In Search of the Fire Code-Compliant Cat Door

Cats are often trapped in burning buildings. This one was lucky.

Only one company that I know of offers a fire-ready pet door. But will fire chiefs consider it code compliant?

About a year ago, the City of Portland, Maine, fire department tromped through my building and insisted that I replace  a half dozen 90-year-old hardwood hallway doors with ugly, costly 1-hour-rated  steel  fire doors.

I understand the motivation, although it’s a dice roll that my building got picked for snap inspection. In fact, I was one of the lucky few that got inspected before they abruptly dropped the inspection program. We had a deadly fire in Portland not long ago where a bunch of young people died. The property was rife with problems, including blocked egress in hallways, failed smoke alarms, exposed wiring and so on. Would steel fire doors have helped? Apparently, the fire dept. thinks so, or thought so.

Feline Focus 

Let’s put aside that arbitrary fire code enforcement (Portland uses the 2009 Life Safety Code, or parts of it, when they feel like it), and focus on something many people can relate to: Cats. Steel fire doors are a costly, but not a life changing upgrade, unless you happen to have an indoor outdoor cat, which I do. Prior to the steel doors, my cat could come and go as she pleased. She could also escape from a fire on her own. Now she’s trapped.

So I began looking for a solution.  I looked through NFPA 80, and did not find any specific mention of pet or pass-through type doors.  What is noted is that “no open holes or breaks exist in surface of either the door or the frame.”

Also there’s specific language about repairs of penetrations in fire doors:

Eureka! Or Not?

But what about purposeful penetrations, sealed with flaps when not in use? After much searching, I finally found a company in the UK that makes what they claim are fire-safe cat doors—well, not doors exactly. They’re special enclosures for pet doors. Envirograf describes them this way:

Fitted with internal intumescent and PVC-faced sponge, so that it is smooth for the cat or dog to go through. It will not seal or expand until the fire has reached 120°C at the door (approximately 4 minutes into the fire).

The enclosure can be used in brick walls as well as doors, and has a 68-minute fire Envirograf claims these are fire safe, and I’m throwing down the gauntlet to the U.S. fire safety community. Is this suitable for NFPA code compliance? If so, would you agree that it, or something like it, needs to become part of the next NFPA update? There are thousands of pet owners who will thank you for giving them back their ability to sleep in.

UK fire codes, of course, are different from the U.S., but the principles are similar. Take a look at this document of technical specifications and share your thoughts.