Fire Damper Surveys and Maintenance
Fire resisting ducting together with dampers are carefully designed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke within a building. Their correct installation and detailing is therefore essential to realising the fire safety performance of the whole building.
Essential for Preventing Spread of Fire & Smoke
Fire dampers play a crucial role in a building’s fire safety system. The difference between a well maintained, working fire damper and an ill maintained partially working fire damper can be the difference between life and death in the case of a fire.
What are dampers and ductwork?
HVAC ductwork is an integral part of all modern buildings providing a way to pass air between rooms and building zones keeping the building and its occupants healthy and comfortable.
But when a fire breaks out, that very ductwork becomes a potential hazard; fire doors or fire-resistant construction zones will be rendered useless if there are deliberate channels provided for smoke, hot air and flames to pass through.
That’s where dampers come in. A requirement under the government’s Approved Document B, dampers are louvred vents or shutters situated at key points within the ducting system.
In normal, everyday conditions they are inert, simply allowing the flow of air through them. But if a fire starts, they are activated. They slam shut, blocking the duct and preventing smoke from passing through for a period of up to a specified time in hours. Allowing the occupants to escape and the fire fighters to enter.
Checkmate is pleased to announce that our fire damper inspection, maintenance and installation services are now undertaken under LPCB guidance. (At present there is no LPCB / BRE recognised standard certification for the survey and maintenance of existing fire dampers).
Difference between smoke and fire dampers
Smoke and fire dampers fill incredibly similar roles, more or less. They’re fitted in similar locations and they’re both designed to prevent ducting from being the weakest link in a buildings fire safety facilities.
That said, there are differences, and these differences come down to where the damper is situated:
These are located in ductwork at the intersection of fire-rated barriers in building zones, like walls or partitions. The damper secures the integrity of the barrier – preventing fire penetration before temperatures reach the fire rating level of the barrier itself.
They work by ensuring the louvres or shutters shut firm in a fire situation by the use of a mechanical or fusible linkage, which operate under high temperatures activating the shutters.
These work in a similar manner to preserve the integrity of smoke barriers but without the same stringent temperature restrictions.
They are often located in sensitive areas where smoke penetration would present particular challenges. While operation systems can be interchangeable, it’s more common for smoke dampers to be motorised and connected to a control panel. This means smoke detectors and controls are responsible for activating the damper.
There are also hybrid dampers available, which fulfil the roles of both smoke and fire dampers.
Smoke and fire dampers are invaluable when it comes to maintaining the integrity of any building’s fire strategy.
Unfortunately, after buildings are constructed or altered, it’s often the case that few records are kept of where these dampers are installed or when dampers where last serviced. And with poor records comes poor maintenance.
And, thus, if the damper management is vague, the maintenance history gets really vague. This situation is heighted by the fact that – unlike something like a fire alarm or fire door – dampers are generally not on display.
Often there is no clear record of when their dampers were last tested, serviced or replaced.
When you’re presented with the kind of challenge outlined above, you obviously realise that maintenance is the key. Proper, preventative, pre-emptive service work undertaken by qualified specialists will save time, money, hassle and – most importantly – lives.
But that’s only part of the answer. There’s no point in getting your dampers serviced and then forgetting about them for the next few years until you’re in the same position again.
At Checkmate Fire we believe the solution is one of management as much as maintenance. And that means record keeping and proper data management. We use the latest technology to track and record which puts us in the best position to:
Review and Advise
The first step is to look over your damper maintenance provision, review your processes and offer advice on how best to proceed.
Survey and Plan
Next comes a survey of your site and verifying damper locations (or helping to locate unknown dampers), giving a clear picture of the scale of the operation and an idea of the existing maintenance schedule. ~To aid this we will require plans of ducting systems to be provided, highlighting damper locations, to avoid a more intensive investigation from ourselves to identify the path of ducting systems.
Service and Report
Checking out each damper individually reveals the operational status of the system, and you’ll also need to ensure their combined effectiveness with a review of the controls in place on-site.
Repair and Replace
Damper maintenance is a vital part of keeping a building safe from smoke and fire. We wouldn’t recommend ripping out products on a large scale but instead choose the most cost-effective and considerate way forward.
Create a database
The hub of a successful damper review process – a proper file that contains the location, specs and maintenance history of all your dampers will make the process easier – and cheaper – going forward and is a vital step in keeping your building safe
The big thing to remember is this – smoke and fire dampers serve the same purpose as any smoke control equipment: they facilitate the escape of building occupants and allow easier fire fighter access by stopping the spread of smoke and flame. Which is to say, they save lives and protect property. That means their maintenance is of the utmost importance.
Within the BRE report ‘Examination of the Fire Resistance Requirements for Ducts and Dampers’, produced on behalf of the ODPM, there are numerous case studies from both the UK and USA of fires within ducted HVAC systems. Regular routine specialist preventative maintenance and testing is the solution, and proper data collection is the way to manage this solution.