Printed from the blog of Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI
Email:, Blog: or

Mar 27 2017

QQ: Panic Hardware – Touchpad Length

Category: Panic Hardware,Quick QuestionLori @ 2:45 pm Comments (9)

This question has been raised a few times over the years, and it looks like we will have a clarification soon – What is the required length of the touchpad or crossbar for panic hardware and fire exit hardware?

You might be saying to yourself, “That’s obvious…the actuating portion has to be one-half the width of the door.”  That’s what I have always been taught, and have taught to others for 20+ years.  That’s why Von Duprin 99 series panic hardware for a 3-foot door has a touchpad that measures 18 inches, and a 99 device for a 4-foot door has a 24-inch touchpad.

But what happens when you have several dozen doors that are slightly over 3 feet wide, and you install panic hardware with an 18-inch touchpad?  Based on the interpretation above, devices with a wider touchpad should have been used.  This application, and the high cost of rectifying the problem, has resulted in an alternate interpretation – that the actuating portion of the panic hardware has to extend across the mid-point of the door.

In my opinion, this is not prescriptive enough, and does not meet the intent of the model codes.  Sure, most touchpads begin a few inches in from the lock edge of the door, and extend across the mid-point of the door.  But what if the touchpad begins 6 inches from the lock edge, or 12 inches in, and ends at the mid-point of the door…is that acceptable?  Who gets to decide?

It’s possible that an AHJ could allow a slight alteration to the code requirement – for example, if the door is 38 inches wide, then MAYBE the AHJ will allow the 18-inch touchpad even though it really should measure 19 inches.  But this would be the AHJ’s decision and in my experience they do not typically stray too far from the model codes.

The 2018 edition of NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code is expected to include a change that will help to clarify the intent of this requirement.

Currently, NFPA 101 states:  It shall consist of a cross bar or a push pad, the actuating portion of which extends across not less than one-half of the width of the door leaf.

The proposed language for the 2018 edition is:  It shall consist of a cross bar or a push pad, with the length of the actuating portion of the cross bar or push pad not less than one-half of the width of the door leaf.

What do you think?  Does this clear things up?  And another question for you…are there any jurisdictions where the actuating portion of the panic hardware must be MORE than 1/2 the width of the door leaf?  I know there was a time when some jurisdictions required the touchpad to be 2/3 of the width of the door leaf, but I think this was changed quite a few years back.  If you have any insight, past or present, please leave a reply below.

9 Responses to “QQ: Panic Hardware – Touchpad Length”

  1. Chuck Park says:

    It looks like the current code can reasonably be interpreted to allow a 18″ touchpad on a 38″ door because it measures where on the door the actuating part of the installed device must extend to. Adding the backset of the device from the edge of the door, and the distance between the active edge of the device and the start of the actuator, the end of the 18″ actuator would be well past the midpoint of the 38″ door.

    The proposed change for 2018 is much more concise, and because of that conciseness, it is probably not open to any different interpretation.
    You would need a minimum actuator length of 19″ for a 38″ door.

  2. Todd Bushmaker says:

    I don’t get why this should even be an issue. Crossbar-type devices by their nature will always be compliant unless the installer does something dumb (as I’ve seen in an old WW). But is there some engineering or other reason why the push pad type isn’t made longer by default? The manufacturers could easily just make a 20″ pad for a 36″ door (and so on), rather than make it exactly half and force us to debate this question. No penalty for having a longer push pad!

    • Lori says:

      I guess it could be longer but there will always be a door size where the smaller one becomes too small. And the longer-than-necessary touchpad leaves less room for electronics in the bar. And at this point there would be significant cost to make the change.

      – Lori

  3. cda says:

    I do one half the width of the door.

    Have not had the question come up before, now I am going to be measuring doors and actuating portions!!??

    Only time I normally see a problem is with DETEX, and the paddle not being wide enough.

    1985 Uniform Code says ” The activation portion of which extends across at least one half the width of the door leaf on which it is installed””

    Is there anything in the testing or listing, as far as how close to the door edge they have to be installed??

    Maybe look at the wording for panic hardware on balanced doors??? And match it???

    • Lori says:

      Hi Charles –

      If the alarms with the paddle are too short, they probably aren’t listed as panic hardware. When panic hardware is required, the alarm will typically have a longer actuating portion. There is nothing in the codes (currently) about how far from the lock edge the actuating portion has to begin.

      – Lori

  4. Vincent Chestnut says:

    Each sentence mentions the length of the actuating portion, but there is no mention of where the actuating portion should be: towards the hinge or the latch side of the door…
    Does that mean who cares where the actuating portion should be located, or more important that the width of the actuating portion be one half the width of the door leaf?

    • Lori says:

      You are right. I’m guessing nobody has thought to add that because having the actuating portion on the hinge side would not be very functional.

      – Lori

  5. David Moyer says:

    Regarding a previous comment, the crossbar-type devices are indeed always compliant with pushbar width requirements, but have fallen out of favor for various legitimate reasons, including they’re easy to chain closed (creating a barricade as at Virginia Tech). The pushpad device is the preferred modern device.

    From a product engineering and marketing standpoint, only two touchpad lengths are produced in quantity – 18″ (for doors up to 36″ wide) and 24″ (for doors up to 48″ wide). These 2 lengths reduce the number of items a manufacturer makes and stocks. It also reduces the number of products a distributor carries in stock.

    Why is 18″ pushpad width “magical” (vs, say, 20″)? Consider a wide chassis device with an 18″ pushpad: The wide-body chassis is about 4.5″ wide and the tailpiece requires about 1.5″ of door width on the hinge side. Adding the lengths, 4.5″ wide chassis + 18″ touchbar + 1.5″ wide tailpiece = 24″. So the exit device with the 18″ touchpad can be used on a door as small as 24″ wide. Though doors in the 24″-28″ width are uncommon these days (thanks to ADA requirements), they are not unheard of – especially for doorways sized to move equipment. Exit devices with the 18″ touchpad can be used on doors from 24″ – 36″ wide and exit devices with the 24″ touchpad can be used on doors up to 48″ wide. The big 3 manufacturers (Allegion, ASSA Abloy, and dormakaba/Stanley) can produce special touchpad lengths as special order custom products, but usage is extremely low (and cost high).

    Hope this helps explain the rationale for touchpad length.

    As for the proposed 2018 life safety code language: No offense, but I think it is wordy. It should be concise, IMO. Consider these variations:

    It shall consist of a cross bar or a push pad, with the length of the actuating portion not less than one-half of the door leaf width.

    -OR- (since crossbar devices inherently meet requirements and only the modern pushpad devices have the issue)

    It shall consist of a cross bar or a push pad having the length of the actuating portion not less than one-half of the door leaf width.

  6. Nicole Deschler says:

    When it comes to panic hardware, considering the details is essential. It’s true that touchpad length does make a difference and that everything that you install needs to be in compliance with current safety standards.

Leave a Reply