This post will be published in the February 2016 issue of Doors & Hardware

Communicating DoorA door opening between two adjoining hotel rooms is called a communicating door, and is created by installing two doors within one frame – each swinging in the opposite direction.  The purpose of these doors is to allow convenience for family or friends sharing two hotel rooms, but the doors also provide security when the rooms are occupied by separate parties, as well as maintaining the fire-resistance of the partition between the rooms.

For security purposes, communicating doors between hotel rooms typically have a single-sided deadbolt, with a thumbturn on the room side and a blank plate on the side facing the other communicating door.  This requires the occupants of both rooms to unlock their door to allow access between the rooms.  These doors may also have gasketing, a door bottom, and a threshold, to help prevent the transmission of sound through the opening.  Occasionally, one door with two deadbolts may be used instead of two doors, but more sound will likely pass through the opening if only one door is installed.

The 2015 International Building Code (IBC) requires walls separating sleeping rooms to be constructed as fire partitions in accordance with Section 708 (see Section 420.2).  Section 708.3 requires these fire partitions to have a fire-resistance rating of 1 hour, with the exception of sleeping unit separations in buildings of Type IIB, IIIB and VB construction which may have a fire-resistance rating of 1/2 hour if the building is equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system.

According to Table 716.5 in the 2015 IBC, a 1-hour fire partition that is not part of a corridor or an exit enclosure requires opening protectives (fire door assemblies) with a rating of 45 minutes.  For 1/2-hour partitions, 20-minute fire door assemblies are required.  The IBC does not specifically state whether one door or both doors are required to be fire doors.  Without prescriptive requirements, it is left up to interpretation by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  Some AHJs may require both doors to be labeled because using one fire-rated door and one non-rated door could compromise the fire-resistance of the opening protective if the rated door was open during a fire.

Communicating doors between hotel rooms share many of the same requirements as fire door assemblies in other locations, with one exception.  Section 716.5.9 requires fire doors to be latching and self- or automatic-closing, but includes two exceptions.  One of those exceptions applies to communicating doors:  “1. Fire doors located in common walls separating sleeping units in Group R-1 shall be permitted without automatic- or self-closing devices.”  Group R-1 is a Residential occupancy containing sleeping units where the occupants are transient, including hotels, motels, and transient boarding houses and congregant living facilities with more than 10 occupants.

NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code requires 20-minute doors in this location, and also exempts these doors from being self-closing.  The NFPA 101 Handbook explains that the fire separation between sleeping rooms is necessary to confine a fire to the room of fire origin.  The Handbook also includes some insight into whether one or both doors are required to be labeled fire doors:  “The requirement for a fire barrier separation between the rooms, therefore, necessitates the use of a fire protection–rated door assembly for at least one of the doors in any guest room-to-guest room opening.”  Although the Handbook is not technically part of the code, many AHJs rely on it to assist with code interpretations.

The omission of closing devices on communicating doors is also referenced in NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives.  In the 2013 edition of this standard, section requires every fire door to have a closing device except when otherwise permitted by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  In Annex A – Explanatory Material, Section A. describes limited circumstances where a closer may not be necessary.  One location described in this paragraph where a fire door might be installed without a door closer is a communicating door between hotel/motel sleeping rooms.

The reason doors between these sleeping rooms are not required to be self-closing is because when both doors are open, the two rooms become more like a suite which would not typically require a fire separation between them.  Note that the exception refers only to the closing device – the doors are not exempt from the latching requirement, and would require a latchset with an active latchbolt in addition to the deadbolt provided for security.  The use of locks which require two operations to retract the bolts is acceptable because communicating doors between sleeping rooms are not required for egress.

Consult the code that has been adopted in your project’s jurisdiction for specific requirements.  The AHJ is responsible for interpretation of the codes and always has the final say.

Floor Plan: Radu Bercan/

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