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There are more than 300 different fire codes and standards from the National Fire Protection Association that affect virtually every aspect of building construction. Every product can have specific fire safety requirements. The main aspects that codes usually focus on are building materials, finishes, exterior materials such as roofing and siding, firestops and fire resistant rated assemblies. Type of construction or building will determine which codes are required for walls, openings and other fire door solutions. New construction, residential or commercial, electrical and mechanical installations all are affected by different codes and standards.
A code is a set of rules or laws that specify the minimum acceptable level of safety for constructed objects such as buildings and non-building structures. Building codes are legally enforceable and are designed to protect public health, safety and welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures. Code publications, such as the International Building Code, must be adopted by a state or jurisdiction before they become enforceable.
A standard is basically a collection of best practices developed by consensus methods. They may influence or be incorporated into the code. Standards may or may not be legally enforceable and may or may not be legally binding.
When it comes to fire door solutions, there are many fire codes and standards from both the National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council, the fact is, none of them are actual laws. By themselves, they are not enforceable. However, most governing agencies use the codes and standards as their own building requirements, giving the agency or the agency’s inspector – the Authority Having Jurisdiction, or AHJ - the ability to enforce them.
Building fire codes address many different dangers that could arise to ultimately prevent loss of life.
Occupancy limits are designed to make sure people can have easy access to a point of egress and safely exit a building if a fire event occurs. Occupancy limits can determine the allowable height for an area.
Construction projects are classified into different types, so fire codes can address the different situations for which the building is used. You would not have the same codes for a small home as you would for a stadium full of thousands of people. Different building designs also require different building materials and structural elements. The building type will determine minimum fire resistant rated hours for the materials used.
Some special buildings details are not covered by fire code but are still essential to fire inspectors. In this case, it will be the judgment of the AHJ to determine if it meets the intent of the fire codes.
Material ratings are specified to ensure that the correct fire rated materials are used and set standards for how they should be used.
To prevent the spread of fire and smoke within a building there is a separation of adjacent space requirements not only from room to room or area to area but also from spreading between buildings.
Fire prevention codes govern the equipment, materials, alarms and equipment designed to stop and prevent fire events. This not only includes fire suppression but fire detector, smoke detectors and safety solutions.
Fire prevention and safety systems are a major part of the building fire codes as they are ongoing solutions after the initial construction is complete. There are multiple parts that can make up fire safety solutions and fire door solutions.
Sprinklers are one of the first solutions that most people think of in a fire protection system. Smoke detectors are another. Wall pull alarms are usually the final piece people think up when asked what is in a business fire protection system.
But what are other ways that fires are contained or prevented?
One of the major fire code requirements involves fire-rated doors and fire door closures. Fire doors can be triggered to trap smoke and fire along with a means of egress for people to find a safe route out of a building. Unlike building requirements, fire door systems need to be annually tested and records kept on file for at least 3 years. Failure to do so could void insurance claims or open a building owner up for litigation if a tragic fire event occurred.
Fire door testing has multiple steps involved.
The doors must be visibly inspected first. Any signs of damage, concerns or potential malfunction should be noted and corrected if possible.
Doors should be operated to confirm that they function properly and any issues addressed.
All doors must be triggered to replicate a fire event, confirming that the doors respond correctly.
Any doors that did not operate as intended should be repaired or replaced and retested.
There are no “grandfather rules” for fire doors. When new updates to a fire code come out, all doors must meet the new code requirements or be upgraded or replaced. Traditionally, fire doors were released by means or a tension release. Fire doors such as overhead rolling fire doors had to release a counterbalance tension to allow the door to self-close correctly when activated. As door evolved, particularly overhead coiling doors, they are now normally in an out of balance condition and eliminate tension release entirely. They can employ the use of active activation and be tied directly into local smoke detectors.
The improvements in fire doors have helped building owners reduce overall lifetime costs, increase the willingness of building owners or managers to make sure fire doors are in compliance and increased adoption of fire safety standards. Fire solution systems have greatly simplified systems with higher performance and reliability. With the ease of testing and resting doors advancing greatly, building owners and managers are much more willing to implement, upgrade and test their fire door solutions. This has led to a reduction in incidents, lowering of insurance costs, as there are less risks for those that test regularly, and reducing lifetime costs as issues are solved while they are still minor.
One of the primary improvements has been in the fire alarm control panel itself. Today, the control panel monitors all electrical fire detection devices in a building. Once it receives any input from the variety of signals, it is programmed to activate the appropriate fire protection protocols. Fire alarm controls can be a centralized system or it can be as simple as a localized door system. Advancements in fire door technology have also allowed for the ease of resetting the fire doors after they have been activated.
When there is a loss of power, fire doors can be triggered by a fail-safe release device. When a building loses power, the fear is that if the fire alarm control panel loses power, it would not be able to trigger the fire doors. A fail-safe device activates the door to close when electricity is lost. This can be an added safety feature but can be inconvenient during just a power loss. Adding a battery backup system is a smart way to prevent nuisance drops and keep other signal devices like smoke detectors still in action during a power outage.
When fire door solutions do not employ fail-safe systems or electronic detection, they need to rely on other activation means such as thermally activated devices. The most popular are fusible links, which release fire closures when the temperature reaches 165 degrees. The issue with fusible links is that most loss of life tragedies occur from smoke inhalation, not heat. Additionally, if a fusible link is put anywhere near a heat source, a false release could occur.
There are many factors involved in the different building fire codes, but advancements in fire door technology have made it a premiere factor in preventing loss of life and protecting property by compartmentalizing smoke and fire. The ease of testing and auto-resetting doors has led to increased testing and improved function of fire doors. If you are looking for ways to increase your building’s fire protection, it seems important to focus on the fire door and fire protection system fire codes to make sure your building is the safest it can be.
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