Fire Dampers vs. Smoke Dampers: What’s the Difference?

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When your business is fire dampers, you quickly learn the ins and outs of what they are and what they do, but we often hear fire damper and smoke damper used interchangeably. While we understand why this common misconception happens, it’s important to know the difference for safety reasons.

One of the main safety concerns of any organization, whether in an industrial warehouse or corporate offices, is preventing fire and smoke from damaging your workplace and harming your employees. This is why damper systems are necessary and required for all Heating Ventilation Air Condition Systems (HVAC). While it may seem like a fire damper and smoke damper would do the same thing in this process, they do serve different purposes. Where they’re placed and how they operate when they’re in use are actually very different.

The easiest explanation of what a fire damper and smoke damper does is that they interrupt flames, smoke, and heat from passing through your HVAC system. Below is a full explanation of what they do, how they work, and how they differ.

What Does a Fire Damper do?

A fire damper is a part of an HVAC system that is installed within its air ducts. A fire damper performs a number of different functions within an HVAC system, but the most important is keeping you and your staff safe. A fire damper is responsible for:

  • Detecting excessive heat
  • Preventing air distribution and oxygen supply
  • Interrupting migratory airflow
  • Resisting the passage of flames

Types of Fire Dampers

There are two types of fire dampers: static fire dampers and dynamic fire dampers. A static fire damper is installed in barriers where the fan that propels the HVAC system will shut off if there is a fire. Static fire dampers work like a curtain. Once the HVAC system fan shuts off, the fire damper will fall and shut due to gravity. This stops the airflow, and thus the oxygen, circulating throughout the building and feeding the fire.

A dynamic fire damper is installed in vertical barriers within the HVAC system. This means that if there is a fire, the HVAC system fans will continue to circulate air, but a dynamic fire damper will shut due to its spring-loaded design that forces the fire damper to close because of air pressure.

Where Fire Dampers are Located

Fire dampers are located at the intersection of fire-rated barriers with the ductwork of your building. They’re located here because their primary purpose is to stop the flow of flames between one fire-rated barrier and another. Fire-rated barriers are usually walls or partitions.  Because of this, fire dampers are designed to withstand extreme temperatures, around 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Does a Smoke Damper do?

Smoke dampers are very similar to fire dampers; they just serve a different purpose. Smoke dampers help preserve the integrity of smoke barriers like fire dampers do for fire barriers. A smoke barrier can be a wall, floor, or ceiling. A smoke damper prevents the spread of smoke throughout a building, keeping employees and residents safe from smoke inhalation and your property safe from smoke damage.

How a Smoke Damper Works

A smoke damper is installed throughout your HVAC system, where preventing smoke leakage and spread is crucial. The installation of smoke dampers is required on walls that separate smoke barriers.

A smoke damper is typically operated by a smoke detector, usually within your HVAC system. When the smoke detector senses smoke, it signals the smoke damper to shut and restrict the airflow through the ducts. Some smoke dampers are connected to a system smoke detector, which is usually tied to the building’s fire alarm system.

Why Having Smoke and Fire Dampers is Important

Smoke and fire dampers are your building’s first line of defense if there is a workplace fire. Starting in the 1930s, the National Fire Protection Association began recommending smoke and fire dampers to be used in every HVAC system.

Fire and smoke dampers are part of your building’s passive fire protection. Having these passive fire protection features is a part of the National Fire Protection Association’s codes and standards. These passive fire protections include fire dampers, smoke dampers, fire barriers, smoke barriers, fire walls, and protections for hazardous areas.

Without having dampers and other passive fire protection features in place, your building can quickly become ignited in flames or smothered in smoke. Flames and smoke can spread faster than you would expect, and without these tools in place, fighting fires becomes more difficult and more dangerous for firefighters.

Do All Buildings Have Passive Fire Protection Features?

All commercial buildings should have passive fire protection features, including fire dampers and smoke dampers. There are some exceptions made for historical buildings, such as many places of worship. While it is necessary to maintain historic buildings and their original structures, it proves difficult to protect them from fires because they lack many modern fire protection features, including smoke and fire dampers.

An example you’ve likely seen in the news is the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In historic buildings like this, fire can be difficult to control. Within weeks of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, four other historic places of worship also caught fire. The 1,300-year-old Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and three churches in Louisiana.

While the fire safety community works to create innovative solutions to protect beloved, historical sites we can, and are in fact required to, protect new and modern buildings from fire and smoke damage.

For more information about passive fire safety measures, fire dampers, and smoke dampers, you can view all of the National Fire Protection and Safety Association’s codes here.

At Lloyd Industries, we have been a manufacturer of HVAC products, including fire and smoke dampers, for over 35 years. We are consistently developing new products and services to protect our customers and provide high-quality products. All of our fire dampers, smoke dampers, and other essential HVAC products are Underwriters Laboratory approved. Underwriters Laboratory is a global safety certification company with a presence in 46 countries.

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