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Jul 06 2017

Decoded: Access-Controlled Egress Doors (August 2017)

Category: Articles,Egress,Electrified HardwareLori @ 12:04 am Comments (14)

This post was published in the August 2017 issue of Doors & Hardware


An electromagnetic lock is essentially an electromagnet in a housing that is mounted on the door frame, with a steel armature mounted on 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.


This issue continues to arise on a regular basis, so I’m hoping to clarify it once and for all.  The sections entitled “Access-Controlled Egress Doors” – present in both NFPA 101–Life Safety Code and past editions of the International Building Code (IBC), have led some to believe that all doors equipped with access control readers must comply with these sections of the model codes.  Although the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) has the final say on matters of code-compliance, it’s not the intent of the model codes for these sections to apply to all access-control doors or to all doors with electrified hardware.

The requirements of the model codes specific to access-controlled egress doors are essentially the same, but in the 2015 edition of the IBC, the section title was changed to Sensor Release of Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors.  The reason for the change was to help avoid confusion about when this section should be applied.  The corresponding section in NFPA 101 is still called Access-Controlled Egress Doors, but the two sets of requirements are very similar despite the differing section titles.

The code requirements for access-controlled egress doors apply to locks that are unlocked by a sensor which detects an approaching occupant. There are many doors with access control that are not required to comply with this section because the hardware allows free egress without the use of a sensor.

What’s an access-controlled egress door?

These two sections apply to electrically/electromagnetically locked doors, where the lock is released by a sensor detecting an approaching occupant.  The most common type of lock that is used in this application is an electromagnetic lock (AKA mag-lock), but the section could also be used for other types of locks that are released by a sensor – for example, a power bolt.  The key is that the section only applies to locks that are released by a sensor which detects an approaching occupant and unlocks the door.  Most other types of electrified hardware – electromechanical locks, electrified panic hardware, electric strikes – are released by “normal” means, like turning a lever or pushing on the touchpad of the panic hardware.  These are not access-controlled egress doors.

What about mag-locks released by other means?

Not all doors with electromagnetic locks are released by a sensor or required to comply with these sections of the model codes.  Both the IBC and NFPA 101 also include separate sections that apply to electrically/electromagnetically locked doors that are released by door-mounted hardware incorporating a switch to release the electrified lock.  Many locks used for access control are released without the use of a switch, but because mag-locks require a separate release device – a sensor or a switch in the door-mounted hardware – mag-lock applications are typically released by one of these two types of switches.  In NFPA 101, the section for mag-locks released by a switch in the door-mounted hardware is called Electrically Controlled Egress Door Assemblies.  In the IBC, this section is currently called Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors, but beginning with the 2018 edition of the IBC, this section will be called Door Hardware Release of Electrically Locked Egress Doors.

What are the requirements for each of these applications?

To re-cap, applications with electromagnetic locks used for access control typically fall into one of these two categories (not both)*:

  • Electrified/electromagnetic lock released by a sensor that detects an occupant approaching the door and unlocks the door for egress
    • NFPA 101 Section:  Access-Controlled Egress Doors
    • IBC Section:  Sensor Release of Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors (prior to the 2015 edition: Access-Controlled Egress Doors)
    • In addition to unlocking when the sensor detects an approaching occupant, the door must unlock upon:
      • Loss of power to the sensor
      • Loss of power to the lock or locking system
      • Activation of the building fire alarm or automatic sprinkler system, where provided, and the door must remain unlocked until the fire protection system has been reset
      • A manual unlocking device (typically a push button) that is located 40 to 48 inches above the floor and within 5 feet of the door; ready access must be provided to the push button, and the button must be marked “Push to Exit.”  Pushing the button must directly interrupt power to the lock, independent of the other electronics, and the door must remain unlocked for at least 30 seconds.

Electromagnetic locks may be released by door-mounted hardware like a lever handle, panic hardware, or other device equipped with a request-to-exit (REX or RX) switch or an electronic touch sensor.

  • Electrified/electromagnetic lock released by door-mounted hardware that incorporates a switch to immediately release the lock for egress
    • NFPA 101 Section:  Electrically Controlled Egress Door Assemblies
    • IBC Section:  Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors (beginning with the 2018 edition: Door Hardware Release of Electrically Locked Egress Doors)
    • These sections require the following:
      • The hardware mounted on the door must have an obvious method of operation and must be readily operated with one hand and under all lighting conditions.
      • Operation of the hardware must directly interrupt the power to the lock, and the door must unlock immediately.
      • The door must also unlock upon loss of power to the locking system.
      • If panic hardware is required, operation of the panic hardware or fire exit hardware must release the lock.
      • Note that this section does not require the door to unlock upon activation of the fire protection system.

Both of these types of electrified locks – those released by a sensor and those released by door-mounted hardware, must be allowed by the use group or occupancy classification; they are not allowed in every type of building.  Refer to the applicable code for the list of occupancy types where these locks are acceptable, along with specific requirements regarding emergency lighting and the activation of manual fire alarm boxes.  Some editions of the model codes also require the door locking system units to be listed in accordance with UL 294 – Standard for Access Control System Units.

What about other types of locks used for access control?

If an electrified lock in an access control system allows free egress without the use of a sensor or a switch in the door-mounted hardware, it is not required to comply with either of these model code sections.  Because the electrified hardware allows free egress by turning a lever or pushing the touchpad of a panic device, it would be considered a “normal” door as long as it complies with the model code requirements for egress – one-operation to release the latch, releasing hardware mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, and which requires no tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist and no key, tool, special knowledge, or effort to operate.

Many types of electrified hardware used for access control allow free egress without the use of a sensor, so they are not required to comply with the requirements for access-controlled egress doors.

The 2015 IBC Commentary supports this interpretation, stating:

“The functions of an ingress control locking system are not addressed in the codes and are unrelated as long as egress is provided as required or permitted by this section and other applicable provisions of the code.”

State and local codes may vary from what is required by the model codes, so it’s important to check the code requirements for your project’s jurisdiction.  Refer to the model codes for additional information; the IBC Commentary and NFPA 101 Handbook offer explanations to clarify the intent of the codes.  The AHJ may be consulted for assistance with the requirements for a particular location.

* Note that mag-locks may also be used in delayed egress locking systems, controlled egress systems in health care facilities, and fail-safe systems for elevator lobby doors (NFPA 101 and some state/local codes only).  Each of these applications has a separate set of code requirements that would apply instead of the sections discussed in this article.  Electromagnetic locks may also be used on stair doors that must meet the stairwell reentry requirements.  Typically, these doors would comply with either the section for sensor-release or door-hardware release on the egress side of the door (or the delayed egress or controlled egress sections if applicable), and would comply with the stairwell reentry requirements on the stair side.

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14 Responses to “Decoded: Access-Controlled Egress Doors (August 2017)”

  1. Gary J. Bakken, AHC says:

    Well done…I’m always amazed by how many of the Security Contractors I run across that don’t seem to know this and tend to utilize Mag Locks way too much. Although I will say I have seen improvement over the last few years thanks to individuals like yourself whom helps to educate us poor souls and continue to hit upon these different issues.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Gary! Feel free to send a link to any security contractors who need the info. 🙂

      – Lori

    • Jim Elder says:

      I don’t think the problem is the magnetic lock itself. I go back a long way with these devices (right to the inventor). Over the years, I can say unequivocally that its the design of the locking system; not the lock itself. I have mag locks installed on residence halls that have been functioning reliably since 1983; but I designed the entire door system (door, frame, reinforcements, circuit, etc) around the lock and I would guarantee that does not normally happen. As a result, mag locks get a bad rap and in some locals are simply not permitted. Now, I personally do not use mag locks much (particularly for perimeter doors), but I would submit that when designed properly, they are safe, reliable and will provide years of service. This assumes that the end user can accept the intrinsic operational issues that come with the devices; i.e. fail safe, fire alarm release and the 30 second release button next to the door.

  2. Don Hicks says:

    Lori, you have a gift for making technical writing look easy. I know it is not….
    Hopefully the new names for different sections will make it easier to explain to our customers.

    Just one thing to check out (purely grammatical): on the very last line of your article, did you accidentally omit “with” between “comply” and “the”? As in, “and would comply with the stairwell reentry requirements on the stair side.”

    Thank you for sharing your gift of technical writing with us.

  3. David Federico says:

    Hey Lori
    What an excellent article . I will be passing this on to many of my associates. It really does simplify the understanding of the operation.
    Thanks again.

  4. Louise says:

    Hi Lori. I was reading about some states specifying red vs. green, one place allow orange.
    Someday, when you have nothing else to do, would you address the green vs. red EXIT signs and vs. the green running man sign.
    Also, international understanding of red means stop or danger and green means safety.

    (I’ve got to find something better for my summer reading list)

  5. Louise says:

    oops, didn’t mean to imply that you’re off my summer reading list. I meant extracurricular reading.

  6. Jay says:

    Thank you for helping to decipher the complexities of the language in the code. I am looking for information on the following scenario, though, and I don’t see that it is possible. A long corridor used for egress has public / tenant spaces and private / building spaces on either side of it. The private building spaces are all at the end of the corridor, just before the exit door. The owner wants to put double doors in the corridor, just before the private building spaces start, to keep the general public out of the “back of the house” areas, and put access control on the doors. The double doors swing towards the exit, which is towards the private building areas. The access control would fail safe and allow egress in the event of a fire or power loss. From everything I’ve read, the code will require a RQE device or button or sensor that allows free exit through the doors (egress doors), no matter what — thereby rendering the access control pointless. The best we can hope for is the AHJ allowing a delayed egress lock and hoping the public gets the hint. Is this the case or am I missing something?

    Thanks, in advance, for any insight.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Jay –

      From the layout you’re describing it sounds like your only options would be delayed egress locks (if allowed in the occupancy type) or exit alarms. The two code sections for mag-locks will allow free egress from the public space toward the exit, so they won’t help. Doors in a means of egress can’t have locks which only unlock to allow egress when the fire alarm is actuated – the exception would be controlled egress locks in a health care unit where the patients require containment for their safety.

      – Lori

  7. Jay says:

    Sigh. Thanks for the second set of eyes. I wish the code would address security needs instead of just egress needs for the lost and panicking.

    Enjoy your day.

    – Jay

  8. Chris says:

    Great article Lori! I have a question for you – would a touchless actuator (such as a BEA MS08) suffice in lieu of the green push to exit button for the manual unlocking device for an access controlled egress door? We often see these installed in Hospitals due to hygiene concerns.

  9. Jim says:

    I just listened to an NFPA webinar indicating the forthcoming 101 code will similarly change the name of the section “Access-Controlled Egress Doors” due to this same confusion. They are also including safety issues due to “unwanted intruder” scenarios and have fast tracked NFPA 3000 to deal with such emergencies, but some will make their way into 101. Thanks for the article.

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