Do Fire Doors Need to Be Self-Closing?

Learn why fire doors should be kept closed, the role of self-closing mechanisms, and insights from the Grenfell Tower tragedy on preventing the spread of fire
Mar 13, 2024
6 minute read

Think about football for a second.

Consider a goalkeeper at the net during a penalty kick. It's protected. Without them, the goal is completely open and defenceless. A fire door that isn’t closed shut is the same – it’s a huge vulnerability in our defence against fire.

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, where 72 lives were lost, is a sobering reminder of this. One of the standout lessons from that catastrophe was the critical role of self-closing mechanisms in fire doors.

In this blog post we will cover:

  • The essence of a self-closing door.
  • Its workings and significance.
  • The legalities surrounding it.

What Is a Self-Closing Fire Door?

Door closers are mechanical devices positioned above the fire door, ensuring its smooth closure when not in use.

How Do Self-Closing Doors Work?

Fire doors are pivotal in a building's passive fire protection strategy, crucially safeguarding and assisting evacuation during a fire. For these doors to function effectively, they need to be closed. Self-closing devices aid in maintaining this shut state.

These devices consist of components like metal arms attached above the door and the door frame, enabling the fire doors to close automatically.

However, people sometimes use wedges or other items to hold open the door, negating the self-closing functionality.

Why Is It Important to Have a Self-Closing Door?

Besides keeping the fire door closed and sealed, the self-closing device fitted to the door is important for the reasons below.

Contain Fire

As we know, fire doors aren't just doors; they are a set of specific components that prevents the spread of fire and smoke between compartments in a building. In emergencies like fires - especially in multi-storey buildings - these self-closing doors are essential to containing the spread of fire, protecting ensuring safe evacuation routes.

Legal Requirement

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 outlines a fire safety strategy to provide suitable fire doors in all domestic properties. The regulation also states that fire doors must be kept shut when not in use. A self-closing device on the fire door helps to comply with the regulation by keeping the door shut (when not propped) at all times.

Why should fire doors be kept closed?

The importance of keeping fire doors closed cannot be overstated, with real-life tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower incident offering a stark illustration.

This year marks six years since the fire at Grenfell Tower claimed 72 lives. The tragic event serves as a sombre reminder of the consequences when fire safety measures are compromised. While the flammable cladding of Grenfell Tower was undeniably a major factor, the removal of self-closing mechanisms from apartment doors emerged as another crucial contributor, as highlighted by fire safety expert, Dr. Barbara Lane.

Key findings from Dr. Lane's report revealed:

  • A significant number of disconnected door closers on apartment entrance doors just three days after the disaster.
  • Alarmingly few operational door closers on levels 4-23 of the tower.
  • A caretaker of Grenfell Tower confessed to having disconnected 10 door closers, acting on resident complaints.

The absence of these vital self-closing devices meant that the closing of the fire doors relied on the residents shutting them manually as they evacuated. This resulted in many fire doors remaining ajar. This allowed toxic smoke and heat to permeate rapidly, exacerbating the already dire situation and severely hindering escape and rescue operations.

This tragic situation underlines the life-saving role of door closers in our buildings, and serves as a persistent reminder that we must continuously evaluate and improve our fire safety measures.

Do All Fire Doors Need to Be Self-Closing?

Regulations demand most residential buildings to have self-closing fire doors.

According to Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, every fire door should be installed with a self-closing device for residential buildings such as:

  • hotels
  • boarding houses
  • hostels
  • student accommodations
  • care homes

In buildings that house flats:

  • The front door of each individual flat, which separates the personal living space from communal areas, must have a self-closing mechanism. This ensures that in the event of a fire within a flat, the spread of smoke and flames to shared spaces is restricted.

Corridors, often the main escape routes in buildings:

  • If a corridor connects exits from two or more storeys, it should be partitioned using self-closing fire doors.
  • Dead-end sections of corridors, which can be particularly hazardous during a fire, need to be isolated from the main corridor using self-closing fire doors.
  • Additionally, any corridor extending beyond 12 metres in length should be segmented by self-closing fire doors. This subdivision ensures that if a fire breaks out in one section, it doesn't rapidly engulf the entire length of the corridor.

However, there are specific exceptions to this rule. Fire doors leading to areas such as cupboards, cleaner cupboards, plant spaces, and service risers are exempt from this requirement. Despite this, these doors must be kept locked unless they are in immediate use.

How Can Preventt Help?

Today, with the Fire Safety Regulation 2022, there's, thankfully, a heightened emphasis on thoroughly evaluating fire doors and their essential hardware. Whether it's the mandatory quarterly fire door checks or the annual fire door inspections of flat entrance doors, the increased attention on self-closing mechanisms underscores their critical significance.

The tragic Grenfell Tower incident showcased the consequences of tampering with door closers, and how essential it is to ensure that these devices are installed correctly and adjusted for reliable closing.

At Preventt, we understand the importance of this. If there is anything we can help with, our team is always just an email away.