Letter perfect

Richard Morris of UAP discusses the security and safety implications of letter plate specification.

Much of our correspondence may be paperless these days, but homes still need a letterplate where letters, circulars and newspapers can be posted. Located prominently on the front door of a house or an apartment, the wrong choice of letterplate can be an eyesore, but that’s not the only issue with specification. Letter plates can also present a security risk, fire safety issue or problems with access and Disability Act compliance, which is why it’s important to understand the potential specification pitfalls and what to look for when selecting a product.

Overcoming vulnerabilities

Historically, letter plates have been the most vulnerable part of a door, enabling thieves to ‘fish’ through the aperture to retrieve keys from hallways and gain access to properties. Often, homeowners don’t understand the risks of leaving keys conveniently placed on a console table in the hall or a hook near the door until a thief has fished for them to gain access to their property or steal their car.

Stricter compliance for letterplate design has been in place since the TS008 standard was introduced in 2016, effectively preventing key fishing and manipulation of the thumbturn cylinder. TS008 letterplate fixings also have to be capable of withstanding 1.2kN (122.366kgs) of force application, held for ten seconds at each end of the letter plate. This helps in preventing an intruder gaining unrestricted access to the aperture.

Security is not the only risk, however. Fire safety is also an important consideration and, in multi-occupancy buildings, containing a fire within the property where it started, rather than allowing it to spread throughout the building, is just as important as preventing fire from spreading from common areas into individual homes. That’s why fire doors are required as the front doors to individual apartments within multi-occupancy buildings, or for doors that lead onto shared balcony walkways. For these environments, not only is TS008 compliance required to ensure security, but the letterplate must also provide a fire rating equal to the rating of the door. And, of course, it must still allow items defined in the postal services standard BS EN 13724: 2013 to completely pass through the aperture without being damaged.

Design challenges

The challenge for companies developing TS008 compliant letter plates has been that the additional design features required to make letterplates safer and more secure in order to meet the standard have often resulted in practical and aesthetic issues.

Many social housing properties have narrow hallways, for example, and the standard response of designing letter plates with a bulky cowl on the interior side of the door sometimes makes it impossible to fully open the door. This causes issues with Equality Act compliance, because it restricts the clear opening and raises safety issues around egress and evacuation. Even when the door can fully open, a bulky cowl may cause damage to wall surfaces due to repeated collisions. This sometimes results in the occupier – or even the installer – removing the cowl, which can compromise security and fire safety.

Compliance with security and aesthetics

Letterplates fitted at many residential properties may need to be TS008 for PAS 24:2016 compliance and Document Q approval, which leaves specifiers with the challenge of finding a compliant letterplate that is not bulky. A key design feature to look out for is a pivoting stay mechanism, which enables a reduced internal flap projection from the door surface, giving a less intrusive feel to the door and enabling the door to open fully without the risk of any damage to the interior wall.

It is also advisable to select a TS008 letterplate with no fixings to the exterior door because this further enhances security by preventing anyone from unscrewing the outer section from the door.

Long-term performance is important, so test data that proves smooth operation over a number of years is also a feature to look out for. And, of course, aesthetics matter too, a range with a variety of colours and finishes to match existing decor is advisable too.

Safer solutions

It is now four years since the Grenfell Tower fire, and the tragedy has had far-reaching consequences, including a positive impact on due diligence when selecting building products, particularly for use in social housing.

Effective protection from the spread of fire from either side of the door is an essential feature of any letterplate installed in a fire door. Although a letterplate may not seem to be a safety product because safety is not its primary function, as an integral element of a fire door, it should have undergone rigorous in-house and third-party testing.

TS008 letter plates designed for use in fire doors are manufactured with intumescent material in their construction, which expands to create a fire barrier equal to the performance of the required fire door. Only Certifire approved TS008 letterplates can be fitted to timber fire doors with no further testing. For composite or steel fire doors, the letterplate must be tested as part of a complete door configuration.

Performance matters

It’s easy to mistake a letterplate as a simple piece of hardware that frames an aperture for post, but it plays a critical role in preventing that aperture from becoming a risk to security and fire safety. Aesthetics are always important, but, when it comes to safety and security, it’s performance that really matters.

Richard Morris is the national new business manager at UAP