Air Movement, Control Association: Code changes allow remote periodic testing of life-safety dampers
Life-safety dampers are critical fire-protection features of buildings. By protecting duct and air-transfer-opening penetrations through fire- and smoke-rated construction, they help to contain fire and smoke within the area of origin. Like any mechanical device, life-safety dampers need to be exercised and tested periodically to ensure they will work as designed when needed. Chapter 7 of the International Fire Code requires that fire dampers be maintained in accordance with NFPA 80, “Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives,” and that smoke dampers be maintained in accordance with NFPA 105, “Standard for Smoke Door Assemblies and Other Opening Protectives.”
The 2019 editions of NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 include important changes concerning the maintenance of fire and smoke dampers. This article explains those changes and how they can significantly reduce costs while making buildings safer.
According to the 2016 editions of NFPA 80 and NFPA 105, during the commissioning of a new or remodeled building, life-safety dampers must undergo “acceptance testing” to confirm proper operation. The dampers then must undergo “periodic testing” to confirm continued operation. Periodic testing is required one year after dampers are installed and every four years thereafter, except in the case of hospitals, whereby testing is required every six years. Requirements regarding acceptance testing and frequency of periodic testing are unchanged in the 2019 editions of NFPA 80 and NFPA 105.
Also unchanged is the method for performing periodic testing of life-safety dampers that utilize a fusible link. The fusible link must be removed so designed closure of the damper can be confirmed. Because the fusible link must be removed and replaced manually, someone must physically go to the damper to perform this test.
Perhaps the most significant change in the 2019 editions of NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 concerns the method for conducting periodic testing of life-safety dampers without fusible links—namely, smoke dampers and most combination fire/smoke dampers. The 2016 editions of NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 require visual confirmation of a damper’s ability to fully open and close. The 2019 editions of NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 retain that option while introducing the option of remote testing.
Three preconditions must be met before remote testing can be utilized:
- A damper must be capable of indicating when it is fully open and when it is fully closed.
- The initial remote test must include a visual inspection in accordance with NFPA 80 and NFPA 105. Often, this visual inspection takes place during acceptance testing.
- The visual inspection must confirm that the position-indication method used for remote testing accurately reflects the fully open and fully closed position of the damper.
Once these preconditions have been met, required periodic testing may be conducted remotely. The procedure is as follows:
- A signal from the damper’s position-indication device confirms the damper is in its normal operating position as required by the system design (typically, the fully open position).
- The damper is commanded to the position opposite its normal operating position and the position-indication device confirms the damper has reached that position (typically, the fully closed position).
- The damper is commanded back to its normal operating position and the position-indication device confirms the damper has reached that position (typically, the fully open position).
If a remote test fails to comply with steps 1-3, a visual inspection is conducted.
The inclusion of the remote method in NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 will dramatically reduce the costs, labor, downtime, and loss of revenue associated with performing code-required periodic testing of motorized life-safety dampers. These reductions, in turn, will lead to a higher percentage of life-safety dampers being tested, which will lead to safer buildings.
This article was provided by The Air Movement and Control Association International Fire and Smoke Damper Subcommittee.