Thousands of details go into keeping employees safe while working in a commercial building. From how water is filtered to how the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system functions, processes are in place behind the scenes to keep our daily lives running smoothly and safely. Fire dampers are a prime example of these systems. But why are fire dampers necessary in commercial buildings, and how do they keep us safe?
What Is a Fire Damper?
A fire damper is a type of passive fire safety system that helps prevent smoke and fire from spreading throughout a building. These dampers are installed within HVAC ductwork that flows through the building, typically where air ducts pass through fire-rated walls. There are also other kinds of dampers – such as smoke dampers and combination fire and smoke dampers – that prevent smoke and fire from spreading.
How Do Fire Dampers Work?
Fire dampers are designed to close when they are exposed to heat. Unlike active fire protection systems that rely on a trigger to close – such as a fire extinguisher or sprinkler system – fire dampers are passive in that they are put in place and do not require any external trigger to operate.
Fire dampers help reduce the risk of injuries and death and decrease the amount of property damage as much as possible. Fires that start in a commercial building with connected air ducts can be hazardous if the right equipment, like fire dampers, isn’t in place or if the equipment doesn’t work correctly.
A fire damper is installed within a fire-rated wall or door. If a room experiences a fire, a fire damper will ensure the flames will be contained to that room instead of being able to spread through the space in the ductwork.
Which Fire Damper Should I Use?
There are a lot of considerations that go into choosing the right type of damper. The easiest way to determine the correct damper is to match the rating of the space that it is installed within. For example, if you’re installing a damper in a wall designed to prevent the spread of fire, you only need a fire damper instead of a smoke or combination fire and smoke damper. You should also ask your installer about the difference between static and dynamic fire dampers.
However, the only way to know that you have the correct type of damper is by using a trained and certified professional. Dampers play a critical role in keeping people safe, which should not be left up to chance or making an educated guess.
Where Are Fire Dampers Required?
Many different building codes cover fire dampers and their installation, and different cities, states, and even industries have their own requirements. So, in addition to safety, compliance with building codes is another reason fire dampers should only be selected and installed by an expert.
In general, buildings must have fire dampers in walls that are rated for two or more hours and contain an air duct. In addition, all walls, regardless of fire rating, that contain air transfer openings are also required to have fire dampers. Finally, many areas where ductwork penetrates a fire-rated shaft enclosure or floor assembly also require fire dampers.
Fire Damper Testing Requirements
Installing fire dampers is pointless unless they are regularly inspected, cleaned, and tested. If you are counting on your fire damper to work correctly, ensuring that you follow the required timelines for inspections and maintenance is critical.
Like fire damper requirements, different locations and industries have different requirements for how often and in-depth inspections must occur. Always utilize a licensed, experienced fire damper inspector so you know that your devices are working correctly.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the standards for fire dampers falls under NFPA 80. This code requires that each fire damper must be tested at the time of installation, after one year, and then after four years, except hospitals which can go six years between inspections.
Frequency of Fire Damper Inspections
Hospitals are allowed additional time between inspections due to the number of life-saving systems in place. Fire dampers are installed close to medical gas systems, electrical, and sprinklers, which are delicate and can be damaged easily. NFPA believes that inspections every six years allow frequent enough interactions with the devices while maintaining the safe operation of the other hospital systems.
One of the main reasons companies fail to ensure frequent inspection of their fire dampers is the location of the dampers. If an installer doesn’t place an access panel near the opening for the fire damper, it can make inspections much more complex and time-consuming.
Although the process is laborious and tedious, inspecting your fire dampers frequently can provide peace of mind, ensure safety, and provide protection against lawsuits in the event of a fire.
UL Rating for Fire Dampers
UL Solutions, known previously as Underwriters Laboratories, is the most widely known company for electrical product standards.
The company certifies two types of fire dampers:
- Static fire dampers
- Dynamic fire dampers
Static fire dampers are only certified for use in HVAC systems that undergo a complete shutdown during a fire. In contrast, dynamic fire dampers are certified for systems where air continues to circulate. The air circulation requires a stronger fire damper because its blades must close against the force of the air moving within the ductwork.
UL Certifications for Fire Dampers
There are two durations certified by UL Solutions for fire dampers:
- 1.5 hours
- 3 hours
Each fire damper is inspected using guidelines from UL 555, the Standard for Fire Dampers. In addition, the dampers are inspected based on the following criteria:
- Assembly construction
- Hourly fire protection rating
- Vertical or horizontal mounting
- The maximum size of a single portion
- The maximum size of multiple portions
For dynamic fire dampers, they will also be inspected for maximum static pressure and maximum airflow.
Fire Dampers for Commercial Building Safety
There is no such thing as being too safe. When it comes to protecting your employees or tenants in a commercial building, choosing the proper dampers and ensuring they are inspected on the correct timeline can be the difference between life and death.
Whether you’re shopping around or looking to learn more about the different types of fire dampers, how to keep your home cool in the summer, or want to speak with an expert in fire protection products, the team at Lloyd Industries has you covered with over 30 years of experience.