Printed from the blog of Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI
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Apr 08 2011

Decoded: Closers on Classroom Doors (April 2011)

Category: DHI,Door Closers,Fire DoorsLori @ 8:00 am Comments (9)
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This post was printed in the April 2011 issue of Doors & Hardware

[Click here to download a reprint of this article.]

I had heard the rumors about a change to the Life Safety Code that would exempt classroom doors from needing closers, but I finally had time to track it down.  Here’s the scoop:

According to the 2009 edition of NFPA 101, corridor walls must have a 1-hour fire resistance rating, with certain exceptions.

  • If all of the classrooms have an egress door leading to the outside, the corridor walls don’t need to be rated.
  • In fully-sprinklered buildings, the corridor walls don’t need to be rated, but they must be smoke partitions.
  • If the corridor has a 1-hour rated ceiling, the walls can terminate at the ceiling.
  • Bathrooms don’t require a 1-hour separation from the corridor, as long as there are 1-hour walls between the bathrooms and other spaces.
  • In fully-sprinklered buildings, bathrooms don’t require a 1-hour separation.

The elusive exemption for closers on classroom doors is in section 14.3.6(2)(b), which says, “The provisions of 8.4.3.5 shall not apply to normally occupied classrooms.” If you’re skimming too fast, you could skim right over this reference to section 8.4.3.5, which is the section that says the doors have to be self-closing or automatic-closing.  By exempting normally occupied classrooms from this requirement, the 2009 edition of the Life Safety Code no longer requires closers on classroom doors.

One question remains – how is “normally occupied” defined?  It’s not defined in NFPA 101, so it would be up to the AHJ to decide whether a classroom meets the requirements for this exemption.  My guess is that most classrooms in a school would be considered normally occupied.

The same exemption has been added in the chapter for existing educational occupancies, which differs slightly because instead of 1-hour walls, 1/2-hour walls are required – see below.

Here’s the text from NFPA 101 – 2009 for new educational occupancies:

14.3.6 Corridors. Corridors shall be separated from other parts of the story by walls having a 1-hour fire resistance rating in accordance with Section 8.3, unless otherwise permitted by the following:

(1) Corridor protection shall not be required where all spaces normally subject to student occupancy have not less than one door opening directly to the outside or to an exterior exit access balcony or corridor in accordance with 7.5.3.
(2) The following shall apply to buildings protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 9.7:
(a) Corridor walls shall not be required to be rated, provided that such walls form smoke partitions in accordance with Section 8.4.
(b) The provisions of 8.4.3.5 shall not apply to normally occupied classrooms.
(3) Where the corridor ceiling is an assembly having a 1-hour fire resistance rating where tested as a wall, the corridor walls shall be permitted to terminate at the corridor ceiling.
(4) Lavatories shall not be required to be separated from corridors, provided that they are separated from all other spaces by walls having not less than a 1-hour fire resistance rating in accordance with Section 8.3.
(5) Lavatories shall not be required to be separated from corridors, provided that the building is protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 9.7.

Here’s section 8.4.3, which is referenced above:

8.4.3 Opening Protectives.
8.4.3.1 Doors in smoke partitions shall comply with 8.4.3.2 through 8.4.3.5.
8.4.3.2 Doors shall comply with the provisions of 7.2.1.
8.4.3.3 Doors shall not include louvers.
8.4.3.4 Door clearances shall be in accordance with NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives.
8.4.3.5 Doors shall be self-closing or automatic-closing in accordance with 7.2.1.8.

And here’s the corresponding section from NFPA 101 – 2009 for existing educational occupancies:

15.3.6 Corridors. Corridors shall be separated from other parts of the story by walls having a minimum 1⁄2-hour fire resistance rating in accordance with Section 8.3, unless otherwise permitted by the following:
(1) Corridor protection shall not be required where all spaces normally subject to student occupancy have not less than one door opening directly to the outside or to an exterior exit access balcony or corridor in accordance with 7.5.3.
(2) The following shall apply to buildings protected throughout by an approved automatic sprinkler system with valve supervision in accordance with Section 9.7:
(a) Corridor walls shall not be required to be rated, provided that such walls form smoke partitions in accordance with Section 8.4.
(b) The provisions of 8.4.3.5 shall not apply to normally occupied classrooms.
(3) Where the corridor ceiling is an assembly having a minimum 1⁄2-hour fire resistance rating where tested as a wall, the corridor wall shall be permitted to terminate at the corridor ceiling.
(4) Lavatories shall not be required to be separated from corridors, provided that they are separated from all other spaces by walls having a minimum 1⁄2-hour fire resistance rating in accordance with Section 8.3.
(5) Lavatories shall not be required to be separated from corridors, provided that the building is protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 9.7.

Note:  The International Building Code (IBC) does not require rated corridor walls in fully-sprinklered schools, so closers are not required per the IBC for those doors.  However, existing schools may be subject to the codes that were in effect when the school was built/renovated.  Keep in mind that the code that applies to your project may differ from the requirements discussed here, and the AHJ has the final say.

Photo courtesy of Eyal Bedrik of Entry Systems Ltd. Thanks again, Eyal!!

This post was originally created on December 21st, 2010, and was printed in the April 2011 issue of Doors & Hardware magazine.

9 Responses to “Decoded: Closers on Classroom Doors (April 2011)”

  1. Zeke says:

    Lori, Nolan ran into this problem in New Jersey a couple of years ago. No closers on classroom doors. The doors were beaten up because there was no door control. He installed a 4011 without a spring; so door control without door closing. Pretty good idea, but the school didn’t buy…too expensive, I would assume.

  2. Tom Breese says:

    My experience with using closers-minus-springs is that it takes a while for people to get used to them (they look just like that other doo-hickey on the door down the hall — these must all be broken…). Ideally, we’d have fire-alarm-governed electromagnetic hold-open devices on these doors, but the expense…and they’ve already popped for a sprinkler system…

    At this point, seems we need to (1) advocate frequent fire drills and teach everyone about closing and latching “smoke doors”, then (2) see how people really behave in real situations when they experience real smoke and heat if/when real fires occur. Hopefully no injuries, but how did the smoke-sealed door openings perform and serve the occupants?

    • Lori says:

      Hi Tom –

      The fire drill procedures for many schools include closing the classroom doors, but the procedures vary between school districts. According to the NFPA, there are more than 6,000 school fires annually, but fatalities are rare these days. The NFPA fact sheet on Structure Fires in Educational Properties estimates annual averages (2003-2006) of 88 civilian fire injuries and $90M in direct property damage, which should be a pretty compelling argument for closing the doors. You can access some information from NFPA on school fires here.

      – Lori

  3. Michael Rebbec says:

    Hey Lori,

    So this is NFPA 101, which while great, and all… doesn’t hold much weight (at least not in the NW) as it is not the adopted building code. Do you know how the IBC handles this? I don’t recall anything about this in the IBC codes. However, I know that our specwriters don’t specify closers on the classroom doors because they said new codes exempt the classroom cooridor openings. I have to do a little more research on this to see if it exists or not, but if you know off the top of your head and could save the the research, that works too 🙂 Btw, Merry Christmas!

    • Lori says:

      Hi Michael –

      As far as I know, the 2003, 2006, and 2009 editions of the IBC don’t require corridors in fully-sprinklered educational occupancies to have rated walls or smoke partitions, so the doors are not required to have closers. This is one area where the IBC and 101 differ, which always adds to the confusion. In the 2009 IBC, the table for corridor fire-resistance rating is Table 1018.1.

      – Lori

  4. Bob Caron says:

    We omitted closers on patient room doors on a nursing home we worked on last year when it was pointed out to us that NFPA 101 has an exception for closers on patient room doors, but the staff must be trained to shut the doors in a fire situation after checking each room to see if it is occupied.

    • Lori says:

      I recently looked that exception up for someone…it’s kind of a shame since there have been tragedies that involved open patient room doors and there are products that would handle these doors efficiently, but I guess it’s the trade-off with sprinklers.

  5. Nolan Thrope says:

    The door closer without a spring is a door controller. It prevents doors from being whipped open and slammed closed on someone fingers. As hardware consultants we need to be selling door control where it is required, not just hardware for fire doors.

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