How to Choose the Right Fire Damper

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Keeping occupants safe is a critical component in selecting the design and architecture of a building. In addition to visible safety systems, such as cameras, stairwell handrails, and adequate lighting, fire safety goes beyond the surface. Let’s look at how to choose a fire damper, fire damper sizes, and the questions you should ask when exploring passive fire protection products during planning and construction.

What Does a Fire Damper Do? 

Fire dampers are designed to protect people and property from damage by preventing fires from spreading through heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ductwork or other air transfer openings. Dampers are required to help maintain the fire rating of floors, walls, and other barriers that are penetrated by air transfer devices or ductwork.

When Is a Fire Damper Required? 

If a fire damper is required, it will be specified in the building codes, requirements, and regulations. In addition, these requirements may be reflected in the architectural drawings and any other building plans or project designs. Still, they should always be noted in the statutory requirements given to contractors and installers.

There are five codes that detail the use and installation of fire dampers:

How to Pick the Right Fire Damper

There are multiple different types of fire dampers, and choosing the right fire damper is a decision best left to the experts. However, it’s a fairly straightforward process if you can answer the following questions:

  • What is the required fire rating of the space?
  • Is the system static or dynamic?
  • What is the fire damper size?
  • Does the space require a vertical fire damper or a horizontal fire damper?
  • How will the fire damper close?

You can find more detailed information about required fire ratings and the difference between static and dynamic fire dampers by visiting our blog. Let’s dive deeper into the differences in fire damper sizes and the other aspects you should consider.

Fire Damper Sizes

There are multiple fire damper sizes and styles to consider, as well as different shapes depending on the type of ductwork. You can also select a fire damper size based on your building’s architecture. Fire damper sizes typically come in ¼-inch increments and are made with different steel thicknesses.

In terms of mounting positions, there are two different options:

  • Vertical fire dampers
  • Horizontal fire dampers

Vertical fire dampers rely on the force of gravity to close in the event of a fire and are typically installed in a vertical plane, such as a wall. When the fusible link is heated to its melting point, the blades depend on gravitational force to drop shut, which is why vertical fire dampers can only be mounted vertically in the wall.

On the other hand, horizontal fire dampers can be mounted horizontally or vertically and are installed in horizontal planes such as ceilings and floors. Horizontal fire dampers still use a fusible link to close based on exposure to high heat levels, but rather than relying on gravity, they use a spring to push the blades closed.

As a backdraft damper, vertical fire dampers will operate with horizontal airflow – air that is moving either left or right – while a horizontal fire damper for backdrafts is required if you are dealing with vertical airflow or air that is moving upwards only.

Fire Damper Testing

Both horizontal fire dampers and vertical fire dampers are subjected to the same testing regardless of position. Since a vertical fire damper relies on gravity to close, ensuring that nothing obstructs the blades is a critical part of testing. A test will also evaluate whether or not the vertical fire damper has a working fusible link and whether it has been installed correctly. For horizontal fire dampers, testing will evaluate the damper’s ability to close utilizing the spring and any obstructions or issues that may prevent the damper from working correctly.

Fire Dampers and Building Code

As we mentioned earlier, there are two governing bodies and codes that oversee the selection and installation of horizontal and vertical fire dampers:

  • International Building Code
  • National Fire Protection Association

What Is the International Building Code?

The International Building Code (IBC) applies to all buildings with the exception of townhouses up to three stories and detached one- and two-family homes. Chapter seven deals with fire and smoke protection features, specifically the requirements for fire-resistance-related construction. These requirements cover how walls, horizontal assemblies, structural members, and partitions are constructed and how the openings in these structures are constructed to protect against fire damage. Chapter seven covers the details of fire damper size as well as vertical fire dampers and horizontal fire dampers.

What Are the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Codes That Cover Fire Dampers?

  • NFPA 80
  • NFPA 101
  • NFPA 5000
  • NFPA 90A

NFPA 80 is considered to be the standard for fire doors and other opening protectives. Complying with NFPA 80 can be the difference between life and death when it comes to protecting occupant lives. Following the requirements outlined in the standard will help ensure the proper selection, installation, maintenance, inspection, and testing of your horizontal and vertical fire dampers.

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code details the “minimum building design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements necessary to protect building occupants from danger caused by fire, smoke, and toxic fumes.” The code is considered the most comprehensive for safety in new and existing buildings. It can be used in addition to local building codes or for areas that haven’t adopted codes covering vertical and horizontal fire dampers.

NFPA 5000 was created in 2002 to provide information on controlling the permits, design, material quality, and construction of buildings, as well as how the buildings are used and where equipment, structures, and buildings are located. The code is meant to complement NFPA’s existing guidelines.

NFPA 90A is the most specific for air handling units and is the standard for installing, operating, and maintaining HVAC systems. The code includes regulations on ducts, filters, and similar equipment and how they protect against smoke, fire, and gasses caused by fire.

Where to Buy Fire Dampers

For over 35 years, Lloyd Industries has been one of the most trusted manufacturers of horizontal fire dampers, smoke dampers, vertical fire dampers, access doors, and other HVAC products. The company makes each fire damper to order, allowing you to customize aspects, including fire damper size, jamb and blade seals, and more. For the highest quality, UL-rated fire dampers, contact the industry expects at Lloyd Industries.

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