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:
- Assembly occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more*
- Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more
- 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:
- Assembly occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more**
- Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more
- Day care occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more
- 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:
- Where equipment is 800 amps or more and contains overcurrent devices, switching devices, or control devices
- Where equipment is 600 volts or more
- 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.
*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.