They are also used to compartmentalize the building and isolate fire threats, so fire-rated doors are usually seen in high-risk areas as well.
Here are a few common places where fire-rated doors are used.
Lobbies are often designed to be vast communal spaces with a large footprint and can include additional amenities like shops or cafes.
The doors that lead from the lobby to potential exit routes need to be fire-rated to ensure the highest level of protection of these routes. Additional safety features like fire curtains may be used to further compartmentalize a large lobby space to keep damage to a minimum and further protect evacuation routes.
Having fire-rated elevator doors in conjunction with deployable smoke-rated curtains create a tight-fitting smoke and draft control assembly required by code.
It is also best to ensure elevator doors are smokeproof as well by installing smoke curtains above each door that automatically drop during a fire. The elevator shaft creates a chimney effect during a fire, and smoke can seep into every level rapidly if no protective measures are in place.
Smoke disorients occupants and can make it impossible to evacuate to safety, so the extra level of some protection is vital for protecting the building and its occupants.
Much like elevators, stairwells are also a place where fire can spread rapidly from floor to floor. Because they play an integral role in getting everyone to safety, the doors to stairways must be fire-rated and must remain unlocked to allow for reentry during an emergency.
Open-concept designs often implement large, open staircases into the plans instead of enclosed stairwells, which leads to several safety issues in the case of a fire. However, smoke and fire curtains compartmentalize these spaces to prevent smoke from infiltrating other spaces and allowing building occupants more time to safely egress through designated egress paths.
Interior doors that separate a room from a hallway or corridor need to all be fire-rated, as they help protect exit routes from flames and excessive heat, allowing for safe exit strategies.
Interior fire-rated doors also help compartmentalize the building, keeping the fire isolated to one section and preventing extensive and costly damage to the rest of the building.
Certain spaces, like commercial kitchens, electrical closets and mechanical equipment rooms, come with increased fire risks. These are typically where fires start in commercial buildings and need extra protection like fire-rated doors to keep the threat contained and prevent it from causing further damage by spreading.
It is also important to think about the spaces where at-risk people would require extra protection and assistance while evacuating. Places like hospitals, schools, daycares and nursing homes need particular care and attention when planning fire safety equipment.
It is vital that fire-rated doors are accessible and easily operated by everyone, including children, the elderly or people with disabilities. To further protect those most vulnerable, additional smoke prevention solutions like smoke curtains should be implemented to increase the time they have to safely evacuate.
What About Front Doors?
The best way to protect exit routes is to exclusively install fire-rated doors along the route, including prominent exits like front doors.
Fire-rated doors are not always required for front doors and entrances, but it is still beneficial to include them at these crucial points of entry and exit.
Not only do fire-rated doors reduce the probability of a fire spreading through evacuation routes, but they also help compartmentalize the building to save people, property and assets.
Fire-rated doors are also required to be a certain width that is wide enough for wheelchair users to easily egress. This additional width also permits multiple people to exit through a single door at the same time, making exit times quicker and safer in instances where people may be rushing out.
Fire-rated front doors are easier to open and automatically close on their own. So, as people exit, these doors will seal behind them and continue to hold back potential threats. Plus, the heat resistance and temperature control will provide additional safety as emergency services work to control the flames and help those in need.
The regular inspection required of fire-rated doors ensures they are ready to work during an emergency. The non-emergency benefits, like improved insulation and acoustics, make choosing a fire-rated front door even more desirable.
Examples of Fire-Rated Front Doors
The common thought is that a front door is the entry point from the exterior to the inside of the building. While fire-rated entrance doors are beneficial in this application, it is not the only place they are used.
Entrance doors are not always exterior doors: Entrances into individual stores in an enclosed shopping mall are still considered front doors. An office building that houses several businesses also has several front doors, as do high rises, hotels, airports and any building that accommodates multiple, separate entities under a single roof.
These types of entrances need fire-rated front doors to protect each separate space. If a fire starts in a business next door within a shopping mall, fire-rated entrance doors keep the fire from spreading throughout the mall and endangering people trying to evacuate. They also protect each individual business from extensive fire damage to their own personal property and assets.
Airports should also consider fire-rated entrance doors, especially for the number of restaurants, offices and stores they accommodate. If a fire starts in a kitchen or electrical closet, being able to automatically close off the space could be crucial to evacuating thousands from the premises and saving the airport from irreparable damage.
Designing a unique front entrance that allows a business to stand out from others within the building is a smart move, but not if the design is strictly for aesthetics and serves no other practical function in times of need. The best front doors account for occupant and property safety as well as visual appeal.
Fire-Rated Front Doors
Fire-rated doors are crucial, but can quickly become costly, especially when trying to replace existing non-fire-rated doors. Fire-rated doors are also clunky and may not always fit into the design or could negatively stand out within historical structures.
Fire curtains are not limited to existing doorways. They can be installed in specific areas where there’s a need to compartmentalize the large space and protect exit routes.
Even in cases where fire-rated doors have been properly implemented, smoke curtains are becoming more popular for additional protection. Smoke is the leading cause of injury during a fire and can be disorienting enough to prevent occupants from safely evacuating.
Not all fire-rated doors are smoke resistant, so implementing smoke curtains not only prevents fire from spreading but also keeps smoke and other toxic gases from overtaking exit routes.
Fire and smoke curtains come with a host of other benefits. They are virtually invisible when not deployed and can be easily implemented into almost any design. They are also tamper-proof and can’t be propped open or obstructed like doors can. And by not needing large door frames or enclosures, traffic can flow quicker and more freely in an emergency.
Always Include Additional Protection
When considering the options for your fire management system, keep in mind that taking extra precautions to guarantee occupant and property safety is worth the long-term investment — and could save someone’s life.