MHCLG Test Certificate Scheme for fire doors?
Never heard of it? That’s because I made it up – but it’s something that occurred to me as I was writing this blog. I’m sure someone else will have thought it too and I’d be interested in your thoughts on the idea.
It is a commonly understood reality that anything with moving parts needs to be serviced and maintained to make sure it works efficiently and properly throughout its life. Cars are the most obvious example of this, but we do it with all sorts of things, from bicycles to ventilation systems.
Building operators, businesses, hoteliers, retailers all unquestioningly conduct routine inspection and maintenance of fire extinguishers, alarm systems, manual handling equipment, vehicle fleets, vending equipment and even completely static equipment like warehouse racking & shelving.
Why then, do we not include fire resistant doors in this list?
There could be number of answers to that question, but maybe one of them is that there is a lack of understanding of what makes a door (any door) work and how that can be affected.
The most common fire door assembly will include a frame, door leaf, hinges, closer and a latch/handle. If we examine each of those components individually, the potential for alignment and performance to slip becomes quite clear.
Frame – surely a frame cannot move or change once it is fixed in place? Well, yes it can. Even if it has been properly installed, the fixings can be loosened by continuous, heavy impact – for example where doors are routinely opened by pushing trolleys through them. It is also possible for frames to shift in the first few months following installation in newly built environments due to settlement or timber shrinkage/warping (especially with softwood).
Door leaf – like the frame, the door leaf can warp and twist. Sometimes this can be caused by the door being continuously ‘wedged’ open against the force of the door closer. The edges of the door are also subject to damage from passing traffic and if the intumescent and smoke seals are in the edge of the door these can also be damaged. Even minimal damage to the edge of the door leaf can be enough to make it non-compliant, there is a tolerance of ± 1mm on the gap around the door.
Hinges – these are one of the hardest working components of any door and could be opened tens of thousands of times each year. This puts enormous pressure on the mechanism of the hinge and on its fixings. If either are compromised, either the door will shift in the frame (compromising the door edge gaps, which only have a tolerance of ±1mm), or causing binding in the frame and even failure to close.
Closer – like the hinges, the closer can go through many thousands of cycles a year. Fixings can work loose, seals can become worn and perished, fluid can leak and the closer loses capacity to close the door properly or overcome resistance from a brush seal or latch.
Latch – the action on a latch can become worn and stiff over time, creating more resistance for the closer when it meets the strike plate. The strike plate itself could be damaged or its deflector misaligned, preventing the latch from passing it.
When you are dealing with such fine tolerances between function and disfunction, all these elements (and more) need to be regularly inspected, maintained and replaced as required. Failure to do so will result, as many places are now discovering, in large reparation costs as they seek to restore historically neglected fire doors to proper working function.
So, maybe what we need IS a system like the MOT system for vehicles, with a certificate being issued (or not) on an annual basis? Just like the MOT, it wouldn’t guarantee the proper function of those doors for a year, but it would improve the poor standards of repair that we currently find during our inspections.