The ultimate guide to fire doors

Fire doors save lives

Should a fire start, most notably in a larger building with numerous users, the primary goal should be to stop or slow spread to save lives and allow safe evacuation. It is fire doors which compartmentalise a building, preventing fire spread and saving lives and property. Of course, they also provide a means of escape for people exiting the building or moving to safety, as well as emergency access.

As such, it is essential that those responsible for fire safety in commercial and non-domestic properties, such as office managers, councils, school leaders, property developers and landlords know how fire doors work, which ones they need, about fire door certification and what this means, and the importance of using an accredited company.

It is necessary to consider the specification, supply, installation and maintenance of a fire door to ensure it is up to the job. Unfortunately, it’s only when a fire happens that the consequences of a poorly designed, installed or maintained door become apparent. And that’s too late.

What are fire doors

Fire doors are specially-designed and made to slow and prevent the spread of fire and smoke, and provide a safe exit. They are rigorously tested to ensure they meet the required standards of all necessary safety features.

As they are so important for protecting life, fire doors must have regular safety inspections to ensure they are still in good working order. In 2019, three quarters of fire doors were deemed not fit for purpose by the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS).

There are stringent requirements and regulations covering fire doors. The basic premise of these is that fire doors must always be fitted by a competent, skilled and knowledgeable installer and the doors must adhere to fire safety standards.

Those responsible for fire safety need to take this seriously. Failure to comply with fire safety standards can result in criminal prosecution.

The Building Regulations give clear guidance regarding the minimum standards which must be met with fire doors. They cover relevant British and European Standards regarding performance and testing of the door. There are regional variations of the Building Regulations across the UK.

Features of a fire door

There are key features of a fire door which determine its effectiveness at stopping smoke and fire spread, and its use as a safe exit.

Multiple components are used to make a fire door. However, there is typically a solid timber door and frame which has been treated to withstand extreme heat. Hence most are oak fire doors. Composite fire doors use a mix of materials, and have a lighter fire resistant core than timber fire doors.

Sometimes you also get glazed fire doors. These doors include a glass panel which allows a line of sight and for light to get through. Ordinary glass would crack and fall out, rendering the fire door useless. The glass used will be specially treated and coated to also ensure it can withstand the heat of a fire for at least an hour before it softens, and the beading is also important to consider. The integrity of the glass and its fitting must be tested as part of the fire door testing.

In addition to the core door, around the edge are specialist seals which are intumescent. This means that when they heat up they swell, and form a tight seal around the door, ensuring there are no gaps which can be penetrated by smoke or fire. Cold seals are also needed, but their use depends on location as sometimes the visibility of smoke is necessary to alert people (and warning systems) to the event of a fire.

You get both internal fire doors and external fire doors and the type chosen will depend on where in the building it is being used. Risk assessments and careful analysis of the building are needed to choose the right fire doors.

Beyond these basic elements of a fire door, there are some additional features and specifications which need to be understood.  

Understanding terminology: FD120, FD90, FD60 and FD30 fire doors

When a manufacturer designs a fire door, they will be classified as FD30, FD60, FD90 or FD120. There are stringent tests to ensure that fire doors are correctly classified (BS 476-22:1987 or BS EN 1634-1:2014).

‘FD’ simply means ‘fire door’. The number which follows denotes the amount of minutes of fire that the door can withstand. Therefore, FD30 fire doors can withstand up to 30 minutes of fire, FD60 fire doors can withstand 60 minutes of fire, and FD120 fire doors will withstand up to 120 minutes of fire. The most commonly used are FD30 and FD60. FD90 and FD120 are used where considerations extend beyond saving lives alone, but also extend further to protecting particularly high value property e.g. data storage.

With some classifications you may see an ‘s’ at the end of the code e.g. FD30s. This means that the door is fitted with a smoke seal.

Tests are carried out on complete fire door sets. This means that the test covers the door itself as well as the frame and all door hardware/furniture (locks, hinges etc.). Tests simulate real fire conditions, including how a fire exerts pressure on the upper part of a door.

Due to the rigorous test standards, fire doors should be provided with clear certification. Again, making sense of the certification is best achieved through choosing an accredited installer. It is the manufacturers who certify fire door sets, tested by an approved fire testing centre. Labelling will then go on all doors manufactured to the same specification. This label shows traceability in the manufacture and supply of the door.

Expert installation ensures that the door set does meet standards in practice. Some installers or people carrying out maintenance, who are not accredited or highly trained, will remove or cover these labels. This should not happen. Choose an accredited fire door installer and fire door maintenance service who is accredited by the BWF/FIRAS Accredited Fire Door Installers Scheme.

Where are fire doors needed?

As a lay person, knowing where to put which type of fire door can be complicated. Fire door installation done by experts will put your mind at rest that you are choosing the right door for the right place and meeting your obligations as a ‘responsible person’ under Building Standards. A fire safety expert will look at the design of the building, how it is used, and each door’s location in order to decide which category of fire door is needed.

These can be complicated considerations. It takes an expert to determine the evacuation times and capabilities of a building to determine whether FD30 doors are sufficient, or if higher category doors are needed.

A basic breakdown of fire safety regulations sets out the following requirements:

  • Domestic properties: If the property is two storeys high or more, a fire door is needed to separate the stairwell and each habitable room (excluding bathrooms or toilets). Fire doors are mandatory in loft conversions and between a domestic property and an attached or integral garage.
  • Mixed use buildings: The different areas of the building, between residential and business sections, must be separated by fire doors.
  • Non-domestic buildings: For non-domestic buildings, the guidance and regulations are much more comprehensive and must be considered by an expert. Both vertical and horizontal escape routes need to be considered, as well as signage and door furniture. Non-domestic dwellings cover a large number of buildings including schools, hotels, flats, offices, public buildings, hospitals, warehouses, venues and more.

When considering the location of fire doors, it’s important not to impede the normal flow of traffic in the building. If this happens, fire doors end up not being used correctly. Fire door installation and location should also be considered alongside other fire safety elements such as lighting, alarms, and equipment checks.

You may also choose to put additional fire doors in locations which go above and beyond that expected by Building Regulations. These should be considered carefully to further reduce risk and offer greater protection to life. At Ecosafe we offered professional fire safety risk assessment surveys.

Can you upgrade existing doors?

It was once considered acceptable practice to simply work with an existing door to upgrade it. Now it is both best practice and more economical to replace the entire door. Occasionally, in historical buildings this can raise concerns, but there are plenty of heritage designs available.

Fire door maintenance

It is of course vital to choose and install Building Regulations fire doors which come with certification and are installed professionally. However, the integrity of the fire door is only ensured when fire door maintenance is also carried out by accredited experts. Article 17 of the Fire Safety Order makes it legally necessary to make sure that both installation and maintenance are carried out adequately. Building owners are compelled to choose ‘competent persons’, as detailed in the Order, to help them meet the requirements of fire door regulations.

Fire door maintenance should be carried out regularly. The frequency will depend on the use of the building, but for non-domestic buildings we recommend professional checks and maintenance at least every 6 months, maybe more frequently depending on building type and use. At these checks, things such as seals and mechanical items will be tested and, if necessary, replaced.

As accredited fire door maintenance contractors, we follow a rigorous list of checks and assessments.

There are also responsibilities of building occupiers to look after and maintain the door’s function. For example, doors which use hold-open devices should be closed when building occupancy is reduced e.g. at night. If the building is used around the clock, for example in a hospital, the fire doors should be closed at least weekly. This exercise will always ensure that the door will close effectively when necessary, and won’t be impeded by any objects in their way, or a faulty seal or latch.

However, full inspection and maintenance can only be undertaken by trained and competent professionals.

Peace of mind, professionally given

At Ecosafe, we take fire safety seriously. We are accredited suppliers and fire door installers. Additionally, we offer a professional accredited fire door maintenance service throughout the south-west. Additionally, we can provide the fire safety certification that you need.

If you have any further questions about fire doors and our fire safety services, please get in touch on 01202 935064.


Ⓒ Ecosafe (2018) Beech House, Dorset BH15 2BU