Life safety damper inspections

Regular inspections and testing are vital to protecting property and saving lives.

By Vickie Lovell and Andy Frame, Intercode Inc., Delray Beach, FLA. October 1, 2009

        A building’s life safety systems constantly stand ready to protect the structure and its occupants from catastrophe; their successful operation can mean the difference between a nuisance fire and a catastrophic event.

        A building’s HVAC system generally penetrates every space of a building. Without effective life safety systems in place, these pathways can carry fire, smoke, and toxic gases throughout the building, causing property damage, injuries resulting from smoke inhalation, and even death.

        The smoke and fire components of the HVAC system, particularly the fire and smoke dampers, are therefore crucial components of the fire protection design.


        To ensure that life safety systems serve their intended purpose, periodic inspection and testing are not only essential, they are mandatory.

        The International Codes and the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code are specific about the frequency and requirements of periodic inspection and testing. Virtually every jurisdiction in the country has adopted these requirements, or some variation of them. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) typically requires the building owner to test all life safety dampers within 1 year of the acceptance test being conducted and/or the building being occupied. Figure 1 identifies standards and guidelines that specify periodic inspection and testing requirements and are adopted by reference in a code by a jurisdiction.

        Within 1 year after acceptance testing in new construction or after remodeling, a typical mandated periodic inspection and testing schedule can include the following:

        • Every 6 months—Cycle test (open and close) all motorized fire and smoke dampers, and test all dedicated smoke control systems

        • Every 12 months—Test all nondedicated smoke control systems

        • Every 2 years—Visually inspect all fire dampers, ceiling radiation dampers, smoke dampers, and combination fire/smoke dampers

        • Every 4 years—Manually operate (open and close) all fusible link-operated fire dampers and ceiling radiation dampers.

        (Note: Routine maintenance is not typically required by manufacturers unless a periodic inspection or test identifies the need for maintenance.)

        Inspection and testing should be performed by qualified personnel who have expertise in fire protection or mechanical engineering, or are certified to inspect life safety dampers or smoke control systems in accordance with an ANSI third-party accreditation program.


        Inspectors typically observe components in operation to verify that the equipment or construction is installed properly and that it is appropriate for the system design. The specific tests, and the most efficient order of testing, depend on the:

        • Type of system

        • Number of systems

        • Progress of new construction or remodeling

        • Relationship between building systems and specific tenant work

        • Degree of interaction between other systems

        • Complexity of the controls sequence

        • Impact of system failures on fire or life safety and other factors.

        Determining the procedures for periodic inspection and testing is a critical component of the overall process. One option is to locate an existing inspection procedure that has already been approved by the AHJ. If an existing procedure exists, it must be followed implicitly. If a procedure cannot be located or does not exist, one must be developed by a qualified professional whose credentials are acceptable to the AHJ. Some AHJs provide the testing and inspection procedure.

        Establishing and approving an inspection procedure involves research, including:

        • Obtaining any existing inspection documents, including any previous inspections or testing reports

        • Locating relevant information from the overall building design, including design objectives and construction documents

        • Determining the specifications and location of every life safety damper that is installed in the building.

        Once the inspection and testing have been completed, meticulous records must be maintained. Records verify that the proper inspection and testing have been completed and that the building complies with local inspection requirements. These records should contain key information about each damper, such as make or model number, ratings, date installed, observations made during periodic inspection and testing, and any corrective actions taken. Whether handwritten or in electronic format, the records of all inspections and tests must be maintained on-site for at least 3 years, as stated in the codes.

        National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

        Figure 1: Relevant standards and guidelines that specify periodic inspection and testing of life safety systems and their components.
        NFPA 90A Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems
        NFPA 90B Standard for the Installation of Warm Air Heating and Air-Conditioning Systems
        NFPA 92A Standard for Smoke Control Systems Utilizing Barriers and Pressure Differences
        NFPA 92B Standard for Smoke Management Systems in Malls, Atria, and Large Spaces
        NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives
        NFPA 105 Standard for the Installation of Smoke Door Assemblies and Other Opening Protectives
        American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE)
        ASHRAE Guideline 5-1994 Commissioning of Smoke Management Systems
        ASHRAE Guideline 1-1996 The HVAC Commissioning Process
        Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL)
        UL 555 Standard for Fire Dampers
        UL 555S Standard for Smoke Dampers
        UL 555C Standard for Ceiling Dampers
        Marking and Dampers for Fire Barrier and Smoke Applications & Ceiling Dampers Application Guide
        Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA) International, Inc.
        AMCA Publication 502 Damper Application Manual for Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning
        AMCA Publication 503 Fire, Ceiling (Radiation), Smoke and Fire/Smoke Dampers Application Manual Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance Guidelines
        Individual manufacturers’ Web sites and technical support hotlines


        Life safety systems are in place to ensure that disastrous scenarios do not occur; however, these systems are worthless if they don’t function as intended in an emergency. Therefore, conducting periodic inspections and testing of life safety dampers and other life safety systems is vital to protecting both property and human lives.