The Ultimate Elevator Smoke Curtain Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Understanding the critical life-safety role that elevator smoke curtains play is essential for architects, building owners and facility managers.

Understanding the critical life-safety role that elevator smoke curtains play is essential for architects, building owners and facility managers.

What Are Elevator Smoke Curtains?

Elevator smoke curtains, also called lobby smoke curtains, are emergency life-safety systems mandated by building codes. When integrated fire alarms detect smoke or fire, the curtains automatically rapidly deploy from concealed overhead compartments or tracks within elevator lobbies to isolate these critical areas. The curtains provide a barrier of fire-rated fabric that contains deadly smoke and prevents it from infiltrating other areas of the building through the elevator lobbies and shafts.

Why Are Smoke Curtains Essential for Elevators?

Smoke poses the greatest threat to human life in a fire, harming more people than flames through asphyxiation and toxicity. Elevator lobbies and shafts act as chimneys that allow smoke to spread unchecked to the upper floors. But smoke curtains restrict this vertical movement by compartmentalizing lobbies into protected zones. This controls smoke to the area of origin and critically prevents exposure to occupants on other levels, allowing more time for evacuation.

The Role of Smoke Curtains in Overall Fire Safety

Smoke curtains are part of a layered, in-depth defensive approach to fire safety. When integrated properly with certified fire-rated lobby doors, elevator smoke containment systems and ventilation systems, smoke curtains work to maintain safe conditions for escape and emergency response during fires. They are an essential component of the comprehensive fire protection plan for compliant facilities focused on maximum life safety and property protection.

Different Types of Elevator Smoke Curtains

While all elevator smoke curtains serve the same core purpose of compartmentalizing lobbies, several design variations exist:

  • Passive curtains utilize gravity via weights or springs to rapidly deploy curtains when released. This failsafe mechanical design provides very fast and reliable operation. However, resetting can be more laborious.

  • Motorized curtains incorporate electric motors and actuators for smoother, more controlled descent and retraction of curtains. They reset with the press of a button. Installation is more complex, but convenience is higher.

  • Rigid curtains utilize interlocking panels that separate and drop down into place quickly. They can deploy faster than fabric but have more moving parts. Durability issues may arise.

  • Mechanical curtains use linked roller bars, governor cables, gears and governors for very dependable extension or controlled dropping. These industrial-grade systems provide tamper resistance.

Facility use patterns, noise considerations, aesthetics, control system preferences and specific code compliance targets factor into optimal curtain type selection. But regardless of design, all must meet fire rating certifications for lobby smoke containment.

How to Choose the Best Elevator Smoke Curtain

How to Choose the Best Elevator Smoke Curtain

When considering the right elevator smoke curtain for a particular building, there are several important factors to consider:

  • Speed: The faster curtains deploy, the sooner smoke is blocked. Under 15 seconds is optimal.

  • Ratings: Curtains must meet fire/smoke ratings for occupancy type per code. UL 1784 testing is standard.

  • Size: Dimensions must adequately cover the entire elevator opening with minimal gaps.

  • Durability: Usage, environmental risks and maintenance resources determine acceptable materials.

  • Integration: Integration of fire alarms with electrical systems for automatic triggering is mandatory.

  • Visibility: Transparent curtains maintain the visibility of egress paths, unlike solid doors.

Maintenance and Testing of Elevator Smoke Curtains

Consistent inspection,testing and maintenanceare imperative to ensure smoke curtains function as designed in actual fire emergencies. There are a few best practices for maintenance and testing that should be observed:

Regular Maintenance Checks and Repairs

Per manufacturer guidance and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, routine maintenance is required including:

  • Monthly inspections examining all mounting hardware, curtain fabrics, release wiring and openings for any damage or deficiencies

  • Lubricating gears, pulleys, bearings and other moving parts every 6 months to prevent jams

  • Testing the proper operation of release mechanisms every 6 months, adjusting as needed

  • Annual full deployment testing and resetting of curtains to validate smooth operation

  • Replacement of curtain fabrics or rollers when warranted due to excessive wear, tears or declines in performance

Proper documentation records must be retained on all inspection and maintenance activities. Neglecting routine care risks curtain failure during critical events

Required Testing for Safety Assurance and Compliance

NFPA mandates full operational testing of smoke curtains annually at a minimum. This must be conducted by certified professionals with results fully documented. Any identified deficiencies or faults must be immediately corrected and verified before final testing approval is issued. Authorities having jurisdiction can request documentation and may conduct additional spot testing of curtain systems. Failing to properly maintain and test curtains is non-compliant.

The Future of Elevator Smoke Curtains: New Trends and Innovations

Elevator smoke curtains are a tried and true safety mechanism for controlling the spread of smoke and fire in buildings, but there also are several recent technological advancements that you should know about.

  • “Smart” automated curtains: Use advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to react faster to fire signatures versus just alarms

  • Integrated suppression: Incorporate micro water mist systems for additional protection

  • Wireless controls: Allow convenient mobile interfacing and eliminate wiring risks

Remote central monitoring: Built-in connectivity enables offsite diagnostics to

The Role of Smoke Curtains in Sustainable Building Design

Sustainability guidelines like LEED recognize properly specified fire countermeasures like smoke curtains as enhancing life safety for occupants and first responders while also reducing environmental harm from uncontrolled fires.

Predictions for Future Developments in Elevator Smoke Curtain Technology

Expect continued innovation around speed, flexibility and connectivity to bolster safety through faster, smarter smoke control. More combination curtain-door systems and further integration with HVAC and other building systems will emerge. Compliance mandates will also expand.

Elevator Smoke Containment from SG Architectural Solutions

Elevator Smoke Containment from SGTX

With best-in-class elevator smoke containment systems expertly engineered and installed to meet code requirements, Smoke Guard from SG Arch Solutions delivers industry-leading elevator smoke containment to enhance overall building fire safety.

Our certified integration with fire alarm systems for automatic release and unmatched fire and smoke containment performance make our products the perfect selection for smoke and fire protection.

For compliant elevator smoke containment, trust SG Arch Solutions. Contact us today to discover more about how our products take your building and occupant safety one step further.