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Jun 27 2017

QQ: Fire Doors in Load-Bearing Walls

Category: Fire Doors,Quick QuestionLori @ 2:56 pm Comments (14)

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!

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14 Responses to “QQ: Fire Doors in Load-Bearing Walls”

  1. Tony Calistro says:

    The IRC for one and two family dwellings reads as follows:

    R302.5.1 Opening protection. Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35mm) in thickness, solid or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors,
    equipped with a self closing device.

    Load bearing does not come into play.

    other codes for multi family dwellings (over one and two family,such as IBC) call for fire rated separating walls between units, Doors in these type walls must be fire rated.

  2. Jack Ostergaard says:

    Check the Residential Code – Section R302. Party walls between dwelling units are 1 hour. These don’t have openings. Walls less than 5ft from prop line are 1hr – no openings permited. Common garage walls have a specified construction – not rated per se. Doors are also described as solid wood or 20m.

  3. Todd Wyatt says:

    Dwelling units (in bldgs of Type IIB, IIIB, & VB) are required to have a 0.5-Hr Fire Partition (0.5FP) separation. (2015 IBC 708.3 Fire-resistance rating, Exception 2)

    This 0.5-Hr FRR assembly would require a 0.3-Hr rated door. (2015 IBC Table 716.5).

  4. Joanne G. says:

    I would say that load-bearing walls within a dwelling unit do not require fire-protection rated doors.
    I’ve run into similar situations in Nursing Home design. A Nursing Home is essentially one large dwelling unit (with a lot of other requirements such as smoke compartments, etc.) and interior bearing walls occur quite commonly. If the construction class requires a fire-resistance rating on the bearing walls, but there are not other requirements calling for a rating on a particular wall, we detail the door and window openings to show the gypsum board wrapping around the studs before the door or window frame is installed. The idea is to protect the structural elements from fire. We show this for both interior and exterior openings.

  5. A.J. Vanhooser says:

    From my experience, generally, fire rated doors are required in fire rated walls that are separating spaces from each other i.e. an exit corridor, a stair, separated occupancies, fire areas, etc. The fire ratings required by IBC table 601 for bearing walls are to protect the wall itself because it is supporting a structural load. Since these walls aren’t fire rated to separate things from each other, a fire rated door or protection of penetrations aren’t generally required because fire passing through them is not the reason for the fire rating. One part that makes this more clear is the fact that exterior bearing walls are also required to be fire rated by this table. For a building that is a great distance from a property line, it wouldn’t make sense to fire rate exterior doors and windows here because they aren’t protecting the rooms from anything. The rating is to ensure the building doesn’t collapse.

  6. Curtis Meskus says:

    the required rating of the wall dictates the need for opening protective. You can have both bearing and non bearing walls that based on occupancy, construction type and user groups may need a rating depending on their location in the building. I know of nothing that would requirement a bed room door in a dwelling unit to have a rating. There may be a requirement in Boarding house to have the door to the hallway and the hallway wall to have a rating.

  7. Logan says:

    I have found that this is one of the most commonly confused parts of the code. When I educate about this subject I treat it as follows:

    Table 601 is for STRUCTURAL fire protection. It is strictly talking about keeping the building from falling down during a fire event. It has NOTHING to do with preventing the spread of fire through a building. Table 602 as well as Chapter 7 and all its various types of barriers and partitions are all about preventing the SPREAD of fire through a building. (Ok, there’s a bit of structure in “Fire Walls” but bear with me)

    So here’s an example. You have a Type 1-A building, as heavily fire rated as you can get. Imagine a solid concrete wall, say 24″ thick with a great big open archway through it. This is a load bearing wall, and is 3-hour rated. Does the open arch need opening protection? NO! This is because the wall is STRUCTURALLY fire rated. It doesn’t care if fire spreads to one side or the other, it just has to keep doing its job holding up the building while the fire burns around it.

    As a second example, what about an “occupancy separation” wall between say a M occupancy and a R occupancy. Now this wall is NOT load bearing, so instead of a big concrete wall lets pick a thin framed drywall partition, but still cut a big arch in it. Does the opening require protection? YES! Because its purpose is to stop the SPREAD of fire through the structure. This wall doesn’t care if the structure falls down, that’s the job of the walls governed by 601.

    Things get just slightly more complicated in light-guage framed buildings because load bearing rated walls use “membrane protection” but the same principles apply.

  8. Kyle Karstaedt says:

    This deals with the difference between fire rated construction and fire rated separations. In the example, the construction classification is requiring the bearing walls to be of fire rated construction. Unless that bearing wall is also serving as some type of fire rated separation, the openings in the bearing walls would not required to receive fire rated assemblies.

  9. Rick House says:

    At what point would this be governed by International Residential Code (IRC) as opposed to IBC? Would the IRC even require fire doors?

    Of course, in multi-family dwellings, IBC would govern, but in single-family and two-family dwellings, wouldn’t it be IRC?

    • Lori says:

      Hi Rick –

      Yes, for 1- and 2-family dwellings it would be the IRC. The IBC would be used for multi-family.

      – Lori

  10. jim says:

    i came up with this same question while putting together my assemblies and door schedule for a 6 story building of type 1a at 1st, and 3a construction above. Only hair i might (-but probably wont!) split would be the protection of the wall itself. i don’t see the door as requiring a rating, however, the frame? would the frame not need to (or does it) provide the same amount of fire resistance as would one membrane of the wall assembly? was thinking that almost any frame probably would, but if not the jack stud could go, allowing header to drop, causing failure of the bearing assembly????
    ok, maybe too much coffee today.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Jim –

      I don’t think the IBC is clear on this. I see your point, but a door frame is not intended to carry any load whether it is rated or not. And if it’s a hollow metal frame, typically the only difference is the label itself.

      – Lori

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