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Oct 10 2016

“Do I need panic hardware here?”

Category: Panic HardwareLori @ 10:27 am Comments (8)

This is THE most frequently-asked question that I receive.  A specifier, supplier, architect, or end user has a retail, multi-family, office building, or other type of facility, and they want to know whether the exterior, stairwell, or emergency-exit doors need panic hardware.  While there may be state or local requirements that vary (NYC is one), the IBC requirements are the ones that have been adopted by most jurisdictions.

According to all editions of the IBC starting with the 2006 edition, panic hardware is required for doors serving 3 use groups:

  1. Assembly occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more*
  2. Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more
  3. High Hazard occupancies with any occupant load

These requirements apply to doors which lock or latch; they do not apply if a door has push/pull hardware and no lock or latch.

For facilities that are required to follow NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code, there are 4 occupancy classifications where panic hardware is required:

  1. Assembly occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more**
  2. Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more
  3. Day care occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more
  4. High Hazard occupancies with an occupant load of more than 5 people

NFPA 70 – National Electrical Code requires panic hardware on some rooms containing electrical equipment.  Beginning with the 2014 edition, doors which latch or lock, within 25 feet of the required work area, serving the following rooms, require panic hardware:

  1. Where equipment is 800 amps or more and contains overcurrent devices, switching devices, or control devices
  2. Where equipment is 600 volts or more
  3. Battery rooms

There is more information about the NEC requirements here.


So back to the original question…”Do I need panic hardware on the stairwell doors in my apartment building, the main exit of my office building, or the emergency exit of my retail store?”  These buildings would be considered Residential, Business, and Mercantile occupancies, so typically they would not require panic hardware on any doors unless there is an Assembly, Educational, or High Hazard area within the building with an occupant load of 50 or more (per the IBC) or 100 or more (per NFPA 101).  Of course, panic hardware can be installed for convenience, security, or durability, even if it is not required by code.

To learn how to calculate the occupant load, you can refer to this article, and here’s an article about small assembly occupancies.  There is more information about panic hardware in this Back-2-Basics article, this video covers where panic hardware is required, and you can find the descriptions of each occupancy type and the reference paragraph numbers for each edition of the model codes in the Allegion code reference guide.

Any questions??

*As someone pointed out the last time I wrote about this topic, there is an exception in the IBC for the main entrance/exit of an Assembly occupancy with an occupant load of 300 people or less – a key-operated lock may be used.  I have very rarely seen double-cylinder deadbolts used on an Assembly occupancy, but you can read more about this requirement here.

**NFPA 101 also includes an exception for key-operated locks, which is addressed in the same article as the IBC requirements.

8 Responses to ““Do I need panic hardware here?””

  1. Mojo says:

    When in doubt, let ’em out.

  2. John Danes says:

    I’ve always err on the side of caution in regards to exit devices. I would rather be safe than sorry!

  3. H. M. KANG says:

    I always say that we should use Panic Devices for exit doors.
    It’s not about standard code.(We don’t have any local code for using Exit Device.)
    It’s the one of the reason that I’ve still been working for hardware business.

  4. Nicole Deschler says:

    Panic hardware is an important part of any security plan. However, it is important to use it wisely. The goal is to find a spot where it can be the most effective at protecting the building’s occupants from emergencies.

  5. Neil Brodhead says:

    The ADA testing requirement for schools in CA. DSA the Dept. of Architecture Title 24, requires exterior doors be adjusted at 5 lbs. I have been told by the DSA Field Eng. that the gauge is to be placed on the panic hardware 12 inches from the jamb. The panic hardware is to activate at 5 lbs. What is your criterier for testing panic hardware? The installer says that they put their gage approximately 12 inches above the hardware and next to the jamb. Please comment, Thank You

    • Lori says:

      Hi Neil –

      I’m sorry for the delay – I was away for a week teaching a class when your question was posted, and I am still digging out.

      It sounds like one of the methods you mentioned is testing for the operable force of the panic hardware and the other is testing only for the opening force of the door. I would typically measure the operable force at the center of the touchpad, and for opening force there are guidelines in ANSI/BHMA A156.04, which are included in this article:

      – Lori

      • Gregg Boll says:

        I have situation where we are on the 5th floor of an Office Building where the owner would like to separate the elevator lobby from the Office Area. The door in question goes from elevator lobby to the open office area. To secure the office area from general public just walking into the open area from the lobby we are putting in a door with card reader and panic hardware because it in in the egress path of from open office area to a stairway.
        The owner is concerned about noise from the panic hardware and card reader. Does code allow use of a lever here or does it need panic hardware. The Floor has 150 occupants, 2 exists including the one above. I’ve read the code and your articles and in opinion lever would work but just want make sure I’m not missing anything.

        • Lori says:

          Hi Gregg –

          Is it possible for you to send me a floor plan? My email address is I just want to make sure I’m understanding the layout correctly. You would not need panic hardware unless the door is a required means of egress for an assembly or educational occupancy with a load of 50 (IBC) or 100 (NFPA 101) or more , but depending on which code you’re supposed to be following you may not be able to lock the door.

          – Lori

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