Sizing Up Fire Doors and Rated Hardware

It's the responsibility of locksmiths to understand all components of steel fire doors. All hardware mounted to fire doors must be properly rated.

In this manner, everyone is on the same page. Sometimes an expert locksmith finds more efficient methods to install fire-rated hardware on steel doors. The locksmith wonders why these methods are not shown in the installation instructions. Where it might seem the manufacturer is missing something, it is important to understand that the manufacturer deliberately guides the installation process in steps that might seem redundant but guarantee (as much as possible) that the hardware will be installed properly.

Hardware Reinforcements

One requirement when ordering fire rated doors is to specify the type of hardware that will be mounted on the door. The manufacturer can then reinforce the door in precise areas so that hardware can be adequately fastened. Figure 6 identifies the different reinforcement thicknesses that the manufacturer installs inside their doors.

While installing hardware, if a locksmith sees that there is no internal reinforcement for the fasteners, the locksmith should know the door may not have been intended to support that hardware.

I had a personal experience where a facility manager at a relatively new shopping mall asked me to look at the mall doors as exit devices were always falling of the doors. Even when rivet nuts were used, the exit device would eventually fall off.

I examined the exterior doors and found that all doors either had no labels or had the labels removed. Without the label, the rating could not be validated. I noticed the doors seemed light in weight and seem to flex too much when I deliberately applied force on the top of the door while lodging the door with my foot at the bottom. Using a dial caliper, I measured the thickness of the door skin and found it to be too thin for any type of fire-rated door.

I examined the stripped-out fastener locations and arrived at the determination that the hardware was falling off the doors because the wrong types of doors were installed.

I researched the existing Division 8 specifications and found 18-gauge doors were called for and 20-gauge doors were installed. The records reviewed who was responsible for providing the doors and that person was contacted. The facility manager was delighted when the contractor (when caught) agreed to replace all the doors for free.

This example highlights the need to understand the relationship of doors and hardware.

Glaring Problems

While researching this article, a question I asked door manufacturer resources is what if any points they would like to convey to installers of hardware on steel fire doors. The glaring problems that were commonly cited were:

Fire protection is often degraded when door props are installed. Under no condition should door props be installed on fire rated doors. Especially in office complexes over years of occupation, door props proliferate.

Door closers are mounted improperly. Sometimes door closers are improperly installed on the outside of a door where it can't be protected during a fire. The arms of door closers are improperly installed so the door cannot latch correctly.

Add-on surface mounted hinges are not the answer. When hinge straps break or fail, it is due to door abuse or corrosion issues. Both need to be directly addresses versus slapping on a non-rated hinge support (as in Figure 9).

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