Your life and the lives of anyone with whom you may live or work are priceless. Installing and maintaining fire dampers in a building’s HVAC units is one of the most important safety measures to implement fire safety protocols.

What are fire dampers?

Fire dampers are passive fire protection components used in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts to restrict fire expansion through fire-resistant walls and floors.

Fire dampers

(Photo by Unsplash)

Passive Fire Protection (PFP) measures are essential to avoid and safeguard against the damage and devastation caused by a fire accident. Implementing different PFP protocols lowers the likelihood of casualties and material damage caused by fires. 

Establishing and maintaining different PFP systems, such as fire dampers in the workplace, is not only mandated by law but is also integral to the safety and security of everyone who may be present in a building during an emergency.

You will be surprised to learn that the Fire and Rescue Services of England attended over 149,000 fire incidents in the year ending June 2021. These accidents resulted in many fatal and non-fatal casualties, emphasising the need to improve fire safety, particularly in commercial and industrial structures.

  1. How to install, maintain, and inspect fire dampers?
  2. How often do fire dampers need to be inspected?

Here’s everything you need to know about fire dampers

The Office of the Future

Download the full research paper here.

Why Are Fire Dampers So Important?

By definition, a fire damper is a “mechanical device that is operated automatically or manually and is designed to prevent the passage of fire and which, together with its frame, is capable of meeting for a stated period the fire resistance criterion for integrity.” 

In other words, these are devices fitted in air distribution systems or an air transfer outlet, designed to close instantly upon detecting high heat levels, thereby blocking airflow and limiting fire spread.

When the fire’s heat raises the room’s temperature to 74°Celsius, a fusible link that holds the damper open melts immediately. The damper doors are then closed, which helps create a barrier against the spread of fire and smoke.

Fire dampers can be classified into two types: 

Dynamic Fire Dampers – are built in vertical barriers, ensuring that the ventilation system’s fans will remain operational even in the case of a fire. 

The spring-loaded design and the fact that the fan will continue to make it possible for the damper to close in resistance to the air pressure. They are equipped with fans that switch automatically when the spring-loaded mechanism is activated.

Static Fire Dampers – are positioned in barriers so that, in the case of a fire, the fan in the HVAC system will turn off. 

These dampers are built like curtains, so gravity will cause the damper to fall and close when the fusible link melts. When the static fire dampers are shut, there is no way for air to pass through the ducts.

Learn more: Digital defect recording for quality assurance in fire protection

Installation, Maintenence, and Inspection of Fire Dampers

Controlling the spread of fire and smoke in a building’s ventilation system are two of the most important safety requirements that need to be done to keep people safe in the event of a fire. Designing, installing, and maintaining fire control mechanisms is a systematical, all-encompassing, and continuous process.

There are a number of relevant guidelines and regulations, some of which have been recently updated, that can help operators and developers create safer systems if they are taken into account.

How Are Fire Dampers Installed?

Fire dampers must be fitted in a manner that complies with the work instructions provided by the manufacturer. It may be helpful to keep the instructions manual after a damper has been fitted as it can help ensure the correct installation of more dampers in the building later on. 

It is absolutely necessary to have access to the fire dampers in order to examine, test, and service them. In any new industrial or commercial construction, fire dampers are required to have an acceptable means of access that is big enough to enable inspection and maintenance of the fire damper.  

Accessibility must also conform with any access criteria outlined in the mechanical code and is not allowed to compromise the assembly’s integrity or rating in the area where it is placed. Access points must also have permanent marking attached to them that indicates what kind of damper is installed.

In some instances, where space limitations restrict access to a damper for regular inspection, the damper is required to be of the single-blade or multi-blade type and must conform with the remote inspection criteria (found in NFPA 80 or NFPA 105.)

The main goal of the correct installation is to secure the fire damper in the opening, not to it. This is done so that the fire damper in an air outlet can expand and the connecting duct can come apart if the hanging system fails. 

How Are Fire Dampers Tested?

After a fire damper is installed, an operational test must be done promptly. This is to ensure that the damper has been installed properly within the ventilation system, closes entirely without any blockages, and holds all of the appropriate devices and components as part of its assembly.

It is also possible that a functional test may need to be carried out both with and without the HVAC system operating normally. The damper needs to be able to close in both situations for it to pass the test.

The testing requirements for fire dampers in the United Kingdom are outlined in British Standard BS9999:2017. One of the requirements is that all fire dampers must undergo a comprehensive fire damper testing service at least once per year.

How Are Fire Dampers Maintained?

Maintenance of fire dampers is a vital element of overall building fire safety management and a legal obligation. In order to abide by the most recent regulations, fire dampers must be part of a planned preventative maintenance program. As part of this arrangement, spring-operated fire dampers must be inspected annually and urgently fixed or replaced if found faulty.

It is also needless to mention that The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 specifies that it is the obligation of the employer to ensure that their fire safety systems are functioning correctly. 

Suppose your client is someone who owns a building or operates a commercial or industrial business. In that case, it is their duty to schedule routine inspections of the fire dampers present in their building and check whether a proper maintenance schedule is being followed or not.

How To Inspect Fire Dampers?

Fire dampers are essential to a building’s overall fire protection system. In the event of a fire, the critical distinction between a fire damper that is well kept and in good operating order and one that is poorly maintained and non-functional can be the difference between life and death.

Since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 was passed, an employer must now ensure that their fire safety systems are kept in working order. Routine inspection is helpful to check whether or not all of the fire dampers in a building are operational.

It is stated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order that fire dampers must be inspected routinely using a method called “drop testing.” The way this works is that a person will manually activate a fire damper to check if it shuts completely. 

This is similar to when high heat levels melt the fusible link and shut the damper to prevent the fire from spreading. The fire damper must be reset correctly after the test.

The code of practice for fire safety in the design, management, and use of buildings BS 9999:2017 states: ‘… all fire dampers to be tested by a competent person on completion of the installation and at annual intervals. Spring-operated fire dampers should be tested annually. Fire dampers situated in dust-laden and similar atmospheres should be tested much more frequently, at periods suited to the degree of pollution.’

Before this, under BS:9999 2008, fire dampers would be divided into groups based on their type and then tested. This would result in only a small number of fire dampers being inspected. Now, all kinds of fire dampers must be routinely inspected. 

Fire Damper Inspection and Report

Builders and inspectors need to evaluate fire damper units that are placed in commercial, residential, and industrial buildings by utilising a fire damper inspection report. 

The fire damper inspection addresses all the criteria that fire damper systems must meet. It also includes a statistical review of all the fire dampers, before and after pictures of each damper, and a listing of all the necessary code-required information. An inspection team usually looks for : 

  • Signs of rust or damage
  • Obstacles that would hinder the damper from closing in an emergency
  • Assemblies need repair – where the surrounding wall or ductwork has been damaged or is missing. 

According to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, dampers found defective during routine maintenance and inspection should be fixed or replaced as soon as possible.

Why Use PlanRadar’s Fire Safety Software?

Our fire safety software can digitise the entire inspection process and bring information from all operations together in one place. We make creating a fire damper inspection report much more effective, reliable, and easier. Some of the numerous benefits our software delivers are:

Complete Fire Risk Assessment Forms

  • Reduce time spent on paperwork by uploading digital forms to PlanRadar.
  • Build fire safety evaluations, checklists, EWS1 forms, and more in PlanRadar, and have your team fill them out in the field.
  • Update forms centrally and in real-time. 
  • Securely store forms in the app or export them as custom reports.

Communicate Fire Safety Measures

  • Give recommendations on fire safety, including a completion date, an evaluation of the work that needs to be done, and a priority ranking.
  • The app’s real-time pop-up notifications can rapidly escalate fire safety threats to the responsible person on-site.
  • You can easily get in touch with your clients and team members at any moment using the built-in chat feature.

Capture Evidence On-The-Go

  • While on-site, you can record and store evidence using a smartphone or tablet.
  • You can upload pictures, videos, documents, voice notes, plan annotations, and comments for a comprehensive view of your findings.
  • Your team can immediately view your results and take action using real-time synchronisation.
  • Include all relevant evidence in client-ready reports in the format of your choice.

Create Fire Safety Documentation At The Touch Of A Button

  • Create fire safety documentation in one click
  • Share data as fire safety reports.
  • Export completed fire risk assessments, fire safety checklists, reports, photos, and documents with a click.
  • Digitally issue, sign, and retain fire safety certificates.
  • The simple template editor combines data into a final, personalised document within seconds, saving you hours of paperwork time.

Final Thoughts

Organisations understand the importance of establishing necessary countermeasures to prevent fire damage. However, installing fire dampers in HVAC systems is not enough as they must be correctly maintained and tested. Fire dampers must be inspected and repaired regularly to ensure they are functional and work efficiently in the event of a fire. 

The damage caused by fire incidents can be far more reaching as, without them, fire and smoke can enter areas of a building that would otherwise not be exposed to the fire.

Through the use of the PlanRadar app, tens of thousands of clients located all over the world successfully manage their paperwork, communication, tasks, and issues. In particular, we are well known for our services to the construction and real estate industry. 

With live project status reports provided by our construction management software, you can enhance productivity and stick to your construction timeline while being able to change your plan as needed. With our app, you have the ability to produce reports right at the building site, eliminating the need to process field reports, progress reports, and more.  

Want to get a sneak peek into our features? Start your 30-day free PlanRadar trial today!