Fire doors – avoiding common pitfalls and mistakes

Housebuilder and Developer hears from Richard Kowalski, Technical Manager for Doors at Stairways Midlands, about some of the most common fire door mistakes he’s seen made over his 25 years in doors – and how to avoid them.

Fire doors are a carefully engineered fire safety measure, designed and tested to withstand fire and smoke, delaying the spread from one area of a building to another and giving people vital time to escape. Getting them right is a must.

But, in 25 years in the door sector, Stairways’ Richard Kowalski has witnessed some unfortunate blunders which at best translated into avoidable costs – and at worst could have risked lives.

Specification and certification

Some of the costliest mistakes can be made at the very start of the process, when choosing doors and opting for non-standard sizes. Explains Richard: “Ordering doors that are just a few 100mm bigger than the standard doors will cost you significantly more, because each door is then a bespoke item. On a multi-million-pound project, that one choice could mean paying tens of thousands of pounds more.

The other common error is ordering a product to site too early, so you have to store it, perhaps for weeks, in far from ideal conditions on site, risking warping, twisting, or swelling.

Adds Richard: “I always advise our customers to treat a door like a piece of furniture – it needs to be kept inside, away from extreme heat or cold, without too much moisture – so really you shouldn’t be bringing doors in until after all your wet trades have completed their work.”

When it comes to ordering fire doors, the most important thing to remember is to opt for door sets as opposed to traditional hung doors, because to be compliant, all the components of the door, including the frame, handles, and closer, must be tested and certified together.     

Independent product conformity certificates for fire doors sets – better known as third-party certificates – are available only when the door manufacturer adheres to stringent standards, offering the peace of mind that the doors are up to the task.

Reliability is not guaranteed when doors and frames are assembled on-site using components from various suppliers.      


Shocking data published last year by the Fire Door Inspection Scheme shows 75% of the 100,000+ fire doors they inspected failed to meet the required standards, and almost a third of fire doors failed due to incorrect installation – potentially putting lives at risk in the event of a fire from the moment they went in.

Here again, opting for door sets as opposed to traditional hung doors or door kits can minimise room for error.

Explains Richard: “With a traditionally hung door you need to build your frame, architrave and door stops for every door and take care of recessing and machining of ironmongery too all of which requires specific skills – adding time to a project.

“It’s also vital to ensure the use of the correct intumescent, hinges, locks, frame materials to comply with the fire certification of the door leaf. That can be the case with door kits too. Responsibility for this is down to the joinery company making the door sets on site from these components.

“Door sets, on the other hand, are precision-cut and built off-site, arriving complete with all mortised ironmongery installed. This streamlines the installation process, reducing the potential for human error. While door sets might seem more expensive on paper, accounting for skilled labour time reveals a different picture, making them not only easier and faster but also more cost-effective.”

Adds Richard: “Our data shows that there is a 50% time saving as a minimum on install with a door set over a traditional hung door, and door sets are 30% more cost-effective to install.”


The biggest mistake people make when it comes to fire door installation is bringing in contractors without the right knowledge and skills to install them correctly.

Adds Richard: “Unfortunately, without a proper industry standard or a mandated qualification in this area, there is a lack of emphasis on expertise when it comes to fire door installation, which is why we offer training courses if the customer needs them.

“With the new legislation around fire doors, joinery teams can no longer install and walk away – they need to take responsibility for installing a door correctly, with the correct fire rated components and installation materials, because if someone gets injured, the installation company could find themselves in court as well as the building contractor and the manufacturer of the door.”

He adds: “Fitting fire doors is a skilled job and poor work will always get found out – I remember a case where every single door on a job was condemned a year after completion; because of the way they were fitted, and they all had to be replaced.

Fire certificate first

A blunder which is still surprisingly common, even given the more stringent regulations, is that developers and contractors just don’t refer to the fire door certificate, which has essential information, or don’t refer to it early enough.

“I always say, look at the fire certification before you even open the wrapping of the door. That document goes into every detail, from the fixings you can use, to the foams and mastics to fill the gap between the frame and the wall. There will be some products that specify a minimum gap you can seal, so you do need to check all the information – the devil is in the detail.

“Unfortunately, we see work held up on sites on a weekly basis because buildings control has come in and not been able to sign off the doors due to incorrect installation – delaying completion of a project while you reinstall all the doors can have a costly impact.”

Being mindful of the regulations, working with skilled installers, paying attention to the details, and keeping a focus on the importance of fire safety throughout can make the difference when it comes to delivering successful and compliant door solutions for any project – and by avoiding the common pitfalls, developers can save time and money in the process.


When do you need a fire door?

Fire doors are mandatory for all UK commercial properties. While they are not a legal requirement in many residential homes, there are some exceptions, including Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs), any new build or home renovation that has three or more floors must have fire doors fitted to every habitable room that leads from a stairwell, in communal areas and at every apartment front entrance.

What is an FD rating?

All certified fire doors have a fire-resistance rating – FD30 or FD60 being the most common, and FD 120 being the highest in timber – with the number referring to the total number of minutes the door will withstand smoke and fire and maintain structural integrity in the event of a blaze. Crucially fire doors are fitted with intumescent seals which when exposed to high temperatures in the event of a fire fill the gap between the door and the frame.