This article was published in the March 2013 issue of Construction Specifier.  

Schlage AD LockWhen specifying electrified hardware for an access control system, there’s often confusion about which code requirements to follow and what system components are needed.  Because one set of code requirements is titled “Access-Controlled Egress Doors”, a common misunderstanding is that all electrified hardware used with an access control system must comply with this section.

The Access-Controlled Egress Doors section is found in both the International Building Code (IBC) and NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code.  It is typically applied to doors with electromagnetic locks that are released by a motion sensor.  An electromagnetic lock is essentially an electromagnet in a housing mounted on the underside of the door frame head, and a steel armature mounted on the face of the door. When the magnet is energized, it bonds to the armature and locks the door. To allow access or egress, a switch must be provided to de-energize the magnet.  In addition to the motion sensor, the lock must be unlocked by actuation of the fire alarm system, loss of power, and a signal from a push button mounted within 5’ of the door, which unlocks the lock for 30 seconds independent of the access control system.

Mag LockThe 2009 edition of the IBC includes a new section that allows doors with electromagnetic locks to be addressed in another way.  This section is called Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors.  The 2009 edition of NFPA 101 added a similar section, called Electrically Controlled Egress Door Assemblies.  When electromagnetic locks are specified, either the original Access-Controlled Egress Doors section or the new sets of requirements may be used, depending on the application and the edition of the code applied to the project.

What’s different about the new requirements is that the electromagnetic lock may be released by a door-mounted release device instead of a motion sensor and push button.  This door-mounted release device could be panic hardware or a lockset with a request-to-exit (RX or REX) switch, or a bar with an electronic touch sensor.  This section of the code does not require the lock to unlock upon actuation of the fire alarm, but the lock must unlock upon loss of power to the switch in the door-mounted hardware.

Here is a summary of the two sets of requirements, as shown in the 2009 International Building Code (the NFPA 101 requirements are very similar):

1008.1.4.4 Access-Controlled Egress Doors

  • Applies to entrance doors in a means of egress and entrance doors to tenant spaces.
  • Allowed in Use Groups – A (Assembly), B (Business), E (Educational), I-2 (Institutional – Hospitals & Nursing Homes), M (Mercantile), R-1 (Residential – Hotels, Motels, & Boarding Houses), and R-2 (Residential – Apartments & Dormitories).
  • A sensor must be mounted on the egress side to detect an occupant approaching the doors. Doors must unlock upon a signal from the sensor or loss of power to the sensor.
  • Loss of power to the lock must unlock the doors.
  • A manual unlocking device (push button) shall result in direct interruption of power to the lock – independent of the access control system electronics. When the push button is actuated, the doors must remain unlocked for 30 seconds minimum. The push button must include signage stating “Push to Exit” and must be located 40” to 48” vertically above the floor and within 5’ of the doors. Ready access must be provided to the push button.
  • If the building has a fire alarm/sprinkler system/fire detection system, activation of the system must automatically unlock the doors. Doors must remain unlocked until the system has been reset.
  • Entrance doors in buildings with an occupancy in Group A, B, E or M shall not be secured from the egress side during periods that the building is open to the general public.

1008.1.9.8 Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors

  • Applies to doors in a means of egress and doors to tenant spaces. The 2009 IBC includes a limitation to doors “not otherwise required to have panic hardware,” which was removed in the 2012 edition (see below).
  • Allowed in Use Groups – A (Assembly), B (Business), E (Educational), M (Mercantile), R-1 (Residential – Hotels, Motels, & Boarding Houses), and R-2 (Residential – Apartments & Dormitories).
  • The door must be equipped with listed hardware mounted on the door leaf, which incorporates a built-in switch to directly release the electromagnetic lock and unlock the door immediately.
  • The release device must have an obvious method of operation, and must be readily operated with one hand under all lighting conditions.
  • Loss of power to the listed hardware must automatically unlock the door.

When the new section was added to the 2009 IBC, the technical committee made a change to the proposed language which caused some confusion. A limitation to doors that are “not otherwise required to have panic hardware” was included in the 2009 edition, but it appears that this was not the intent. The limitation was removed and the intent clarified in the 2012 edition of the IBC, and as long as the switch in the panic bar releases the mag-lock, a door required to have panic hardware can be equipped with a mag-lock.

In addition to electromagnetic locks, there are several other types of electrified hardware used with access control systems, with varying code requirements.

Electric StrikeControlled Access / Free Egress – This is probably the most common application for doors with access control.  The access control reader limits access, but the door hardware allows free egress at all times, independent of the access control system.  The door hardware may be an electrified lockset, mechanical lockset with electric strike, electrified panic hardware, or other combination which allows free egress.

This hardware is subject to the same requirements as standard mechanical hardware – it must be “readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort” (IBC 2009 – 1008.1.9).  If the door is required to be accessible, the hardware “shall not require tight grasping, tight pinching or twisting of the wrist to operate” (IBC 2009 – 1008.1.9.1),  and it “must be installed 34 minimum and 48 maximum above the finished floor” (IBC 2009 – 1008.1.9.2).  See also NFPA 101 2009 –, which contains similar requirements.

Delayed Egress Locks – When there is a desire to control egress as well as access, delayed egress hardware may be used depending on the occupancy type and other code conditions, such as a requirement for the building to be protected throughout with an automatic sprinkler system / approved automatic smoke or heat detection system.  The delayed egress lock will prevent egress for 15 seconds (or 30 seconds when approved by the AHJ) when initiated by a 15-pound force, but will release immediately upon fire alarm or power failure.  Signage, an audible local alarm, capability of remote release, limitations on the number of delays in an egress route, and emergency lighting are other conditions for use of delayed egress locks.

There are variations between the IBC (2009 – 1008.1.9.7) and NFPA 101 (2009 – in regard to delayed egress locks, for example, the amount of time the activating force may be applied – 1 second for the IBC and 3 seconds for NFPA 101.  In addition, the IBC prohibits the use of delayed egress locks on Assembly, Educational, and High Hazard occupancies, while NFPA 101 has different stipulations for occupancy classifications where delayed egress locks are allowed.

Stair Door with Recessed PanicStairwell Doors Providing Reentry – In most cases, the IBC requires all stair doors that are locked (with the exception of the stair discharge door), to allow re-entry during a fire alarm.  This means that a stair door that would normally be kept locked on the stair side for security purposes will be unlocked during a fire so that a building occupant can leave the stair if it becomes compromised, and seek another exit.  These unlocked stair doors also allow firefighters access to each floor.  The 2003 edition of the IBC allows mechanical locks on the stair side of doors serving 4 stories or less, but this exception has been removed from the later editions.

To meet the stairwell reentry requirements, fail safe locks are installed, which allow free egress to the stair at all times, and can be remotely controlled from the fire command center or the fire alarm system to allow access from the stair side.  These fail safe locks remain latched when they are unlocked, as required for fire doors.  NFPA 101 (2009 – has slightly different requirements for stairwell re-entry from the IBC (2009 – 1008.1.9.10 and 403.5.3), including an exception which allows stairs serving 4 stories or less to be mechanically locked on the stair side, and a set of conditions called “Selected Reentry.”  These would only be applied to buildings where NFPA 101 is the prevailing code, as the IBC does not include these provisions.

Elevator Lobby Doors – When an elevator lobby does not have direct access to a stairwell, egress through the tenant space to an exit may be required.  The 2009 edition of NFPA 101 addresses this in a new section – Elevator Lobby Exit Access Door Assemblies Locking.  The IBC does not have a separate section pertaining to the locks on elevator lobbies, but states, “Elevator lobbies shall have at least one means of egress complying with Chapter 10 and other provisions within this code” (IBC 2009 – 708.14.1).  One way of providing egress in compliance with Chapter 10 of the IBC is to use delayed egress locks, but this application reduces security and requires signage that can be confusing when mounted on a door that is typically used for entrance to the tenant space.  Some state and local codes have adopted requirements for elevator lobby doors which are more similar to the NFPA 101 requirements.

Existing DoorsHealth Care Special Egress Locks – The 2009 editions of the IBC (1008.1.9.6) and NFPA 101 ( contain new requirements pertaining to the locking of egress doors in certain units within health care facilities, where the clinical needs of those receiving care require such locking.  The new sections describe locks which unlock upon actuation of the fire alarm / sprinkler system / power failure, are capable of being unlocked remotely, and can be unlocked by clinical staff at all times.  Before installing these systems, the requirements of the Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must be considered.

As you can see, the applications that are actually classified as Access-Controlled Egress Doors are quite limited.  When considering which code requirements to follow, first identify which category the hardware falls into, and refer to the applicable section.  This summary is not intended to provide complete information about each of the types of access control doors referenced.  For more information, refer to the referenced codes, or the related articles on  Keep in mind that state or local requirements could differ from those of the IBC or NFPA 101, so it’s important to be aware of the codes in your project’s jurisdiction. Refer to the published codes for the detailed code requirements, and consult the Authority Having Jurisdiction for more information about the local codes.

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