BS 476 To EN 1634-1: What Does it Mean for Door Hardware?

Daniel May of Consort Architectural Hardware discusses the proposed standard change from BS 476 to EN 1634-1 and the impact it may have on door hardware and the built environment should it pass.

Building regulations are designed to govern the methods and materials used throughout construction projects. For decades, modern regulations have developed to form a minimum standard and without them, many structures would be considered dangerous and risking the safety of their occupants.

Where fire safety is concerned, legislation plays a vital role in ensuring a building and its design elements will behave appropriately in a fire situation. For fire doors and their hardware specifically, the UK has been following a dual approach to performance classification until now, with the British Standard 476: 22 (BS 476) running concurrently with EN 1634-1. Each assessment method is designed to grade doorsets between FD30 and FD240 depending on how long they can resist fire.

However, in December 2022, the UK government proposed to remove national classifications from building regulations. In doing so, BS 476 would be removed from the updated Approved Document B in favour of its European equivalent, which is considered a more rigorous testing method. Although, with the change yet to come into force, many questions continue to surround the proposal. So, what are the implications of a move to EN 1634-1 and what does it all mean for fire door hardware?

Daniel May of Consort Architectural Hardware explains: 

“Over the course of time, regulations habitually require updating. Between outdated methods and technology to the development of new construction targets and cultural shifts – take sustainability as an example – change can often suggest progress.

“In recent years, there’s no doubt that we’ve made strides forward as an industry in relation to fire safety and building design for example, with us seeing a number of reforms as per the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Act. Yet, the latest proposed change to remove BS 476 as a standard feels a little nuanced to some. Over twelve months on since the government first made its announcement, questions and concerns remain and with that in mind, we must look into its potential ramifications.

“BS 476 is a long-established standard that has been widely accepted in the UK since 1987. As an officially recognised testing method, BS 476 aims to achieve higher fire safety standards by assessing and confirming the fire resistance of various building elements, including fire doors and their hardware. To help assure a door assemby’s fire performance, the test method exposes one face of a full-scale doorset to conditions that simulate a fire scenario, where upon its results, the assembly is awarded a grade (in minutes) for which it can withstand fire.

“Similarly, EN 1634-1 is a European standard that evaluates the fire resistance of building components – including fire doorsets – and is based on harmonized testing procedures across Europe. While EN 1634-1 follows a similar testing method to that of BS 476, and has also been adopted within British Standards, there are slight differences between the two. Although both test cycles follow the same time and temperature, EN 1634-1 positions the neutral plane 500mm from floor level and has variation in its temperature control methods, meaning the furnace is driven harder and the door is more susceptible to warping. As such, the method more closely replicates real-life fire conditions and for this reason, EN 1634-1 is considered a more reliable standard.

“In any case, a transition from BS 476 to EN 1634-1 has the potential to send significant shock waves through the entire supply chain, and not only for the architectural ironmongery industry. There are no disputes with the testing process itself, but in moving to European standards, UK bodies won’t be able to carry out assessments and aren’t permitted to CE mark, and as a result, we will be withdrawing a long list of fire safety products from the market. By not allowing assessment through approved specialist authorities that have been operating for years, we could be facing huge delays to the industry and its projects, with an immediate influx of products forming a backlog in fire-resistance testing.

“BS 476 isn’t recognised under CE or UKCA marking and any manufacturer currently testing to it as a standard would be obliged to re-test their products, causing sizeable disruption – and not to mention costs. Simply put, there would be a void to fill and seemingly not enough capacity within the regulated testing organisations for it to remain successful. With run-in time so essential to the way the industry operates, we must question whether it’s a viable solution or if we would be adding to a problem?”

As part of an ongoing consultation programme, the proposed change to EN 1634-1 remains hanging in the balance, with many stakeholders awaiting further statements to be made. On the future of fire door hardware testing, Daniel continues:

“Right now, the UK government appears to have paused for thought. Such is the importance of product testing in construction, the implementation of this proposal must be carefully considered, and the industry remains optimistic that each set of concerns will be addressed accordingly – including everything from resources and time to costs and the safety of the built environment itself.

“Another area to consider is heritage projects for example. Thousands of heritage buildings reside in the UK, and many rely on bespoke door assemblies which can be certified through assessments in the current regulations. For buildings of this type, there is no one size fits all solution. Yet, with the new European standards, each door assembly would need to remain the same otherwise it would likely be too costly for bespoke testing. With such a significance being put on like for like products, the newly proposed arrangement could reduce design options significantly as a result. There is an even bigger issue for composite doors, where there is no extended application, meaning you can only use exactly what has been tested in every way on previous tests.

“There’s no doubt that fire safety will always remain a key concern when it comes to building design and construction and evidently there is a need to continue improving clarity and consistency across the board. Those values must also apply with legislative updates and if the proposed shift to EN 1634-1 is to go ahead, it should only be done so after sufficient time and consideration is taken. Perhaps, with the UK outside of the EU, it’s wholly possible to approach these changes with a practical hybrid system? Only time will tell, but as standards continue to evolve, the industry must anticipate change.”