NFPA 80, 2016 is Available! (Part 4)

This article is the fourth in a series of articles dedicated to the changes in the new NFPA 80. You may read these articles in any order. The first article includes some helpful tips for accessing NFPA 80 online. Changes in Chapters 1 through 5 are covered in the first three articles. Tips for highlighting your copy of NFPA 80 are also in the first article.

Chapter 6 Swinging Doors with Builders Hardware is next on our list to discuss regarding changes in the new NFPA 80. Chapter 6’s requirements apply to many types of swinging door assemblies. Before we present the changes in Chapter 6, a brief overview of these types of fire door assemblies is in order.

Unlike fire door assemblies covered in elsewhere in NFPA 80, swinging doors with builders hardware are component-based systems. Each component is labeled or listed for use on fire door assemblies. Some components have limited applications, they can only be used under certain conditions. Other components can only be used in conjunction with specific components. Their usage is determined by the manufacturers’ published listings from the nationally recognized testing laboratories. In other words, some components can be used in nearly every application while other components can be used in very limited applications.

These types of assemblies might have frames that are made of hollow metal (steel), aluminum, steel channel, wood (including wood composite), pressed steel (lighter gauges than hollow metal), and fiberglass reinforced polyester (FRP) materials. Door leaves used in these types of assemblies are made from hollow metal (steel), aluminum, flush wood, stile and rail wood, high-pressure decorative laminate (HPDL), metal clad (Kalamein), insulated steel (lighter gauges than hollow metal), flush sheet metal, and fiberglass reinforced polyester (FRP) materials. (For more information on the types of door construction, read Annex G Types of Door Construction.)

Door hardware components used on these door assemblies are classified as builders hardware (see 4.6.2 and 4.6.3). Builders hardware is a generic term that includes items such as conventional hinges, continuous hinges, pivots, floor concealed door closers, flush bolts, bored locks, mortise locks, panic hardware, fire exit hardware, surface-mounted door closers, and more.

Another dynamic with these door assemblies is that the components are permitted to be labeled by different testing labs. For example, a hollow metal door frame might be labeled by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the wood door might be labeled by Intertek/Warnock Hersey, and the hardware components might be labeled by either, both or other testing lab(s). (See paragraphs 4.2.6 and 4.3.2 – 4.3.4.)

Labels for door frames and doors are applied at the factory or under the factory’s label service in an authorized shop. Labels on door hardware might be embossed or etched markings on the products. Some door hardware labels are paper or plastic. A few door hardware products like conventional 5-knuckle steel full-mortise ball-bearing hinges are not marked, but are listed in their manufacturer’s published listings.

The fire rating of a swinging door with builders hardware assembly is considered valid when all of the components are installed in accordance with their individual listings and the door swings easily and freely, closes completely, and positively latches (see Generally, the fire rating of an assembly is determined by the rating of the door. For example, the door frame might be rated for 3 hours but the door might be rated for 3/4-hour (45 minutes); resulting in a 3/4-hour fire-rated assembly. Most door hardware components are fire-rated up to 3 hours, but there are some exceptions that users need to know.

Note: Paragraph A. states, “The rating of the installed assembly should carry the rating of the door or the door frame, whichever is less.”

Even though all of the installed components on a particular assembly are labeled, the fire rating of the assembly is considered “void” when required elements are omitted. Door function is one of the required elements of the assembly. When the door does not close completely or does not latch correctly, the fire rating of the assembly is invalid.

Paragraph A.3.3.49 Fire Door states: “The fire protection rating of a fire door presumes that the door is installed with the appropriate frame, hardware, and other accessories required by this standard. In any instance where any of the required elements is omitted, the assembly rating is considered void for the purposes of this standard and the opening protection is not considered equivalent to the labeled or otherwise indicated fire protection rating of the door component.”

Understanding that NFPA 80 requires all of the components of a swinging door with builders hardware assembly to be labeled or listed, installing non-labeled or non-listed components on them creates a non-compliance condition that also invalidates the fire rating of the assembly.

As you might imagine, an innumerable number of combinations of components are used to create these types of door assemblies. The fire rating of an assembly is only valid when the required components are installed (correctly) and the operational functions of the doors comply with NFPA 80.

Changes in Chapter 6 include the following provisions for:

  1. Clearances Between Doors and Frames
  2. Fire Resistance-rated Sidelight/Transom Frames
  3. Thresholds

Clearances Between Doors and Frames

NFPA 80’s operational clearances between door frames and the doors remained static for many years. In fact, up until the 1990 edition of NFPA 80, the clearance dimension between the door frames and doors (and meeting stiles of pairs of doors) was limited to a maximum of 1/8 in. (3.18 mm), regardless of the door material. An allowance for a plus or minus tolerance of 1/16 in. (1.59 mm) for steel (hollow metal) doors first appeared in the 1990 edition of NFPA 80. The maximum clearance dimension for wood doors remained at 1/8 in. (3.18 mm).

Safety inspections fire door assemblies became a requirement of NFPA 80 in 2007. Once these inspections started to occur it became apparent that NFPA 80’s clearance dimensions, while achievable in the field, were among the most commonly cited deficiencies.

Assemblies with wood doors are more likely to have excessive clearance dimensions than other types of assemblies. Poor frame installation is the primary reason for non-compliance with NFPA 80’s requirements. Other factors, such as manufacturing tolerances of the door frames and doors and pre-fitting practices, compound this issue.

Consequently, there has been a great deal of interest in allowing additional tolerances for the operational clearances for wood fire doors, which has led to the changes we are about to review.

Entirely new content appears in Section* Clearances. And, significant commentary explaining the clearance issue was added to Annex A—take time to read the commentary. Section* Clearances is excerpted here for your convenience:

“* Clearance dimensions between doors and frames and meeting stiles of paired doors shall be measured on the pull side of the assemblies.* The clearances between the top and vertical edges of hollow metal doors and the frame, and the meeting stiles of doors swinging in pairs, shall be 1/8 in. ± 1/16 in. (3.18 mm ± 1.59 mm). High-pressure decorative laminate (HPDL)-faced doors, 1/3-hour-rated flush wood doors, and stile and rail wood doors installed in hollow metal door frames, shall not have clearances greater than 1/8 in. ± 1/16 in. (3.18 mm ± 1.59 mm).* HPDL-faced doors, flush wood doors, and stile and rail wood doors with fire ratings greater than 1/3-hour shall not have clearances greater than 1/8 in. (3.18 mm) between the door and frame, regardless of the door frame construction, and the meeting stiles of paired doors.* Door leaves constructed of other materials shall not have clearances greater than 1/8 in. (3.18 mm) between the top and vertical edges of doors and meeting stiles of paired doors, unless otherwise permitted in the door frame, door, and latching hardware manufacturers’ published listings.”

Let’s take a closer look at these new requirements. Paragraph states the clearance dimensions for hollow metal door assemblies, these are unchanged from the 2013 edition. According to their published listings, hollow metal doors are permitted to be installed in labeled hollow metal door frames or steel channel frames. Clearance dimensions stated in apply to fire protection-rated hollow metal doors of all levels of ratings.

The new requirement in paragraph allows an additional 1/16 in. (1.59 mm) of clearance for 1/3-hour (20-minute) rated wood doors, including HPDL doors, installed in hollow metal door frames. One reason for this new provision is that hollow metal door frames have 5/8 in. (15.89 mm) high door stops, whereas door frames of other materials (e.g., wood/wood composite, aluminum, and pressed steel) typically have 1/2 in. (12.70 mm) high door stops. Another reason for allowing the additional clearance dimension is that 1/3-hour rated wood doors are not subjected to the hose stream portion of the fire door tests.

Paragraph* allows a maximum clearance dimension of 1/8 in. (3.18 mm) between wood doors (including HPDL doors) and door frames, and between “…meeting stiles of paired doors” when their fire ratings are greater than 1/3-hour. Under this provision, the maximum clearance dimension is the same as it has been for many years, “…regardless of the frame material.”

Read paragraph A. The new commentary provides background information that explains why limiting the clearance dimensions on swinging doors with builders hardware is necessary. In particular, A. points out the primary fire door test standards (e.g., NFPA 252, UL 10B, and UL 10C) do not allow test units to have clearance dimensions greater than 1/8 in. (3.18 mm) between the vertical and top edges of the doors and the frames or between meeting stiles of paired doors.

While we are on this subject, these same test standards limit the clearance under swinging fire doors to no more than 3/8 in. (9.53 mm). You will recall that NFPA 80 allows a maximum clearance of 3/4 in. (19 mm) between the bottom of fire doors and the floor (see paragraph, which is much greater than that allowed by the current fire door test standards.

For these reasons, door frame and door units subjected to fire door testing have clearance dimensions within the limits set by the fire door test standards, not to NFPA 80’s maximum clearance dimensions.

Figure A. illustrates the door-frame-to-door relationship when the clearance dimensions comply with NFPA 80. Look closely at the position of the edge of the door, particularly the push-side face, in relation to the face of the door stop. Doors with beveled lock and hinge stiles overlap the door stop by slightly less than 7/16 in. (11.11 mm), due to the 3-degree angle of the bevel, on frames with 5/8 in. (15.88 mm) high door stops.

When the door frames have door stops that are less than 5/8 in. (15.88 mm) high, the overlap dimension is reduced. For example, the overlap dimension on door frames with 1/2 in. (12.70 mm) high door stops is about 5/16 in. (7.94 mm)—approximately 28 percent less than door frames with 5/8 in. (15.88 mm) high door stops. Labeled door frames with 1/2 in. (12.70 mm) high door stops are tested with 1/8 in. (3.18 mm) door clearances. Consider the effect clearance dimensions greater than 1/8 in. (3.18 mm) might have on a fire-rated door assembly with these types of door frames. An additional 1/16 in. (1.59 mm) of clearance reduces the overlap by nearly 40 percent from the test units. That significant of a reduction in overlap warrants additional fire door testing to prove the assembly’s ability to perform its intended function in the field.

Remember, the gaps between the door frames and the doors and the overlap of the doors on the door stops need to prevent fire (and smoke) on one side of the assembly from passing through to the other side. When the gaps are too large and the overlap is too small, fire and smoke are not likely to be contained by the assembly.

This brings us to paragraph*, which limits the clearance dimensions for “doors of other construction…” to no “…greater than 1/8 in. (3.18 mm)… …unless otherwise permitted in the door frame, door, and latching hardware manufacturers’ published listings.” According to the annex comment (see A. this provision includes aluminum and FRP doors, among doors of other construction (e.g., insulated steel doors, Kalamein, and flush sheet metal). It also opens the door (pun intended) to the possibility that greater clearance dimensions for doors of all construction could be allowed, provided the greater clearances are within the range permitted in their published listings. However, it is unlikely that manufacturers will conduct fire door tests with clearance dimensions that exceed those allowed by the test standards, unless they have confidence in their products’ capabilities to pass the fire door tests.

Now that we’ve examined each of these new provisions, let’s look at what is not explicitly covered in this section. The clearance dimensions for 1/3-hour rated wood doors (including HPDL doors) installed in door frames other than hollow metal construction are not explicitly covered. A fair interpretation of this omission is that these types of door assemblies are limited to the same maximum clearances stated in and The reason being that they don’t qualify for the provision of, which means that they are not permitted to have the additional 1/16 in. (1.59 mm) clearance.

It’s safe to say that the operational clearances for swinging doors with builders hardware are likely to be the topic of conversations for some time to come. Even though the requirements of NFPA 80 2016 are not enforceable until it is adopted (a process that can take years), the new provision for the additional clearance for 1/3-hour wood fire doors (in accordance with might offer some relief during NFPA 80’s safety inspections. Knowing that this provision exists could be useful when you are meeting with local AHJs.

On a related note, the ability to accurately and quickly measure clearance gaps around the perimeter of swinging doors requires using the right tool for the job. While there are some make-shift methods for measuring door gaps, the best tool for the job is called “The Door Gap Gauge.” The Door Gap Gauge is designed specifically to measure NFPA 80’s clearance dimensions. Simply select the edge with the dimension you need to measure (e.g., 3/16 in.) and insert that edge into the gap on the door assembly. When it fits the gaps snugly, the gaps are the same dimension as that edge of the gauge. When it loosely fits in the gap, the gap dimension is larger than that edge of the gauge and might not meet NFPA 80’s requirements (depending on the dimension being measured). Think of it as a go-no-go-gauge.

Remember, the gaps are measured along their full length. In other words, the clearance dimensions cannot exceed NFPA 80’s specifications at ANY point between the door frames and doors (or meeting stiles of pairs of doors). The Door Gap Gauge is available directly through their website. It is also available through several other sources. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the inventors of The Door Gap Gauge.)

Fire Resistance-Rated Sidelight/Transom Frames

New commentary has been added to paragraph*, it explains some of the issues and misunderstanding surrounding the use of fire resistance-rated sidelight and transom-light frames in today’s buildings. Modern building designs sometimes require swinging door assemblies to be fire resistance-rated rather than fire protection-rated. When sidelight or transom-light door frames are used in openings requiring more than a 3/4-hour fire protection-rated assembly, the assemblies need to be fire resistance-rated. These assemblies are tested to ASTM E119 or UL 263 (see paragraph*) in addition to the doors being tested to NFPA 252, UL 10B, or UL 10C.

Note: Some existing fire resistance-rated sidelight and transom-light door frames were tested under NFPA 251, Standard Methods of Tests of Fire Resistance of Building Construction and Materials. Their fire resistance-ratings are still valid since NFPA 251 was applicable at the time they were installed. References to NFPA 251 in NFPA 80 have been replaced by references to ASTM E119 and UL 263. In fact, NFPA 251 has been withdrawn in favor of ASTM E119 and UL 263.

Fire resistance-rated sidelight/transom frames are highly specialized assemblies. They include fire resistance-rated glazing, as well as specially constructed framing materials. The frame and glazing materials are temperature-rise-rated (a minimum of 450°F/250°C), which standard hollow metal framing cannot meet.

Read paragraph A. closely. You might find it helpful to research some of the manufacturer’s websites to learn more about these types of specialized assemblies.


As mentioned in the first article, sometimes the terms sill and threshold are used interchangeably. In the context of NFPA 80 and the model building codes, the term sill refers to a structural building element that supports fire-rated door openings. (See their respective definitions in Chapter 3.) A new provision for the use of thresholds appears in paragraph 6.4.9 Thresholds. It states, “When used, thresholds shall be non-combustible or listed.”

This new provision formalizes how thresholds have been used on swinging fire doors. Concrete, marble, granite, and ceramic/terracotta are examples of non-combustible materials that are used as thresholds. When using aluminum or other metal thresholds, verify they are listed for use on fire door assemblies. Some metal thresholds are not listed and should not be used on fire door assemblies.

We have completed our review of the changes in Chapter 6 Swinging Doors with Builders Hardware. Be sure to review each of these changes in your copy of NFPA 80 to better understand their context.

Changes in Chapters 7 through 20 are covered in the next article.

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