I have received A LOT of questions lately about corridor doors in health care occupancies. As many of you know, I like to find concrete answers but it isn’t always possible, and sometimes I uncover an area that requires a code change to clarify what is required. Because the code development cycle is typically 3 years, it can take a while to make a change, and meanwhile the answer will be up to the interpretation of the AHJ.
A recent question was with regard to rescue hardware on corridor smoke partition doors in a hospital, nursing home, or behavioral health facility. If you’re not familiar with rescue hardware, it is a combination of products which allow an inswinging door to become outswinging if someone falls inside the room or purposely tries to barricade the door. The system typically includes center pivots or a special double-swing hinge, a double-lipped strike which protects the frame, and an emergency stop that can be pushed into the jamb to allow the door to swing out (LCN has a special template for a closer too). Because the door has to swing in both directions, the frame is a cased opening frame, which has no stop at the head or jambs.
Current codes do not require fire door assemblies on many of the doors in corridor smoke partitions, such as patient room doors, bathrooms, or tub/shower rooms. Some corridor doors will require a fire rating, like doors to exit enclosures and large storage, waste, or linen collection rooms, but the doors that do not require rated opening protectives are only required to provide an effective barrier to limit the passage of smoke. The question is – what constitutes an effective barrier? Without the frame stop there is nothing to limit the passage of smoke through the clearance around the door unless gasketing is installed, and is that gasketing enough?
For smoke doors in some other locations, air infiltration limits are established and openings tested to UL 1784 – Air Leakage Tests of Door Assemblies. However, UL 1784 is not referenced in the section of the International Building Code that describes the requirements for corridor doors in hospitals and nursing homes (407.3.1 in the 2009, 12, and 15 editions).
Adding to the confusion, the IBC Commentary uses the doors described in section 407.3.1 as an example of doors that need to be tested per UL 1784, even though there is nothing in section 407.3.1 stating this requirement. If the Commentary is correct, it would require smoke gasketing on every smoke partition corridor door, which is not typical. I asked the ICC for a staff opinion on this, and received confirmation that UL 1784 testing is not required for non-fire-rated corridor doors, but that the door must provide an effective barrier to limit the passage of smoke. But what constitutes an effective barrier?
NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code (2012 edition) is a little more clear on this topic, at least when it comes to toilet, tub, and shower rooms. For new health care occupancies, section 18.104.22.168.1 requires corridor doors to be constructed to resist the passage of smoke, but exempts doors to toilet rooms (and similar types of rooms that do not contain flammable or combustible material) from the smoke resistance requirement. So in my opinion, NFPA 101 would allow rescue hardware on toilet rooms. But what about patient rooms? Rescue hardware is becoming much more common on behavioral health facilities, to prevent patients from barricading the door. NFPA 101’s Annex A states, “Gasketing of doors should not be necessary to achieve resistance to the passage of smoke if the door is relatively tight-fitting.” Would a door with rescue hardware be considered relatively tight-fitting? How about if it had a privacy gasket mortised into the edge?
I asked the Joint Commission for their opinion, and the response I received confirmed that 1/8-inch clearance at the head and jambs is acceptable for a smoke resistive corridor door per the Joint Commission standards (1-inch maximum at the bottom of the door). The response also stated that “Closing the gap with gasketing material would be prudent.”
Looking at it from a common sense standpoint, I don’t know if gasketing for toilet rooms is really necessary for smoke infiltration (although it is recommended at the vertical edges for privacy). If there was a fire, what are the chances that a) the fire would be in the bathroom and the door would be needed to prevent smoke from entering the corridor, or b) the fire would be elsewhere and someone would be sheltering in the bathroom and need protection from smoke? But for patient room doors with rescue hardware, I think gasketing at the head and jambs makes sense, although behavioral health safety concerns need to be considered when products are selected. Until the code is clarified, that’s all I’ve got, and ultimately it is up to the AHJ to decide.
What do you think?
Gasketing Graphic: National Guard Products