Update: This post has been updated for my monthly column in Doors & Hardware. The new article is here.
I was asked this question last week – when testing a swinging fire door to determine whether it closes and latches properly, what degree of opening is used? Do you open the door fully? Does the door have to close and latch from any position?
Great question, and as with many code issues, it depends on which code or standard you’re trying to comply with. NFPA 80 (2013) includes a requirement for positive latching on each door operation:
126.96.36.199* All closing mechanisms shall be adjusted to overcome the resistance of the latch mechanism so that positive latching is achieved on each door operation.
I don’t see anything in this section that states a specific degree of opening; the phrase “on each door operation” could be interpreted as a requirement for the door to close when opened to a variety of positions (read on).
The related paragraph in NFPA 80’s Annex A (Explanatory Material – for informational purposes) talks about the importance of properly-adjusted closers which can overcome the resistance of the latch. The annex also cautions against too much spring power, which can make the door difficult to open. A size-3 closer is recommended for interior fire door applications, with an increase to a size-4 for some conditions. This section states that “spring hinges should be adjusted to achieve positive latching when allowed to close freely from an open position of 30 degrees.”
In NFPA 80’s inspection requirements, one of the inspection criteria listed in section 188.8.131.52.2 (2013 edition) is:
(7) The self-closing device is operational; that is, the active door completely closes when operated from the full open position.
We could conclude that the intent of NFPA 80 is for fire doors to close and latch when operated from the full open position, except that Annex A is inconsistent by suggesting 30 degrees of opening for fire doors with spring hinges. I’ve put this on my wish list to try to address with a future code change proposal.
I didn’t find anything specific in the IBC or NFPA 101 (let me know if I missed it!), but I found this in the 2012 International Fire Code (IFC) Commentary:
703.2.3 Door operation. Swinging fire doors shall close from the full-open position and latch automatically. The door closer shall exert enough force to close and latch the door from any partially open position.
IFC Commentary: Fire doors must be closed to be effective. Swinging fire doors should be frequently checked to make sure they close and latch on their own power from any position.
So, if a fire marshal is enforcing the IFC, then the door would have to close and latch from any position. I’m not sure how feasible this is, or whether a fire marshal would expect a fire door to close and latch from every possible position, but it would certainly meet the intent of the requirement – for fire doors to be closed and latched during a fire.