OK…this is a bit of an obscure situation/question, but since I received it twice recently I guarantee there is someone else out there who is wondering about it.

Do load-bearing walls within a dwelling unit require fire doors?

To be honest, I don’t remember ever running into that situation on any of my projects.  If a bedroom door happened to be in a load-bearing wall, would the bedroom require a self-closing, self-latching fire door?  That seems unusual, but if the wall requires a fire-rating, shouldn’t it have opening protectives (fire door assemblies)?

I checked the International Building Code (IBC), and in Table 601 (2015 edition) I did find that bearing walls in certain types of construction are required to have a fire-resistance rating of between 1 and 3 hours.  Bearing walls in other types of construction are not required to have a rating.

Assuming the bearing walls in question DO require a rating, what about the doors?  Based on the use of opening protectives in other types of walls with a fire-resistance-rating, I expected that fire door assemblies would be required, but if that was the case it seems like I would have seen this on past projects.

When I teach about codes, I always talk about looking at the requirements in context, and following the trail of bread crumbs all the way to the end.  If you just read one paragraph and don’t consider what section the paragraph is in, or if you find the first reference and stop, you may not get the whole picture.  So I kept looking…

In paragraph 602.1, the 2015 IBC talks about the required fire-resistance ratings of the building elements covered in Tables 601 and 602.  This paragraph states: The protection of openings, ducts and air transfer openings in building elements shall not be required unless required by other provisions of this code.”

In the IBC Commentary for this section, it clarifies the intent of the code:  “Although a building element is required to have fire resistance by Table 601 this does not mean that the required openings in these building elements or duct penetrations through these elements have to be protected. However, a building element listed in Table 601 may also be a specific type of wall or horizontal assembly that is required by other criteria in the code to have protected openings. For example, an interior bearing wall inside a Type IIA building is required to have a fire-resistance rating of not less than 1 hour. However, the openings in that wall need not be protected unless that bearing wall is also serving another purpose. This wall could also be part of the walls establishing a control area on the second story. In accordance with Section 414.2.2, such a wall would also have to be a 1-hour-rated fire barrier, and in accordance with Table 716.5, openings in this 1hour-rated fire barrier would need to have 45-minute-rated opening protection.”

So the fact that the opening is in a load-bearing wall does not mean that a fire door assembly is required, but there may be some other requirement in the code that mandates an opening protective.  Within a dwelling unit, that’s fairly uncommon, but it’s important to clarify on a case-by-case basis whether fire door assemblies are needed.

Have you ever had a project where a fire door assembly was required within a dwelling unit?  Tell us about it in the reply box!

Photo: Tr1sha/shutterstock.com

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