Places that we visit on a daily basis, such as shopping malls, hotels, offices, stadiums, restaurants, and hospitals, should all have plans in place for how to respond in the event of a fire, and those plans start from the moment the building design is conceptualized. Let’s look at how commercial fire dampers play into safety plans and how you can ensure your buildings are safe, from design to construction and maintenance.
What is a Commercial Fire Damper?
Commercial fire dampers prevent and slow the spread of fire where heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ductwork and air transfer openings penetrate fire partitions, firewalls, horizontal assemblies, fire barriers, and shaft enclosures. You can also find commercial fire dampers in walls and other partitions that are penetrated by air transfer assemblies.
When fire spreads through a commercial building, a fire damper helps slow damage and loss of life by preventing a fire from accessing the building’s HVAC system.
For example, picture a large office building. Although there are walls around each office, the building is likely controlled by a central heating and air conditioning system. This means that there is ductwork that runs throughout the building and connects back to a central location.
Now imagine a fire starting in one of the offices. Even if the walls are rated to prevent the fire from spreading, the vent responsible for blowing air into the office from the central control is a point of escape for the fire from the office to the rest of the building. This is where commercial fire dampers come into play.
Closing off the ductwork allows the fire to remain contained so firefighters can respond and people can evacuate the building before the fire spreads further.
Commercial Fire Damper Types
There are two main types of fire dampers that can be installed within HVAC systems in commercial buildings:
Static fire dampers
Dynamic fire dampers are installed in vertical barriers and are designed to continue operating during a fire. The fan remains on, meaning the damper requires strength to close against the air pressure. Using a spring-loaded mechanism, the damper blades can shut, allowing the fan to function and the damper to close against flames.
Static fire dampers are designed to be installed in penetrations and ductwork where the HVAC system shuts off automatically if a fire is detected. Static fire dampers close like window blinds, using gravity to allow them to shut.
Fire Protection Rating
In commercial buildings, fire-resistance-rated assemblies are installed to help protect the structure and its occupants from harm in the event of a fire. However, the openings are the weakest points in every structure, so ensuring every assembly is correctly rated for its application and installation is critical.
Fire Protection Rating vs. Fire Resistance Rating
Although it’s common to find fire protection rating and fire resistance rating used interchangeably, they’re very different. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), most assemblies that protect openings have a fire protection rating, while fire resistance ratings measure the ceiling, floor, and walls.
The significant difference between the two ratings is the performance criteria. Fire protection ratings are more lenient and allow small openings, usually around the glazing. However, there is also no limit on the amount of heat transfer between spaces.
Fire Resistance Rating Standards
ASTM E119 is a standard “for fire tests of building construction and materials.” It is designed to simulate a building fire and determine the efficacy of things like commercial fire dampers, fire-rated walls and doors, and other fire resistance applications.
The evaluation for ASTM E119 involves a piece of cotton placed on one side of the assembly while the other is exposed to flame. If gasses or hot flames can ignite the cotton or the temperature on the unexposed side reaches 250°F above the initial temperature, the assembly will fail the test.
While both ANSI and UL Solutions focus on measuring safety, ANSI looks at materials from a production lens, while UL is geared toward safety standards. Like ASTM E119, ANSI/UL 263 also measures the standard for the safety of fire tests of building construction materials.
Importance of Commercial Fire Dampers
Although ensuring homes are safe is essential, there are different implications for commercial fire dampers because of the sheer number of people that would be impacted should the dampers fail. Therefore, installing commercial fire dampers should always be done by a trained and certified expert, and careful consideration should be paid to inspection schedules following installation.
Places like shopping malls, office buildings, hospitals, and schools may see thousands of visitors daily. Ensuring that the commercial fire dampers in these locations are selected appropriately, installed professionally, and tested regularly can differentiate between safety and a massive loss of life and property.
Commercial Fire Damper Inspection
Many companies can provide inspection services for commercial fire dampers. However, regardless of who you select, it’s critical to ensure that the following are evaluated:
Locate and plot the location of every commercial fire damper
Actuate all dampers in the facility to ensure proper operation
Remove and reset any fusible links to ensure the damper closes fully
How Often Are Inspections Required for Commercial Fire Dampers?
According to the NFPA, all commercial fire dampers must be inspected one year after installation and then every four years after that for non-healthcare facilities. Hospitals must be inspected one year after installation. Then they can spread their inspections every six years due to the amount of equipment located in and around the damper and the impact on services during an inspection.
Purchasing Fire Protection Products
Before you think about testing, you must ensure that you’re purchasing high-quality fire protection products from a company that has the experience necessary for success and safety. Lloyd Industries has over 35 years of experience manufacturing fire and smoke dampers, access doors, and HVAC products for dozens of industries.
Lloyd Industries provides UL Solutions-approved commercial fire dampers and other modern fire damper protection equipment for HVAC professionals with a focus on delivery, quality, and price.