This post will be published in the November 2017 issue of D.lllloors & Hardware
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For such a simple piece of hardware, protection plates installed on fire doors have caused more than their fair share of trouble, particularly in health care facilities.  Several editions of NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, have included varying requirements for field-installed and factory-installed plates, and a change was made to the 2016 edition of the standard that will impact these requirements going forward.

A protection plate may be a kick plate, stretcher plate, or armor plate, installed to protect the face of the door from damage due to traffic and abuse.  NFPA 80 defines a door protection plate as “protective material applied to the face of a door and generally made of approximately 0.05 in. (1.2 mm) thick brass, bronze, aluminum, or stainless steel or 1∕8 in. (3.2 mm) thick laminated plastic.”  Protection plates are one of the items of surface-mounted hardware that is allowed by NFPA 80 to be installed as a job-site preparation, since the installation only requires small holes in the face of the door.

Most of the questions and problems regarding protection plates are related to the labels that are required for some plates, depending on their location on the door.  Plates that are mounted within the bottom 16 inches of the door height are not required to bear a label stating that they are listed for use on a fire door assembly.  Most kick plates are mounted within this portion of the door and do not require a label.

Armor plates typically extend above the 16-inch mark, and stretcher plates are mounted in the location where a hospital stretcher, gurney, or bed would contact the door.  Prior to the 2016 edition, NFPA 80 required these plates to be labeled and installed in accordance with their listing when the plates were installed in the field.  If plates were factory-installed (including plates installed under label service in a distributor’s shop), the plates were not required to be labeled as long as they were installed in accordance with the listing of the fire door.

The problem with installing non-labeled plates in the factory or shop is that once the doors arrive in the field with factory-installed plates extending above 16 inches, there is no way for a fire door assembly inspector or accreditation surveyor to know whether the plate was field-installed and is missing the required label, or was factory-installed and does not need a label.  Because of this, non-labeled plates on fire doors have often been replaced with labeled plates in the field.  Existing plates may also be inspected by a listing laboratory and labeled in the field if found to be compliant, but both of these solutions can be costly.

The 2016 edition of NFPA 80 still allows non-labeled plates mounted within 16 inches above the bottom of the door, but plates that are mounted or extend above the 16-inch mark are required to be labeled.  This applies to both factory-installed plates and plates that are field-installed.  In both cases, the plates must be in accordance with the listings of the door manufacturer.  For example, a door manufacturer’s listings may allow a plate up to 48 inches high, on one or both sides of the door.  The listings may also specify the type of material that is allowed, and may require a certain type of fasteners or adhesive to be used.  In some cases, the door manufacturer’s listings may allow either labeled or non-labeled plates to be installed, but in order to comply with NFPA 80, the plates must be labeled if extending above the bottom 16 inches of door height.

NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code includes several requirements related to protective plates in the health care chapters – Chapter 18 for new health care occupancies and Chapter 19 for existing health care occupancies.  For non-fire-rated doors in corridor walls and smoke barriers, NFPA 101 allows non-labeled protective plates, factory- or field-installed, with no limitation on the height of the plate (prior to the 2006 edition of NFPA 101, these plates were limited to 48 inches high).  The doors addressed by these sections of the code – often cross-corridor double-egress pairs and corridor doors leading to patient rooms, offices, and other rooms that do not require a fire separation – are not required to be fire doors and do not have to comply with NFPA 80.

Doors that do require a fire rating (for example, stairwell doors) are required to have labeled plates if the plates extend above the bottom 16 inches of door height.  While there is an exception in NFPA 101 that allows non-labeled plates up to 48 inches high on fire doors leading to hazardous areas in existing health care facilities, the non-labeled plates would have to pre-date the requirements for labeled plates.  In other words, if the codes and standards required labeled armor plates when the facility was new, the exception allowing non-labeled plates in existing buildings would not apply.

The requirements regarding protection plates on fire doors are based on concerns that larger plates or plates installed higher on the door could affect the performance of the door during a fire.  That’s why it is important to coordinate the labeling requirements for the protection plates with the listing procedures of the door manufacturer.  If the manufacturer of the plate can label a plate that is 60 inches high, but the door manufacturer’s listings only allow a plate that that is a maximum of 48 inches above the bottom of the door, the restrictions of the door manufacturer are more stringent and would be the deciding factor.

For more information about protection plates on fire doors, consult NFPA 80, the manufacturers’ listings, or discuss the requirements with the Authority Having Jurisdiction.

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Want to learn more about fire doors?  Visit the fire door page on iDigHardware and watch the video – Anatomy of a Fire Door!

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