With fire safety responsibilities in social housing coming under particular scrutiny at present, the contribution of door closers and other related considerations are discussed by Dr Lloyd Blewett
RECENT TRAGIC events have understandably brought the fire safety spotlight onto the social housing sector. Social landlords are having to reassess their approach to fire safety and re-evaluate the fire safety measures in properties they own and manage. So far, this appears to have resulted in a greater emphasis on the performance, quality and reliability of products used and less emphasis on cost.
Providing safe, secure and comfortable accommodation in the social housing sector imposes enormous responsibilities on social landlords and those delegated to design, build and maintain the housing stock. To ensure that homes are fit for habitation, the Decent Homes Standard, together with a wide variety of building regulations, product performance standards, codes of practice and legislation, all need to be taken into consideration.
In addition, these various influences and controls have to be applied with due regard to the needs of those living in the dwelling. Tenants with physical or psychological challenges, for example, may need special consideration when it comes to the facilities provided and products used.
Similarly, the risk of products being damaged – whether through a deliberate act, lack of care, misuse or tampering – may need to be taken into account. Damaged products not only incur additional maintenance costs, but can also have a detrimental effect on the building’s ability to provide decent, safe accommodation.
There is also a growing appreciation amongst designers and managers that dwellings in the social housing sector should provide similar levels of comfort and aesthetics as those in the private sector. So, how can a door closer be expected to contribute towards the requirements for fire performance, accessibility, safety, reliability, damage limitation, comfort, aesthetics and so on?
Door closer compliance
In terms of performance, the key areas of consideration when selecting door closers are fire safety and accessibility. For fire safety, products must be CE marked. In the case of door closers, this means compliance with BS EN 1154, or BS EN 1155 if the door closer includes an electrically powered hold open device.
The standards cover various aspects of a product’s performance, including category of use, durability (cycle testing), door mass, fire resistance, safety and corrosion resistance, with gradings for each area. Products also need to be manufactured under appropriate quality management systems.
Where fire resistance is concerned, neither standard stipulates specific performance requirements. BS EN 1154 and BS EN 1155 identify a single grade (Grade 1), which states that the product is suitable for use on fire/smoke door assemblies subject to satisfactory assessment of the contribution of the device to the fire resistance of the specified assembly. Both standards reference BS EN 1634-1 as the appropriate standard by which fire resistance of a doorset can be assessed by an independent UKAS laboratory.
Away from European standards, national regulations have a bearing on the use of door closers in fire safety situations. In the Building Regulations for England and Wales, Approved Document B (ADB) covers fire safety requirements in residential properties, including houses, flats, hotels, guest houses and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively are covered by Technical Handbook 2 and Part E.
A common misconception is that ADB does not require door closers to be fitted in such properties. However, there are many cases where door closers are still required, such as on a fire door leading to an integral garage or on a front entrance door to a flat.
Also impinging on the decision making process is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO], the legislation that controls ongoing fire safety. It applies to both new and existing non domestic buildings and the common parts of blocks of flats and HMOs. The FSO places a legal obligation on the ‘responsible person’ to carry out a risk assessment of the building and, where necessary, to provide additional fire safety measures.
Therefore, it is clear that every building, particularly flats and HMOs, needs to have its fire safety requirements assessed on a case by case basis. In order to perform correctly, a fire door needs to be closed, at least at the time of fire, and a door closer is the obvious solution.
The need to ensure accessibility is governed by the Equality Act. For door closers and other hardware, there is no specific performance standard against which a product itself can claim compliance, as requirements are stipulated for the entire door assembly. Approved Document M (ADM) of the Building Regulations (Section 4 in Scotland, Part R in Northern Ireland) and BS 8300 stipulate the maximum forces required to open doors, and it is good practice to select hardware that contributes to meeting these standards.
With door closers, the energy used to open the door is stored in the door closer’s mechanisms and used to close the door. Therefore, the more efficiently a door closer stores and returns this energy, the lower the opening forces it imposes, thereby enabling it to contribute towards a door’s ability to meet the requirements of ADM and BS 8300.
In addition to the many regulations and performance standards that relate directly to fire safety and accessibility, consideration also needs to be given to the needs of tenants and the situation in which the door closers are being used. Here, again, the performance, functionality and features of particular door closers can provide added benefits that make them more suitable for many social housing applications.
Jamb mounted, concealed door closers such as Powermatic are becoming increasingly popular in the social housing sector. Available in standard and free swing models, they deliver a variety of benefits resulting from the fact that the door closers are totally concealed when the door is closed.
Whereas surface mounted door closers have mechanical arms and control boxes on show, the jamb mounted door closer is completely invisible when the door is closed, and very unobtrusive when the door is open.
Concealed door closers have long been used by designers and architects to assure the aesthetics of interiors in a wide variety of buildings, notably hotels and high end apartments. The principle of improved aesthetics is now becoming more widely valued in social housing developments, and it is not only for the sole purpose of a better looking interior; the lack of functional, mechanical devices creates a more homely, less institutionalised atmosphere which contributes towards the comfort and wellbeing of residents.
A more practical and financially astute reason for selecting concealed door closers is the fact that they are far less likely to be damaged, whether by a deliberate act, lack of care, misuse or tampering.
This offers many benefits, both to those responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of properties and to the residents themselves. A damaged door closer will almost certainly fail to close the door automatically.
It will probably also fail to hold the door closed against its fire/smoke seals and could even prevent the fire door from functioning altogether.
A fire door that fails to function is, at best, an inconvenience and, at worst, potentially fatal. Add to this the maintenance costs of replacing damaged door closers – perhaps even the doors as well – and the appeal of the concealed door closer to the social housing sector becomes clear.
Another benefit of concealment, which is particularly vital in dwellings occupied by tenants with psychological or mental health challenges, is the fact that when the door is closed, concealed door closers do not offer a point from which a ligature can be suspended. Powermatic door closers further reduce this risk as they can be mounted at a low height in the door.
Where fire doors need to be free to open in normal operation, or where there might be a risk of a fire door being wedged open, free swing concealed door closers can provide a useful solution. Connected to the low voltage fire alarm system, the door closer can be set to allow the door to operate normally until the alarm is activated or there is a power shortage, at which point the door closer becomes active and closes the door automatically at a controlled rate.
Quality and reliability
The closer is particularly favoured for care and residential homes, but is equally suited to many similar environments. As with any other product that performs such a vital role in the fire safety of a building, the quality and reliability of a door closer is paramount in assuring the continued safety of residents.
Product quality and reliability will, obviously, vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but maintenance free performance and a manufacturer’s ten year guarantee should be expected from any reputable company, as should dedicated support for product selection, installation and use.
When selecting the right door closer for any fire door situation, the first task will always be to ensure that the product meets the relevant performance requirements in terms of fire safety and accessibility. Once these criteria have been satisfied, other factors to enhance the safety, comfort and wellbeing of the building’s users should be taken into consideration.
Dr Lloyd Blewett is sales manager at Samuel Heath. For more information, view page 5