Are the Flat Entry Doors in our Block Fire Compliant?

Dr Shaun Lundy is the Technical Director at 4site Consulting, as well as being on the ARMA Health & Safety Advisory Committee and IRPM Health & Safety Working Group.

Are the Flat Entry Doors in our Block Fire Compliant?

The front door to flats forms an essential part of the fire compartmentation for a building. A fire is most likely to occur inside a flat and to protect others in the block it is important that the flat is a secure fire compartment, preventing the smoke and fire from spreading into the communal areas thus posing a danger to others. The flat entrance door is an essential feature of that compartmentation and it must meet the required standards if it is to afford suitable protection to residents and others who may be affected by a fire. As well as preventing a smoke and fire from spreading from the flat it will also prevent smoke and fire in the communal areas spreading into the flat where residents may be sheltering until the fire service arrives.

Most blocks operate a stay put strategy which has been recently reinforced as the most appropriate strategy in blocks of flats by the National Fire Chiefs Council:

NFCC supports the principle of a Stay Put strategy whenever possible, as it has been proved over many years to be safe for residents of purpose-built blocks of flats. NFCC believes that a Stay Put strategy is the correct advice in a purpose-built block of flats that is built and maintained correctly. In a building that was originally designed for a stay put policy, a change to simultaneous evacuation should only be temporary until the risk has been removed.

Inadequate flat front doors or poorly maintained doors may result in a change of strategy from ‘stay-put’ to ‘evacuate’ due to poor compartmentation.

How do I know if a door is suitable?

The suitability of flat entry doors will be commented on in the fire risk assessment. Where possible fire risk assessors will inspect doors. Access to fully inspect the doors is not always possible so recommendations can be made for the Landlord or Managing Agent to confirm with the leaseholder (who is often responsible for the door) that they are of a suitable standard.

If a door has been replaced or altered there should be records held either by the owner or the solicitor. The supplier or builder who installed or made alteration to the door should be able to provide a certificate confirming that the door-set is suitable as a fire door. All new door-sets should meet the FD30s standard which essentially means that they should be providing 30mins of protection, be fitted with intumescent strips and cold smoke seals, should fit the frame and be self-closing. An intumescent strip (or intumescent seal) is a piece of material fitted around a doorway that when exposed to heat, expands closing any gaps around the door to stop the fire spreading for a period of time.

You may not have any information on the door-sets and in this case, there are few simple checks that can be made:

1. If the door is UPVC it is unlikely to meet the FD30s requirements and will not be accepted as a fire door. UPVC doors should be replaced with suitable FD30s doors.

2. Tap or knock the door to see whether it is hollow. A fire door is usually of substantial construction and a light hollow door is unlikely to be of a suitable standard.

3. Fire doors must be a minimum of 44mm (4.4cm) in thickness. If the door has panelled sections and the thickness of these timber panels is less than 44 mm in thicknesses (i.e. they are thinner than the surrounding parts of the door) it is unlikely that the door is a fire door.

4. Check if there are three hinges fitted, which bear the CE mark and that no screws are missing. Older hinges may not have a CE mark but may be suitable, however the CE mark does provide assurance that the hinge will not fail in the event of a fire. If in doubt ask the fire risk assessor for further advice.

5. Look for a coloured plug in the door itself or any label or markings, which may indicate the door has been certified by either TRADA’s Q-Mark Scheme or BWF’s Certifire scheme.

6. If your door has a glazed panel(s) within it, the glass should either be Georgian wired or have a special fire-resistant glazing fitted. If the glazing does not have either, it’s unlikely that the door is a fire door.

7. Is there a 25mm door stop fitted around the door frame which the door closes too? Or is an intumescent or smoke seal (or a combination) fitted?

8. Is the door self-closing? i.e. when you let it go, it will shut itself. Fire doors are required to be fitted with either an overhead door closer or a jamb closer.

9. If the door has a letter box this will need to be of a suitable design with intumescent liners fitted so as not to compromise the protection of the door. Cat flaps or dog flaps are unlikely to comply and seriously affect the compartmentation offered by the doors.

10. Finally, the door should fit the frame, Check the gaps around the top and sides of the door are consistently less than 4mm when closed. The gap under the door can be slightly larger (up to 8mm is not uncommon), but it does depend on the door. As a rule of thumb, if you can see light under the door, the gap is likely to be too big.

As part of the fire risk assessment, assessors will comment on doors as far as they can bearing in mind that access to front doors can be difficult. In cases where there is particular concern about the suitability of doors a dedicated door inspection should be arranged with residents to allow a competent assessor access to fully inspect the doors as required.

Can Older Doors be Upgraded?

Older doors can be upgraded, although this will depend on the construction of the doors. In some cases, the door itself may be of substantial construction and only minor improvements such as changing ironmongery or fitting a self-closing device may be required. Where upgrading of an existing door is undertaken, a valid fire test report or assessment report by a suitably qualified person must be provided on completion of works.

What About Composite Doors?

Composite doors are made up from a variety of materials, including PVC, wood, insulating foam and GRP (glass reinforced plastic). Following the Grenfell fire tragedy, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) began investigating the fire door industry, specifically regarding composite doors. They identified a number of composite doors that failed to meet the 30-minute fire door requirement. All doors identified were subsequently withdrawn from the market. The MHCLG wrote to building control bodies highlighting the need for fire doors to be tested from both sides, in both configurations (i.e. both directions of opening). To this end the MHCLG has produced Advice Note 16 stating that:

Flat entrance fire doors should have test evidence demonstrating they meet the performance requirement in the Building Regulations guidance for fire resistance and smoke control from both sides.

Flat entrance fire doors should have test evidence demonstrating they meet the performance requirement in the Building Regulations guidance for fire resistance and smoke control from both sides.

Managing Flat Entrance Doors

If there are concerns about the suitability of doors in your block or a block that you manage seek competent advice from a suitably qualified fire risk assessor or specialist. Where possible arrange for access to doors as part of the fire risk assessment so they can be thoroughly checked.

Under the lease doors can be the responsibility of the landlord, however in many cases the flat entrance doors will be the leaseholder’s responsibility. Where the leaseholder is responsible, they have an obligation to ensure that any alterations to or replacement of doors are approved first by the landlord and building control. Failure to obtain the necessary consent would put leaseholders in breach of their lease and may make it difficult to sell the property in the future. Furthermore, by not having a suitable flat entrance door (and potentially compromising fire safety) the leaseholder may be in breach of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. As such the leaseholder has an obligation to cooperate and coordinate with the landlord to reduce the risk from fire as far as is possible. This may involve replacing the door or repairing it where damage has occurred. In circumstances where a leaseholder is unwilling to take any necessary remedial action the Landlord or Managing Agent can refer the matter to the relevant enforcement authority to consider formal legal action.

Reviewed: July 2019