I love it when a question arrives in my inbox just as I’m thinking about what to address in my next post. Yesterday I received a question from an AHJ, about a condominium complex. Each condo has a fire door as the main entrance between the corridor and the dwelling unit, but there is another door (AKA “butler’s entry”) between the corridor and the kitchen. Some of the condo owners want to permanently close the extra doors and expand their kitchens. The new cabinets and appliances would cover the extra door on the kitchen side.
The fire marshal for this jurisdiction was concerned about firefighters attempting entry through the unusable doors, and would require the hardware to be removed from the corridor side to avoid confusion during a fire (in some locations, inoperable doors might also require signage). So the AHJ’s question was whether the corridor-side hardware could be removed, without losing the protection of the fire door assembly.
Removing the hardware causes the obvious problem of the holes left in the door and frame, and how to fill and/or cover them. There’s also the question of whether screwing or nailing the door closed will provide as much protection as the active latchbolt required for a fire door. BUT the overriding factor which led me to say “no” to the AHJ’s question, is this paragraph in NFPA 80:
5.1.6 Removal of Door or Window. Where a fire door or fire window opening no longer functions as an opening, or the door or window is removed and not replaced, the opening shall be filled to maintain the required rating of the wall assembly.
When a fire door is no longer acting as a door, it must be removed and the opening filled with construction equivalent to the wall rating. The rating of a fire door is usually less than the rating of the wall, and this is because there is (theoretically) no fuel load against a door. But if the door is permanently closed and a new kitchen is built on the other side, the higher performance of the wall is needed because of the increased fuel load – for example a 1-hour wall instead of a 20-minute door. The NFPA 80 Handbook clarifies that this practice will ensure that the fire barrier remains continuous without any weak spots that might affect the barrier’s performance during a fire.
Of course, the AHJ has the power to approve a solution that he believes is equivalent to the requirements stated in the applicable code. This could include permanently closing the door and adding some additional material on the inside to increase the fire resistance of the opening. But if the plan is to just close the door and install cabinets or place furniture on the condo side, my answer is still “no.” 🙂