In 2017, U.S. fire departments responded to 1,319,500 fires. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a U.S. fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds. There were 499,000 structure fires, and 72 percent of those structure fires occurred in home structures. Also, of the 3,400 civilian fire deaths in 2017, 77 percent occurred in home structures.

Could fire-rated doors help reduce the loss of life and property in residential settings? Here’s what you need to know about them.

What is a fire-rated door?

A fire-rated door can provide beauty and safety. 20- 90-minute fire-rated MDF door, style 9244. Image courtesy of Simpson Door Company

A fire-rated door — or fire-resistant door — is specially constructed to slow or prevent the spread of fire and smoke, according to Ken Canziani, Senior Fire Investigator at EFI Global in Sacramento, CA.

“A fire-rated door is a very heavy door made of materials like metal or gypsum,” Canziani explains. “The term ‘fire-rated’ means that the door, when installed properly, is not supposed to combust during a certain time frame in the average fire.” While time ratings vary, he says standard ratings include 20- to 90-minute doors.

Fire-rated doors are more common in commercial buildings than in residential structures. “Fire-rated doors are often installed in public buildings, in office buildings and in places like dormitories,” Canziani says.

Typical residential applications include installation in entryways, garages and multi-family homes.

How can a fire-rated door help during a fire?

A fire-rated door could buy you some additional time. Image: Monalyn Gracia-Corbis-VCG – Getty

Fire-rated doors can help slow or prevent the spread of fire and smoke, but Canziani warns that they are not designed to be completely fireproof. “These doors are made of combustible materials and will eventually burn through in a fire. However, they will resist the penetration of heat and flames to slow the fire for a specified time period.”

And by containing the fire and smoke, they provide additional time for you to exit the structure.  Most people focus on the element of fire, and they don’t underestimate the significance of reducing smoke inhalation. However, the majority of people who die in residential fires do so as a result of smoke inhalation.

“Fire-rated doors may also help to protect property and personal assets while firefighters work to extinguish the fire,” Canziani adds.

Types of fire-rated doors

Fire-rated doors should never be propped open. 20-minute fire-rated wood door, style 8212. Image courtesy of Simpson Door Company.

While fire-rated doors are more common in commercial settings, there are many companies that sell residential fire-rated doors.

For example, according to Amira Johnson at Emerald Doors in the UK, the company makes fully finished and unfinished exterior fire doors, in addition to custom-made and bespoke fire doors. Most of the company’s doors have a fire rating of 30 minutes, although some have a fire rating of 60 minutes. Their exterior fire doors are made of plywood or composite core. The company’s interior doors can either have solid panels, clear fire glass or obscure fire glass. Emerald Doors can also make custom fire doors so homeowners can decide which architectural details (raised moldings, etc.) they want in their door.

There’s a fire-rated door to match almost any design style. Image courtesy of Simpson Door Company.

Closer to home, Simpson Door Company in McCleary, WA, also makes fire-rated doors. Most of the wood doors have a 20-minute fire rating. However, the MDF (medium density fiberboard) doors are available in 20-minute, 45-minute, 60-minute, and 90-minute fire ratings.

Homeowners can choose from a variety of wood species and styles, to ensure that the fire-rated doors match the rest of the home’s styles.

Do you need a fire-rated door?

Gaps around the door will render it ineffective. Image: Michael Blann/Getty Images

A fire rating does not necessarily indicate the amount of time a door will withstand a fire. For example, a fire door rated 60 minutes does not guarantee that the door will withstand fire for 60 minutes. The rating means that in a controlled test environment, a brand-new door held up for 60 minutes. However, in a real-world application, other factors like heat intensity could greatly reduce this estimate.

“Although a fire-rated door is designed to prevent a fire from passing from room to room, let’s be honest. Even with the right door, a severe fire can melt steel,” says Abe Kozlik of the International Fireproof Door Company in Brooklyn, NY.

Also, a fire door won’t do you any good if the door is propped open or the closing mechanism is faulty. In addition, the door has to be properly installed to ensure that there are no gaps around it.

Fire doors can provide peace of mind. However, properly using your existing doors may be all that you need to do in a fire. “In a residential setting, the simple act of closing the door to a room will slow or can prevent the heat and smoke from entering the room and injuring occupants or destroying additional property within,” says Canziani. “If the fire originates within the room, the closed door may aid in slowing the spread of the fire to other parts of the residence, depending on the time the fire burns before being extinguished.”

In fact, Canziani says he’s personally observed residential fires in which closed doors resulted in significantly less fire and smoke damage compared to doors that were left open.