Unequal PairLast week’s Fixed-it Friday photo has raised some questions about the best way to handle an unequal-leaf pair…

a) Do both leaves of a pair require panic hardware?

b) Can the small leaf be fixed in place?

c) Is a mullion allowed when one leaf provides less than 32 inches clear?

None of these questions are specifically answered by the model codes, so here are my thoughts.  Please feel free to add yours using the reply box below.

a) The IBC says this regarding panic hardware:  “1010.1.10 Panic and fire exit hardware. Doors serving a Group H occupancy and doors serving rooms or spaces with an occupant load of 50 or more in a Group A or E occupancy
shall not be provided with a latch or lock other than panic
hardware or fire exit hardware.”

NFPA 101 requires panic hardware in the occupancy chapters for certain occupancies – Assembly, Educational, Day Care, and High Hazard.  For example, Chapter 12 – New Assembly Occupancies says this:  “ Any door in a required means of egress from an area having an occupant load of 100 or more persons shall be permitted to be provided with a latch or lock only if the latchor lock is panic hardware or fire exit hardware complying with, unless otherwise permitted by one of the following…”

So…IF panic hardware is required for the pair in the photo, is panic hardware required for both leaves?  The two code sections above do not say that panic hardware is only required if both leaves are required for egress, or if the entire width of the opening is required to provide the needed egress capacity.  The IBC says doors serving these occupancies require panics, and 101 says any door in a required means of egress from these areas require panics.  You could argue that the inactive leaf is not required for egress (if it is not required), but in my experience an AHJ would be looking for panic hardware on both leaves.  I did not see anything in the IBC Commentary or the NFPA 101 Handbook that would support the use of a panic on just one leaf.

b) If the larger leaf of this pair would provide enough egress width to accommodate all of the occupants of the space (here’s how to calculate the occupant load, and here’s more about the egress width), then theoretically you only need a single door and MIGHT be able to replace the small leaf with a stationary sidelite.  The AHJ MIGHT let you fix the small leaf in place with manual flush bolts, particularly if the doors were not in a location where panic hardware was required by code.  If I was going to make this change, I would clear it with the AHJ first.

c) Adding the mullion means that the smaller leaf is no longer available for egress.  If the small leaf is not needed for egress, it might be acceptable to add the mullion, but I would not put panic hardware on the inactive leaf which indicates that it’s a viable means of egress.  If I was not required to put panic hardware on both leaves, and if the large leaf provided enough egress width, and if I wanted to use a rim panic with a mullion for security and ease of maintenance, I would ask the AHJ for permission to use manual flush bolts after demonstrating that the small leaf is not needed.  If he agreed to this solution, I would not install any hardware on the face of the smaller leaf, so building occupants would automatically use the larger leaf for egress.

If I was specifying hardware for these doors and didn’t have a good relationship with the AHJ, my first choice would be to specify panic hardware on both leaves, with no mullion.  This could be two concealed vertical rod panics (I’m avoiding surface vertical rods because of the 10″ flush bottom requirement), or it could be a mortise panic x concealed vertical rod application with an open back strike (to avoid using a coordinator).

If the smaller leaf was so narrow that panic hardware made no sense or couldn’t physically be installed, but the AHJ wanted the full width of the opening for egress width, I would specify a mortise panic on the larger leaf, automatic flush bolts on the smaller leaf, and a coordinator.  This is one of my least-favorite applications because of difficulties keeping it functional over time, but sometimes you don’t have a better option.

Would you specify/supply/install something different? 

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