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Apr 19 2015

Decoded: Double-Egress Pairs in a Health Care Occupancy (June 2015)

Category: Articles,Egress,Fire Doors,Health CareLori @ 8:05 pm Comments (20)

Thank you to everyone who expressed concern over my father’s time in hospice last week.  He passed away on Thursday.  I will be out most of this week for travel and his services, but I will post if I can.  Here is my next article for D&H.

This post was published in the June 2015 issue of Doors & Hardware

[Click here to download the reprint of this article.]

Double Egress PairSmoke barriers are designed and constructed to restrict the movement of smoke, and are used to subdivide a building into smaller smoke compartments. In health care facilities, patients can be moved from one smoke compartment to another, to be protected by the smoke barrier until they are able to be evacuated.

The International Building Code (IBC) requires smoke barriers to have a 1-hour fire resistance rating, with the exception of steel smoke barriers in Group I-3 buildings (detention and correctional occupancies). According to the IBC table entitled, Opening Fire Protection Assemblies, Ratings, and Markings (Table 716.5 in the 2015 edition), a 1-hour smoke barrier is required to have a 20-minute-rated door, which is tested and certified to provide protection for a minimum of 20 minutes.

There is an IBC exception regarding smoke barrier doors that has to be one of the most confusing and widely debated door-related sections in the code. In the 2015 edition, Section 709.5 Exception 1 exempts smoke barrier doors in some health care occupancies from the requirements that apply to smoke barriers in other locations. The occupancies in the exception are Group I-1 Condition 2 (buildings where there are people receiving care who require limited verbal or physical assistance in order to evacuate), Group I-2 (including hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, foster care facilities, and detox facilities), and ambulatory care facilities. These occupancy types were modified in the 2015 edition.

In these locations, smoke barrier doors are not required to be fire door assemblies. The exemption from the fire rating applies to pairs of “opposite-swinging doors” installed across a corridor – commonly called double-egress pairs. The 2015 edition of the IBC clearly states that these doors are not required to be protected in accordance with Section 716 – in other words, they are not required to be opening protectives, also known as fire door assemblies. Previous editions of the IBC did not specifically state this.

The doors are required to be automatic-closing, actuated by smoke detection, and must be “close fitting within operational tolerances.” Louvers, grilles, and center mullions are not allowed, and undercuts are limited to 3/4-inch. The frame must have stops at the head and jambs, and the doors must have astragals at the meeting edges or rabbeted meeting stiles to help slow the spread of smoke. These doors are also required to have a vision panel with fire-protection-rated glazing in fire-protection-rated frames.

By adding the requirements related to clearances, glazing, and automatic-closing devices, the code has taken a door without a fire label, and turned it into a door that will likely behave like a 20-minute door. And what about positive-latching, which is a requirement for fire doors? The 2003 and 2006 editions of the IBC specifically state in this section: “Positive-latching devices are not required.” In the 2009 edition, this was changed to, “Where permitted by the door manufacturer’s listing, positive-latching devices are not required.” But if these doors are not fire rated, what “listing” is the code referring to? This section also limits the glazing – “the area of which shall not exceed that tested.” Again, what test?

The 2015 edition of NFPA 101 requires doors in this location to be “substantial doors, such as nonrated 1 ¾-inch think, solid-bonded wood-core doors, or shall be of construction that resists fire for a minimum of 20 minutes.” Other requirements include:

  • Protective plates of any size, without a listing, are permitted.
  • A pair of swinging doors or a horizontally sliding accordion door or folding door assembly may be used.
  • Swinging doors must be double-egress pairs – each leaf swinging in the opposite direction.
  • Minimum clear width of swinging doors ranges from 32 inches for a 6-foot corridor to 41 ½ inches for an 8-foot corridor (consult NFPA 101 for sliding door requirements).
  • Clearance at the bottom of the door is limited to ¾-inch.
  • A single door is allowed if the door is not in a required means of egress from a health care space.
  • Doors must be self-closing or automatic-closing.
  • Latching hardware is not required.
  • Head and jamb stops are required on the frame.
  • The meeting edges must be rabbeted, beveled, or equipped with astragals.
  • Center mullions are prohibited.
  • Vision panels are required, consisting of fire-rated glazing in approved frames, with the bottom of at least one vision panel in each leaf at a maximum height of 43 inches above the floor.

While NFPA 101 is clearer and does not include some of the conflicting language that is currently in the IBC, questions remain. Why are health care occupancies exempt from the requirements for 20-minute doors and positive latching that must be supplied for openings in other smoke barrier locations? Why do the codes remove the requirement for a label, and then describe almost all of the requirements for a fire door assembly?

A health care occupancy is a location where the protection of a fire door assembly is most needed, as many occupants may not be able to evacuate. Latching hardware is readily available that can interface with the fire alarm to provide convenience under normal operation and latch automatically upon fire alarm actuation. A change proposal has been submitted for the 2018 edition of the IBC that would bring back the rating and latching requirements, so we’ll see how this plays out during the code development hearings. For now, labels and latches are not required to meet the IBC and NFPA 101 requirements.

Update:  The code change proposal that would have resulted in a requirement for 20-minute doors with positive-latching hardware was not approved, so the 2018 edition of the IBC will NOT require fire doors or latches for this application.

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20 Responses to “Decoded: Double-Egress Pairs in a Health Care Occupancy (June 2015)”

  1. Eric says:

    Why are vision panels required?

  2. Mike Meredith says:

    God bless your family Lori. May your Dad find peace. Our prayers are with you!

  3. Leonard Bankester says:

    My sympathy and condolences on the passing of your dad.I know from personal experience it is a great feeling of loss when you lose your parents.

  4. Chuck Noble says:

    Good article.
    The IBC is confusing in this particular matter.

    It is my NFPA understanding that the wall has to be constructed as a 1 hour fire separation wall.
    However, because health-care workers are trained to ” Defend in Place”, and heath-care floors are required to have two smoke compartments, then the doors are smoke doors.

    In case of a fire or smoke emergency, the staff needs to evacuate the patients as quickly as possible to the other smoke compartment. When PULLING the patients Stryker bed, the nurse uses her back-side to open the door and then the door closes behind them. Latching hardware actually interferes with the egress of the patients.

    The NFPA-101,2000 required that the clearance between the doors needed to 1/8″ or less. This was required for both wood and steel doors.
    The NFPA-101,2012 states “per the NFPA-80″, which will allow 3/16” clearance for steel doors.

  5. H. M. KANG says:

    Doors in the picture don’t have ADB or Threshold for sealing of the bottom.
    Doesn’t it have any trouble?

  6. Tom Breese says:

    Don’t see this door type included very often, and they’re always a bit confusing because of unclear requirements in the code, e.g. seal @ bottoms, what degree of resistance to opening (blow-open) if pressure differential, what smoke infiltration standard, etc. Could be wrong on this approach, but I use non-labeled frames, doors, top-latching non-fire-rated panic hardware less dogging, and bottom seals. Likely, that exceeds code intent, but then again I don’t want to be in the box answering “Why didn’t you…?” should property damage have occurred, or someone was injured (or worse).

  7. Steve Harris says:

    OK. Now, try to lock them electrically. (No, you can’t use maglocks because the clients physically attack the doors and they wrack).

    • Lori says:

      Hi Steve –

      If you’re locking them from the egress side as allowed in the new(ish) controlled egress section, the only applications I can think of are mag-locks (I hear you on the damage) or you can use a concealed vertical rod Chexit with infinite delay. The disadvantage of this is that there are bottom latches and floor strikes – you could do less-bottom-rod but you might have the same problem as with the mag-locks. To meet the controlled egress requirements, the Chexit can be supplied with no alarm, no timer, and it only releases upon fire alarm or when a staff member unlocks it. This is not allowed for all types of units, but it might work for you depending on your application. There’s more information about controlled egress here: It was called “special egress” instead of “controlled egress” when I wrote the article.

      – Lori

      – Lori

  8. Steve Harris says:

    Thanks Lori,
    We have used “special locking arrangements” as you described, in the past, but I’m afraid that conventional CVR devices will not stand up to the abuse that the doors in question get. This is a problem that I have seen developing over the past several years. Certain I-2 and I-3 clientele have become increasingly abusive to their environment. I am not talking about Healthcare Institutions where white-garbed nurses wheel patients around on gurneys. These are “places of detention and restraint”. Grade 1 mortise locks are marginally adequate, and exit devices, if used at all, are scarce. We are asked to make double egress doors in a smoke barrier also serve as security doors.
    Interestingly, LSC, 2012 makes exception for door swing in the direction of egress travel in Ch. 19, which would allow a single door, (and therefore it could be secured), but not in Ch. 18, New Healthcare. Unless otherwise specified in and, swinging fire door assemblies shall be permitted in
    horizontal exits, provided that the criteria of both
    and (2), or the criteria of both and (3), are met as
    (1) The door leaves shall swing in the direction of egress travel.
    (2) In other than sleeping room areas in detention and correctional
    occupancies, where a horizontal exit serves areas
    on both sides of a fire barrier, adjacent openings with
    swinging door leaves that open in opposite directions
    shall be provided, with signs on each side of the fire barrier
    identifying the door leaf that swings with the travel
    from that side.
    (3) The door assemblies shall be of any other approved arrangement,
    provided that the door leaves always swing with any possible egress travel. The requirements of shall not apply to
    horizontal exit door leaf swing as provided in Chapters 19 and 23.

    Thanks again – Steve

  9. Terry says:

    Does a cross corridor door in a health care facility that is in a smoke barrier which would not have to be a rated door have to have a rated frame and glazing?

    • Lori says:

      Hi Terry –

      Typically the door frame would not have to be labeled if the door does not have to be rated, but the glazing and the frame around the glazing are required to be listed. I can find the other references for you if you need them, but here’s the one from NFPA 101-2012 for new health care facilities:* Vision panels consisting of fire-rated glazing in approved frames shall be provided in each cross-corridor swinging door and at each cross-corridor horizontal-sliding door in a smoke barrier. Vision panels in doors in smoke barriers, if provided, shall be of fire-rated glazing in approved frames.

      – Lori

  10. Terry says:


    I asked someone about unrated smoke partition in patient room doors and even the corridor walls are named (unrated smoke partition) in a new health care facility is this something new because all of the other patient rooms that are on the other prints for the older buildings are not label anything just corridor doors.

    I can’t find (unrated smoke partition) in NFPA 101 life safety code 2012 all I see is smoke partition and under smoke partition opening protectives it says that the doors have to have closers, clearances have to meet the requirements of the NFPA 80. I know there is something I’m missing I would appreciate any help I can get on this I have seen on your website idighardware were you put a lot of information on there about smoke doors I just don’t understand what I’m looking at I guess.

    I hope I am explaining in a way that you understand what I am needing for you to help me with.

    This is what he wrote me back Does this sound correct to you?
    Corridor walls are usually called smoke resistive partitions (probably what you see as an “unrated smoke partition”. In fully sprinkled hospitals, corridor walls can stop at the ceiling when there is a good lay-in ceiling on both sides of the wall (If not, the walls must go up).

  11. Terry says:

    would the door frame need to be labeled in cross corridors serving as a smoke barrier, double egress, non latching, in existing healthcare or new healthcare and if so were could I find it in NFPA 101.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Terry –

      No, the door frame would not need to be labeled, IMO. I just took another look at 101-2012, and I don’t see anything that would mandate a label. The AHJ may not interpret this the same way…let me know if that happens.

      – Lori

  12. Terry says:

    Thank you Lori you have been the best help.

  13. Terry says:

    Hi Lori,
    I have a question about smoke barrier doors, I know that a pair of cross corridor doors in a health care facility does not have to have latching hardware, but my question is if you have a pair of doors in a corridor wall that is in a smoke barrier that are double doors that swinging in the same direction (single egress) would they have to have latching hardware? Do you have any information from the NFPA 101 2012 and IBC 2015.

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