Where Is a Fire Damper Required?

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As adults, we teach our children about what to do in case of a fire. Knowing to stop, drop, and roll, call 9-1-1, and get out of the building safely are all essential tips that children are taught to stay safe in case of an emergency. However, how many of us know what keeps us safe behind the scenes? Let’s take a closer look at the safety tool known as the fire damper courtesy of Lloyd Industries, and the requirements behind one of the most critical pieces of equipment keeping us safe daily.

What is a Fire Damper?

Chances are you’ve never heard of a fire damper. Although relatively unknown by non-professionals, a fire damper, such as this one manufactured by Lloyd Industries, is a critical part of something called passive fire protection. Active fire protection encompasses the systems that are used to suppress or extinguish a fire once it has started. Smoke detectors, fire alarms, evacuation plans, and sprinklers all fall under the umbrella of active fire protection. However, active fire protection doesn’t take into consideration the damage caused by smoke and toxic gasses, which is the leading cause of death related to fire. Passive fire protection, including products like those manufactured by Lloyd Industries, works to prevent smoke, gasses, and fire from spreading.

A fire damper is a piece of equipment within a building’s heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) system. You may also see smoke dampers, or a combination smoke/fire damper, like these from the Lloyd Industries website. Each has a different purpose and a different set of installation and inspection requirements to ensure it is up to date in case of an emergency. A fire damper is designed to close when the temperature around it reaches a specific temperature. It does this through the use of a connector that melts when it is exposed to high heat.

A fire damper is primarily designed to prevent a fire from traveling from one space to another. Typically, a fire damper is installed in a firewall, another type of fire-rated separation. In addition to preventing the spread of fire, it can help the firewall retain its structural integrity by preventing a majority of the air from moving throughout the space. Because fire survives on oxygen, hindering its ability to receive air helps prevent the fire from spreading or gaining strength.

Fire Damper Application Types

There are two types of applications for fire dampers: dynamic and static. In the event of a fire or fire alarm, an HVAC blower is designed to either continue working or shut down entirely. A dynamic fire damper is approved for use when an HVAC system will keep running in the event of a fire alarm. A static fire damper is only approved for HVAC systems that will turn off when a fire alarm is triggered.

Also, a fire damper comes in one of two basic designs: curtain or multiple blades. The curtain style damper is the most common. It consists of a metal piece that resembles a curtain and is held in place by a heat-sensitive link. Although more common, curtain style fire dampers are not as successful at restricting airflow when compared to multiple blade dampers.

What Type of Damper is Best? 

According to the Air Movement and Control Association, a majority of engineers agree that the best method of compartmentalization of buildings is through the use of a combination smoke/fire damper. A smoke damper features a door or set of doors, that close upon the detection of smoke. A smoke/fire damper combines the two technologies to be as effective as possible. Since a fire damper is not made to prevent the spread of smoke, only combination smoke/fire dampers or stand-alone smoke dampers are leakage-rated devices, according to the Underwriters Laboratories Standard.

Another difference between a fire damper and a combination smoke/fire damper is the device’s ability to be closed by an electronic release. Although it may not seem important, dampers can have a significant impact on the amount of air pressure within an HVAC system. A damper door that can close more gently through the use of an electronic release is preferable because it will lessen the likelihood that your HVAC system can be damaged by a sudden change in air pressure when the damper door slams shut.

Installation Requirements

Facilities such as hospitals, outpatient care clinics, and nursing homes often require those inside to shelter in place during emergencies, including fires. The International Building Code (IBC) states that dampers must be installed in air movement systems to allow for those sheltering in place, exits, and exit access areas to remain safe and smoke-free in emergencies.

A fire damper or any fire suppression device is a serious piece of equipment designed to reduce the loss of life and property. As such, all dampers must be installed in line with the manufacturer’s instructions and in line with UL or another code compliance approval agency. Each damper has an installation requirement sheet. Many companies, including the team at Lloyd Industries, posts installation instructions on its website for easy access. Installing a type of fire damper using instructions that do not belong to that device can be deadly.

As can be expected with any fire system, keeping up with inspections and routine maintenance is essential to ensure proper function in case of a fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 105: Standard for Smoke Door Assemblies and Other Opening Protectives, “each damper shall be tested and inspected one year after installation. The test and inspection frequency shall then be every four years, except in hospitals, where the frequency shall be every six years.” The code also states that the damper shall be actuated and cycled. The inspections must be documented, indicating the location of the damper, date of inspection, name of the inspector, and deficiencies discovered.  NFPA 80 states similar testing, inspection, and documentation requirements for fire doors and other opening protectives. 

A building that has a properly installed and maintained fire damper as part of its fire protection plan is much safer than a building that isn’t prepared for an emergency. At Lloyd Industries, we carry the equipment necessary to keep your home and office safe in the event of a fire. Prevention is key. To learn more about fire safety technology, visit the Lloyd Industries website at www.firedamper.com. If you’re looking to purchase a fire damper for your building, we recommend starting here.