What is Building Egress Code?
“Egress” is a building term that refers to “a means or place of going out”. In other words, it’s an exit.
Both commercial buildings and residential homes contain codes regarding the paths of egress. Any door that is along the path of exit (the egress path) is considered an Egress Door. That is, if someone needs to go through that door to exit the building, then that door is an egress door. This includes office doors, hallway doors, etc…. For safety reasons, municipals have adopted new fire code for exit doors.
Nearly every door in a commercial building is classified as an egress door. Non-egress doors can be found in rooms that are not occupied, such as a storage room or closet. Front doors and courtyard gates are considered egress doors on residential properties.
There are two types of egress:
“Free Egress” means that the door can be exited without any delay.
“Delayed Egress” means that there is a timed delay before the door can be exited.
Here, we will be addressing the free egress door code; primarily from a door modification perspective. Builders are aware of the code, but many home and business owners/renters are not. It’s important for your liability protection that any door modifications adhere to the door egress code.
Many lives have been lost because of insufficient means of egress during fire or other emergencies. After root causes determine a need, building code agencies adopted parameters in an effort to make buildings safer and more usable. Over time, these codes have become quite extensive, and quite particular, in regards to how doors and exits must operate in order to meet these standards.
While it is beyond the purview of an article such as this one to cover every aspect of code requirement, this article can help you understand door egress basics.
Egress Considerations When Changing Door Hardware
Single Motion, Egress Door Operation
Possible Exceptions for Single Motion Egress
Door Egress Requirements Primarily Considered During Construction
Residential / Home Egress Requirements
Where You Can Find Door Egress Code:
There are a several agencies that create these codes; local municipalities generally adopt one or more for use in their jurisdiction, with or without exceptions. Here are a few examples, along with the chapters in which means of egress are discussed:
Building codes are similar among these publications, but there are some differences between them, and it’s important to know which codes are in effect in your jurisdiction.
When contemplating or making changes to your business or office designs, it’s important to refer to the Authority Holding Jurisdiction (AHJ) before implementing the changes to ensure that code compliance is maintained. In Arizona, the party you often want to talk to is the Arizona Fire Marshal or your City Building Permits Department. Failure to do so may lead to violations when your building is next inspected.
The following ‘basics’ are taken from the IBC. Refer to these other publications if they are utilized in your area.
Door Egress Requirements When Changing Door Hardware
During constructions the following egress codes will be met, but this section becomes additionally important because these pieces of code must be considered in routine and ongoing maintenance of the door hardware.
Single Motion, Egress Door Operation
As a locksmith this is the section of code that we are most interested in as it directly applies to any lock and door hardware modifications that can be done to a door.
With few exceptions, the main requirement on door hardware for commercial egress doors is that they be able to be opened in one motion without using a key or tool, and without any special knowledge required nor any special effort. In the image on the right, the installation of just the deadbolt or the hasp is enough to put this exit door in violation of fire egress code.
The operation of opening the door must be a single operation which retracts all latches securing the door. The placement of the hardware to achieve this should be from 34 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum from the floor. Opening a door must be accessible, requiring no tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.
Some cities/counties will allow a second lock to be installed on a main door to a business that meets specific criteria (usually low occupancy), when the door has a sign installed above it that says, “THIS DOOR TO REMAIN UNLOCKED WHEN BUILDING IS OCCUPIED,” or similar verbiage. This lock is primarily for the security of the business. Check with your local codes to see if this is permitted. For example, in Gilbert, AZ this is allowed on the main door only, if the lock has a “locked” / “unlocked” indicator as part of the locking device.
As a business owner, you need to be aware that modifications to doors that violate single motion exit will make your company liable should an incident occur.
Examples of door hardware that allow single motion egress are:
Panic bars, push paddles, and levers.
Many interior doors to meeting rooms and office space are using mortise lock setups. This allows a deadbolt style of lock to be used on the door, but the door will unlock, including the deadbolt, by only needing to turn the lever. No other motion is necessary to open the door.
‘Flush’ bolts and ‘Surface’ bolts that install on the door and are controlled individually are prohibited, but there are some exceptions. Doors that serve as storage or mechanical rooms may be exempt.
In double-door situations, the ‘inactive’ leaf may be allowed to have them, if there are no other surface trims (hardware) that would indicate the door is for egress use.
Some panic hardware may have a bolts integrated into the design that secure the door to the top and bottom of the frame. Pressing on the panic bar’s push bar will retract the bolts and allow the door to operate in a single motion. This type of three-point locking system is allowed.
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Possible Exceptions for Single Motion Egress
For the most part, any variance to this single motion exit would be a violation of code, for which an exemption would have to be sought.
In the United States, due to frequent shooter events, many schools, government buildings, and other high-profile buildings are receiving these types of waivers, but for most small commercial buildings, these would not be allowed.
Exceptions are also commonly issued for buildings where the tenants may harm themselves or others should they be freely allowed to leave. Drug rehab centers, Alzheimer treatment facility, etc….are examples.
In addition, there are some building types which have exceptions (usually low occupancy), which may allow for locks that do not meet these requirements but, in lieu of this, require additional lock status indicators and/or signage regarding the door lock status.
“Safe rooms” are becoming a common desire in some buildings, and there are products marketed for this purpose, but without a code variance, these are in violation and should not be used without getting a review from the AHJ.
Door Egress Requirements Primarily Considered During Constructing
Even though all code in this section is relevant for all egress doors, at any time, it is primarily considered only during construction. Door modifications of these types do not typically occur during regular maintenance and repair. However, should it, then the code is still required.
Egress Door Sizing
An egress door must be between 32 inches and 48 inches in width, as measured between the face of the fully opened door (90 degrees) and the stop on the door frame (for double doors, this measurement is from the face of the door to the edge of the other door leaf or mullion). The door height must be at least 80 inches (or 78 inches to door closers and stops).
Usually, an egress door must be a hinged door (this is what you think of when you think of a common door, like to your home.)
Codes exist for other type doors (such as a revolving door); consult the resource guides for these specialty cases. In most cases, the door must swing outward. There are some exceptions for this for small rooms with low occupancy loads of less than 50 persons.
The doors themselves must be unobstructed entirely from the floor to 34 inches. Above this, there may be projections, but not more than 4 inches out (this allows for exit hardware to be installed).
Door handles, latches, locks and other devices should be installed from 34 inches minimum to 48 inches maximum above the floor.
Typically, a commercial door threshold has a maximum height of ½ inch. If it’s higher, a slope leading to it must be beveled in with a rise-to-run slope of 1:2 maximum (this slope varies among codes).
Egress Door Visibility
Egress doors, both those leading to exits and any exit to the building itself, must be plainly marked as such. They cannot be blocked from visibility by curtains or other objects that would disguise them, such as mirrors or decorative painting to make the doors ‘blend’ into the environment. They must, simply, present as ‘doors’ so there is no confusion. This may seem a little over-the-top, but in an emergency situation, for a person not familiar with a building, this is crucial. Absolutely nothing should inhibit the ability to recognize an exit door as such.
The above requirements are by no means an exhaustive list of existing codes. There are many different uses for buildings where exceptions are codified (such as prisons, hospitals, hotels, etc). There are stairwell and stairway requirements, elevator codes, electrified doorways, delayed egress doorways; the list goes on and on. There are also codes for residential spaces and public spaces. This is why it’s so important to work with AHJs and licensed contractor vendors to determine your needs, and what requirements can fill them without compromising safety.
Residential / Home Egress Requirements
Newly adopted versions of building code have modified the requirement of free egress for homeowners. As the homeowner, you can do whatever you want to your door, but a builder and a licensed locksmith now have restrictions as to what they are allowed to do.
If your county or city has adopted the latest codes, the two main changes for home egress are these:
- Front doors can no longer have a double-sided deadbolt installed. A double-sided deadbolt is a lock that takes a key on both the inside and the outside of the door. So these locks would require a key to exit the front door if locked.
Double-sided deadbolts were very popular on front door that contained glass or where near glass panels to prevent someone from breaking the glass and released the deadbolt via its thumb turn.
As an Arizona locksmith, we can no longer replace a single sided deadbolt with a double-sided deadbolt. You as the homeowner can, but you assume the risk and may be asked to change it back during a home sale inspection.
This single-sided-deadbolt egress code currently only applies to the front door of the home.
- The above is also true of any courtyard gate surrounding the front door or patio. If it prevents someone from leaving the property to a safe distance to escape a fire, any gate for the courtyard must have a thumb turn on the deadbolt and cannot require a key to unlock.
To improve security and prevent reaching through a gate to open the lock, the gate will need some sort of barrier to prevent reaching over and/or through.
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