Inspecting Swinging Fire Doors
by Nick Gromicko and Katie McBride
According to InterNACHI's Home Inspection Standards of
Practice, it is not required for an inspector to inspect fire doors or screens,
however, it is strongly recommended that inspectors familiarize themselves with
the following key facts and practices of an inspection of swinging fire door
assemblies to further improve their inspection knowledge and abilities. Fire
door assemblies serve two main purposes in regard to the safety of the
occupants. Firstly, fire door assemblies provide adequate time for occupants to
exit the structure safely or to create or find an area to safely wait for
assistance to arrive. And secondly, fire door assemblies assist in maintaining
the structural integrity of the building or home until firefighters are able to
extinguish the fire. Home inspectors can review the following information to
further understand how to conduct a proper inspection of a swinging fire door,
as well as to properly identify defects that require the assessment of industry-specific
The following information will explain the process of how a
fire door assembly reacts during fire exposure. Within the first couple minutes
of fire exposure, there is a metal fire door leaf that will expand very quickly
on the side of the assembly that is exposed to the fire. The intensity of the
heat will cause the door leaf to warp and deform in the direction of the fire.
A large amount of force is applied to the hinges and latching hardware when the
fire is located on the pull-side of the assembly, so the door leaf must remain
latched and closed.
As the fire continues to increase in size and temperature,
the door leaf exerts even more stress on the latching hardware and hinges as
the door leaf deflects further. Fluid that is located within the hydraulic door
closer will soon reach it’s boiling point and start to leak. At this point, the
door leaf is closed as the door closer has succeeded. With increasing
temperatures, fire exit hardware, levers, and door knobs become inoperable as
this design will prevent the accidental release of the latching hardware.
Once firefighters arrive and begin to attempt to extinguish the
fire, the latching hardware is exposed to even more stress from the pressure
and temperature of the water from the fire hose, as metal expands and contracts
very rapidly according to temperature.
When conducting an inspection of a swinging fire door, the
home inspector must comply with NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other
Opening Protectives 2016 Edition (Section 126.96.36.199, paragraph 188.8.131.52.1), that
states, “Fire door assemblies shall be visually inspected from both sides to assess
the overall conduction of the door assembly” and well as paragraph 184.108.40.206
which states, “Before testing, a visual inspection shall be performed to
identify any damaged or missing parts that can create a hazard during testing
or affect operation or resetting”.
Before conducting a fire door assembly inspection,
inspectors can benefit from obtaining and using the following tools suggested
by the Door and Security Safety Foundation Field
Reference Digest for Inspecting Swinging Fire Doors: small, bright
flashlight, digital camera (with flash), telescoping inspection mirror (LED
lights present in some models), telescoping magnet, magnifying glass, rulers or
measuring tape, door gap gauge(s) (for measuring clearances), number 3 Phillips
head screwdriver for checking hinge screws, Number 2 Phillips head screwdriver
for checking lock and strike plate fasteners, and standardized forms for
recording details of fire door assemblies.
It is important for home inspectors to know that maintenance
of fire door assemblies is not required to maintain a “like-new” condition, so
long as the natural wear and tear of the fire door does not affect their
functionality during a fire. The following list describes the components that
should be included in an inspection of a fire door assembly.
Figure 1. InterNACHI® inspector inspecting a fire door.
Label on Door
- There should be a label that appears on the edge
of the door where the hinges are located. Some leaf labels may appear on the
top edge of the door. The label should list information regarding testing
organization, manufacturer, hourly fire-protection rating, construction label,
serial number, degree of temperature rise, positive pressure fire test, fire
exit hardware, and minimum latch throw dimension. The label should also mention
whether or not fire exit hardware is required to be installed. If this is the
case, it is prohibited for the door to have alternative latching hardware.
Figure 2. Standard 20-minute rated label. This label includes the organization/manufacturer, the fire-protection rating, serial number, and minimum latch throw dimension. (Image courtesy of InterNACHI® member, Marcel R. Cyr, CMI.)
- Label on Frame
- There are two different labels that could be
present on the frame of the fire door. A physical label, which is usually found
under the door rabbet of the frame, or an embossed label, which is usually
found on the hinge jamb section on the soffit. This label should list
information regarding manufacturer, hourly fire-protection rating, and testing
organization. It should be noted that frame labels tend to have smaller amounts
of information than leaf labels.
- Pull Side of Frame
- The inspection of the frame on the pull side
should begin with verification that the frame has been securely anchored to the
wall construction. To do this, an inspector should be alert to: signs of
movement in regard to the opening and closing of the door leaves, any bolts
and/or screws that aren’t securely fastened (fasteners must not be missing or
exposed), whether or not the sill anchors on the drywall slip-on frames have
come loose, and the anchored security of sill sections of sidelight frames.
- The inspector should be aware that fire-rating
of the frame may have indication of field modifications such as auxiliary
hardware items and/or strike preparations, and that hollow metal frames may
have indication of rust-through.
- The door should be checked for proper opening
and closing of the door that may be hindered by substantial dents.
- From left to right, check the face of the frame.
This includes; the possibility of a disconnect amongst the head and side jambs
located at the corners of non-welded frames, verification that screws are
installed to close the miter joints at the corners of know-down frames, and the
presence of open holes caused from the removal of hardware items.
- The face of the side jambs should also be
inspected from the top right corner to the floor, as well as the top left
corner to the floor.
- On the sidelight/panel frames, inspect for sill
and mullion sections by scanning left to right and also inspect the glazing
beads by checking to make sure that all glazing beads are present and fastened to
the frame in a secure manner and that all fasteners are tightened and present. The
glazing materials and panels should also be checked for glazing materials that
may be damaged or broken.
- By scanning left to right, the transom
light/panel frames should be inspected. The mulllions should be securely
attached (non-welded frames). The glazing beads should be inspected in this
area as well by checking to make sure that all glazing beads are present and
fastened to the frame in a secure manner and that all fasteners are tightened
and present. The glazing materials and panels should also be checked for
glazing materials that may be damaged or broken.
- Pull Side of Door
- Fasteners of hardware items that may have
possibly been removed may cause open holes to form.
- Check for prominent deflections or dents that
would hinder proper opening and closing with proper latching.
- Look for noticeable indications of field
modifications that can possibly compromise the fire-rating of the door. The
modifications can potentially be observed on ventilation louvers or vision
lights, auxiliary hardware items, or lock and strike preparations.
- Verify that there are no loose or missing
fasteners on the vision light frames, ensuring security.
- Check to make sure that the face of the door is
flush (or slightly inset) with the face of the door frame.
- The alignment of the doors in the frame should
be checked to make sure that at the latch side of the assembly, the vertical
edge of the door is flush (or slightly inset) with the frame on single doors,
and that the vertical edges at the meeting stile are flush (or slightly inset)
with the face of the frame at the head and flush with each lead at the bottom
corners of the doors.
- Overlays and plant ons can cause the face of the
door to extend beyond the face of the frame.
- Clearances around the perimeter of the door should
be verified. To begin, the inspector should start at the top corner of the hinge
side of the assembly and inspect the clearance between the frame on the hinge
side and the door. Then, the clearance between the head of the frame and the
top corner of the door should be checked. Next, the top corner of the door on
the latch side of the assembly should be inspected by checking the clearance
between the door and the frame on the side and top edges of the door, as well
as the between the head of the frame and the top corner of the door. Lastly,
move to the bottom of the door and verify that the clearance between the
finished floor material and the bottom edge of the door is no larger than
- The clearance between meeting stiles of the
doors on the pull side should be measured in 3 different places. At the lock
height, and at the top and bottom corners of the door.
Edges of Doors
- When inspecting the vertical edges of the door, the
first step is to open the door and check the hinge and lock stiles. When
inspecting pairs of doors, the active leaf lead should be inspected first. This
process should be repeated for the inactive leaf.
- Inspect the door skin/face to check for
indication of delamination and other through-hole damage (e.g. metal doors may
have rust-through). Open holes from the removal or replacement of fasteners of
hardware items may be present, and the security of the fasteners should be
- If the door is rubbing on the frame or opposing
door lead, there may be wear signs that indicate a misalignment or clearance
- The following applies to wood fire doors only:
- Vertical edges of wood fire doors should be
inspected for indication of field modifications.
- If fasteners are installed without pilot holes,
the inspector should check for split stiles.
- Push Side of Frame
- An inspection of the push side of the frame
should begin on the push side of the door. From left to right, inspect the face
of the frame head looking for space between the side jambs and the head at the
corners of non-welded frames. Next, check to make sure that all screws are
installed with the intention of closing the miter joints at the corners of
know-down frames. Lastly, the removal of hardware items may cause open holes.
- The face of the side jambs should also be
inspected from the top left corner to the floor and the top right corner to the
- On the sidelight/panel frames, the sill and
mullion should be inspected by scanning left to right and checking the glazing
beads and glazing materials/panels.
- Lastly, the transom light/panel frames should be
inspected by scanning left to right and confirming that the mullions are
securely attached (non-welded frames). The glazing beads and glazing
materials/panels should also be inspected.
- If hardware items or fasteners have been removed
or replaced, open holes may be present.
- The door may be hindered from fully opening and
closing, as well as properly latching if there are significant dents or
- Inspect the door skin/face to check for
indication of delamination and other through-hole damage.
- Vision light frames should be inspected to confirm
security (no missing/loose fasteners).
- The inspector should check to make sure that the
frame and door are aligned properly.
- The clearance amongst meeting stiles of paired
doors with overlapping astragals must be verified.
- This clearance must be measured on the push side
of the assembly at the bottom corners of doors, at the lock height, and at the
top corners of doors.
- To ensure that each component of the installed hardware
of the door and/or frame is capable of performing its necessary function without
compromising its capability of fire protection, it is essential that the
inspector be aware of all parts and pieces. To understand and review the
function of the hardware, the inspector should look for the label located on
each component of the hardware.
- The inspector should verify that fasteners used
to attach hardware to frames and doors are made of steel or stainless steel. If
incorrect fasteners are used (i.e. self-drilling screws, pop rivets, drywall
screws), this could compromise the integrity of the assembly. Lastly, it is
important that each hardware component be securely attached. If this is not the
case, the inspector should recommend that a professional assess the hardware to
determine if it is necessary to replace the hardware to ensure the security of
Examples of Labels
Figure 3. Fire rated garage walk through door label. (Image courtesy of InterNACHI® member Dave Fetty, CMI).
Figure 4. Fire rated attic stair hatch cover label. (Image courtesy of InterNACHI® member Dave Fetty, CMI).
Figure 5. Fire rated plywood attic access hatch. (Image courtesy of InterNACHI member, Dave Fetty, CMI).
Figure 6. Fire rated attic stair hatch cover label. (Image courtesy of InterNACHI® member Dave Fetty, CMI).
and Report Writing
If any defects are discovered, home inspectors are legally
unable to repair the defect themselves but they should thoroughly note the
defect(s) on a report and strongly urge the owner to seek assistance from a
professional immediately. Failing to properly inspect and test the maintenance
and integrity of a fire door assembly, as well as to make recommendations to
the owner, can result in serious injury and even death of the occupants inside.
NFPA 80 provides a list of information that is required to
be recorded and reported on an inspection report. A thorough summary report
will go over the over-all conditions of the fire door assemblies, the total
number of assemblies inspected, how many of those assemblies had defects, the
nature of the deficiencies (minor to major deficiencies), and the importance of
maintenance required for fire door assemblies to remain or achieve good working
order. As stated in the Door and Security Safety Foundation Field Reference Digest for Inspecting Swinging
Fire Doors, summary reports should include:
- Inspection Date
- Facility Name
- Name of person(s) performing testing and
- Company name and address of inspecting company
- Signature of inspector of record
- Individual record of each inspected and tested
fire door assembly
- Opening identifier and location of each
inspected and tested fire door assembly
- Type and description of each inspected and
tested fire door assembly
and visual inspection and function operation
of deficiencies in accordance with 5.2.3. Section 5.3, and Section 5.4
The Door and Security Safety Foundation Field Reference Digest for Inspecting Swinging Fire Doors also
states that a detailed report is required after the conclusion of a visual
inspection. This detailed report should include:
- Door number or other unique identifier(s)
- Type of fire door assembly
- Fire-protection rating
- Remarks and/or comments (including documentation
of special conditions affecting the assembly
- List if deficiencies
- Recommended corrective actions
Fire door assemblies are a crucial part in protecting and
preventing fire from entering a structure. If the intended routine, based on
design, goes as planned the occupants should be able to either evacuate the
structure, create a barrier, or find an area of refuge. This will also allow
the integrity of the structure to uphold until firefighters are able to arrive
and extinguish the fire. The fire door assembly is meant to withstand tremendous
amounts of pressure and fluctuation of extreme temperatures. When conducting a
fire door inspection, home inspectors should be meticulous in their inspection,
note taking, and report writing so that any defects may be assessed and addressed
to ensure the safety of the owners and occupants.
This article was sourced from InterNACHI® and the Door Security and Safety Foundation.
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