What Are Fire Shutters?

To protect lives and property against fire, homes must meet a number of building code requirements including having smoke detectors and fire alarms throughout all levels.  Sprinkler systems may also be mandated in the case of multi-dwellings and commercial buildings.

Likewise, a FIRE SHUTTER is a fire safety feature that primarily has had applications in commercial buildings.  These fire shutters are now also finding their way into the residential property market.  This is an extension of a wider strategy to develop and promote more efficient ways to reduce the risk of fires.

The main purpose of Fire Shutters is to protect fire from spreading fire to neighbours but can also be used as a locking security shutter.

How do Fire Shutters work?

Fire Shutters are barriers installed in doorways and windows that stop or slow the spread of fire until emergency services can arrive.  Fire Shutters are constructed from materials that withstand 45 minutes of heat from fire, allowing people to escape from a building and protecting against spread to adjacent property.

These shutters can be connected to and triggered by a fire alarm, or have a built-in smoke or heat detector to automatically drop and create a barricade.  Some may have both.  And, some types will roll down under their own weight while others will have mechanics that close the door using a quick motorized system.  Additionally, certain motorized door fire shutter systems are designed to close downwards only to a certain level and act as a smoke barrier so people can still escape underneath the opening at the bottom.  The purpose of fire shutters is to:

  1. Limit the damage a fire can do;
  2. Stop it from spreading; and
  3. Prevent loss of life through compartmentalization.

Are Fire Shutters Mandatory?

New building codes require that fire shutters be installed if a new build is less than four feet to the property line.  All windows and doors on the wall facing the property line will require Fire Shutters.

If the distance to the property line is under four feet, the requirement to install Fire Shutters also applies to existing properties when building an addition or if cutting out new window or door openings.

Rental apartment buildings and multiplexes with a fire escape require Fire Shutters on window openings facing the fire escape.


For safety, some commercial door and window openings require, by code, the installation of a commercial Fire Door or Fire Shutter.  Fire Shutters are required to be inspected and drop-tested at regular intervals.


For the most part, residential Fire Shutters have been used when a homeowner has concerns about fire safety and chooses to install them as a preventative measure.  They can also be required in order to obtain building permits when there is not a four foot clearance from the property line.  For example, in some dense residential areas of Toronto, Fire Shutters allow Fire Code compliance when mandatory setbacks and distances cannot be met.  They provide a safety barrier when neighbouring houses would not otherwise be able to have openings on sides facing one another.

Installation of Fire Shutters

Proper installation by a certified installer is a must to ensure that the shutters operate correctly in any fire situation.  If they fail to operate properly or at all, they could inadvertently help the fire to spread or trap people on the wrong side.  There are many quality companies who can advise you on the right product for the situation and all the safety features built into the device.  An order for fire shutters generally takes 4 to 6 weeks to manufacture and 1 or 2 days for installation.   Once complete, the vendor will perform necessary drop testing and provide documentation to present to city officials responsible for permits.

fire shutter


A job site inspection is generally done before costing fire shutters.  Prices start at approximately $2,500 and goes up to several thousand.  Because every order must be custom-made, the cost is determined by several variables:

Opening Size – determines amount of materials needed.

Location – Whether the window in located on the ground floor or upper floors and whether installation can be completed from the interior or exterior of the building affects what type of equipment may be needed to install, i.e. scaffolding, articulated truck or scissor lift.

Motorized or Manual – mode of operation factors into cost.

Mounting Surface (i.e. brick, stucco, vinyl, wood) is taken into account to provide the correct fire resistance protection.

Residential or Commercial – buildings may be subject to different requirements.

Fire Resistance Required – in some cases where there is access to a fire escape, a permit may be obtained with a 20-minute rather than a 40-minute resistant shutter – *note this only applies to windows under 60” in width.

Structural Support – Because materials used to make fire shutters weigh 10 pounds per square foot, structural reinforcement may be needed to accommodate the weight.

Inside or Outside Opening Windows – An outside opening window requires installation of a 5-inch stopper to ensure the fire shutter is not obstructed in the event it is activated.  For this reason, it is highly recommended to use slide opening or inside opening windows for a new build so that full use of the window is not limited after fire shutters are installed.

Can these shutters be manually opened and closed from the inside?

The Ontario Building Code and Ontario Fire Code regulations on fire safety are based on codes developed by the National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”) in Quincy, Massachusetts.

NFPA 80, “Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives” is where the provisions for the installation, testing and maintenance of rolling steel fire doors and similar protection for openings are found. NFPA 80 allows these special shutters to be released manually with a switch, lever or button of some kind. Once released, these rolling steel fire doors must close automatically. These doors automatically close by the operation of a “fusible link” positioned at certain points along a wire rope that holds tension on the closing device. The fusible link will soften in the heat of a fire and when the cable eventually parts, the tension on the cable releases and the lever moves on the closing device, allowing the shutter to close.

This wire rope and pulley arrangement is on each side of these doors/openings. The cable having the fusible links connects to the closing device, which is usually a lever attached to the drum that the rolling door wraps around, located at one end of the coiled door. Where no fire alarm system or smoke detectors are provided, the other end of the wire rope passes through pulleys and pipes so that there is a fusible link on each side of the door and one above the door. These doors are installed and listed as a complete system; and their installation, operation, testing, etc. is separate from the fire alarm system installation.

Fire Curtains — an alternative to Fire Shutters

According to firecurtainetechnologies.com, Fire curtains are a deployable, textile opening protective that seal off an area on fire to contain and prevent smoke and fire from spreading. Fire curtains are made of a flexible fire-resistant woven fiberglass textile, with steel guides and headboxes.

Where are they used?

Since they can be installed completely hidden above the ceiling, fire curtains offer a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional solutions. They are normally used in open-plan situations and where the aesthetics of the building matter the most, like atria, stairwells, lobbies, and in front of elevators of commercial buildings. Fire curtains typically provide 60, 120, or 180-minute fire ratings.

Photo courtesy of firecurtaintechnologies.com

How do they work?

In the event of a fire, the fire curtain descends upon receiving a signal from the fire control panel to seal off an opening. Fire curtains feature a fail-safe gravity technology. The fire curtain will deploy under gravity at a steady speed even if there’s no power in the building.

Which one to choose?

Whether specifying fire curtains or fire shutters should depend on how well they can be integrated into the building design. There are three main factors to consider: appearance, price, and building type.

1. Appearance 

Where the visual appearance of a building is essential, fire curtains are the best choice, since they are out of sight until needed. They can seamlessly integrate into the design of the building. A steel fire shutter is bulky and harder to integrate with existing walls and design.

2. Price

Fire shutters are less expensive than fire curtains. If your project can handle the weight of shutters, the size of the headbox, and the aesthetics of the side guides and headbox, fire shutters are the best and cheapest solution.

3. Building type

You might find fire shutters in high fire risk buildings with flammable materials and where the aesthetics are not the priority, like warehouses. On the other hand, in commercial buildings, with more occupants, fire shutters can interfere with egress pathways. The heavy steel fire shutters can hit occupants while closing and cause injury and block egress. Metal fire shutters can retain heat from the fire, risking people inside trying to escape. Large metal fire shutters are also a risk for firefighters.

The fire curtain is an unobtrusive solution that does not compromise on safety. Fire curtains have an emergency switch to open it and easily egress out from the burning area.