Do fire doors need to be self closing?

What is a self-closing device and what is its purpose?

According to Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB), a self closing device is:

 “A device that closes a door, when open at any angle, against a door frame.”

A self closing device should reliably close the door leaf tight against the door stop from any openable angle, and be able to overcome resistance from any fitted latch or seals.

The self closing device will provide easy access to people using the door in compliance with Part M of the Building Regulations.

Do all fire doors need to be self closing?

The short answer is no, but how do we determine what does and does not require a self closing device? According to ADB volume 2, a self closing device is required on a fire door if:

  • subdividing escape routes to separate two or more storey exits
  • subdividing corridors every 12m in length
  • subdividing a dead end condition in a common corridor exceeding 4.5m in length
  • protecting a staircase enclosure from a circulation space
  • doors opening onto external escape stairs

In ‘residential’ type buildings (care homes, hotels, student accommodation etcetera), all fire doors should be fitted with a self closing device, minus those such as cleaner and service riser cupboards, which will be closed behind and generally locked by the user. Buildings housing flats will also require self closing devices to be fitted to the front door of each flat, separating the flat from the communal areas.

In private dwellinghouses, a self closing device is only required if your home has an internal garage door. Both ADB and the Local Government Association’s publication Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats state that no other fire doors in your private home require self closing devices – although it is recommended!

Why should self closing devices be fitted?

When day to day navigation around a building is concerned, it is very common to find staff members holding fire doors fitted with self closing devices open, with the use of a wedge or fire extinguishers - which not only demonstrates poor fire safety management, but is also illegal and can lead to a fine! The more foot traffic which passes through these doors, the more likely they are to be wedged open for operational reasons.

Those doors in constant use can become subject to significant wear and tear at an alarming rate, and so the installation of a self closing device may help prevent or elongate the impact of such damage, as well as help prolong the integrity of the door and provide the 30 minutes of fire resistance.

Given the additional sleeping risk present at some types of premises, additional fire safety precautions are generally required to ensure the private areas remain adequately separated from the common areas and escape routes, to help contain and limit the spread of fire.

It is also worth noting that where occupants may discover a fire and/or evacuate the building in a panic, they may not necessarily remember to fully close the door behind them, which will not help prevent the spread of smoke and fire throughout the escape routes. Self closing devices will help avoid this situation on a fire resisting door assembly with cold smoke seals and intumescent strips.

Different types of self closing devices and their relevant standards

The type of fire door closers should take into consideration the needs of the building occupants and door usage. The closing speeds on doors, particularly those held back by electronic solenoids, require particular attention to ensure they are not subject to violent closing speed - which could inflict injury. If the doors close at a violent speed, this can be problematic in regards to health and safety - adjustments should be made to lengthen the closing time, to allow occupants to get out of the way or prolong the time needed to pass through the door for those less mobile, for example in a care home setting or hospital. All devices should be CE marked in order to comply with their relevant standards, and have the appropriate mandatory signage displayed on both sides of the door in accordance with BS 5499-10.

Door closers in compliance with BS EN 1154

  • rack and pinion is the most common and cost-effective type, but does not tend to operate as efficiently as cam action
  • cam action closers have less moving parts and therefore less friction, so are more suitable for part M compliance

Door closers in compliance with BS EN 1155

  • hold open devices are interfaced to the fire alarm system, and will hold the doors open until the fire alarm activates or a power supply is interrupted - this also includes self contained release devices such as a Dorgard, which is battery operated and will release when acoustic signals are received from a fire alarm activating
  • free swing door closers are also interfaced to the fire alarm system, and are very similar to a hold open device - the main difference is that a free swing closer will have no closing or opening pressure until the fire alarm activates, or a power supply is interrupted

Please note: all automatic door releases should be triggered by each or any of the following:

  • the activation of an alarm by either automatic fire detection or a manual call point
  • the acoustic signal from any system activation
  • failure of the fire warning system
  • manual release by an occupant
  • power supply failure

Concealed door closers

These are aesthetically pleasing, as the device is fitted in the recess of the door and it can also help reduce the risk of vandalism. There are three types of concealed closers that are fitted to timber doors, which are installed in the top of the door lead, above the door in the frame head or transom, or installed in the hinged edge of the door (such as a perko). These doors require a controlled closing feature to ensure that fire doors are able to fully latch. Concealed closers should only be installed when permitted under the fire door manufacturer’s instructions, and under the correct conditions stated.

Rising butt hinges/single chain perko devices are not suitable for use as self closing devices due to their inability to close and latch the door from any angle, and the need to remove material from the top of the door.

Door coordinator devices in compliance with BS EN 1158

Where double doors with rebated meeting edges are concerned, it is essential that the individual door leaves close in the correct sequence to ensure they are able to fully align closed, and provide the intended fire resistance.

General advice

Those doors fitted with automatic door releases in sleeping risk buildings should be closed at a predetermined time each night, and remain closed throughout the sleeping hours as deemed appropriate.

All doors fitted with automatic door releases should be tested weekly in conjunction with the fire alarm tests, to ensure they successfully release on activation of the fire alarm system. Regularly releasing the doors will also help to prevent warping of the fire door leaf.