This is an update to a previous article because the 2017 NEC has changed the requirements for panic hardware on electrical rooms. If anyone has photos of an electrical room door with panic hardware (preferably an Allegion product), I’d love to use them for the new article, since I used the photos below for the original article.


This post will be published in the February 2018 issue of Doors & Hardware

Many codes and standards are updated on a 3-year cycle and then adopted by the jurisdictions at a later date; this makes it difficult to keep up with which requirements apply to a particular project at a specific point in time. Staying current on the codes is further complicated by the fact that there are dozens (hundreds?) of codes and standards that may include something related to doors and hardware. It’s even more confusing when adopted codes and referenced standards contain inconsistent requirements, typically with one set more stringent than the other.

NFPA 70 – National Electrical Code (NEC) has been adopted by most US states, and includes requirements for panic hardware or fire exit hardware on certain rooms housing electrical equipment; the voltage and amperage thresholds that determine which rooms require panic hardware were changed in the 2017 edition of this code. The International Building Code (IBC) also includes a paragraph addressing panic hardware on electrical rooms, but since the NFPA 70 requirements are more restrictive, these doors must typically comply with the NEC. It’s important to know which edition of the NEC applies to the project in question, as the panic-hardware requirements have changed several times over the last 15 years.

The 2002 edition of NFPA 70 was the first edition to include a requirement for some electrical rooms to have doors that open in the direction of egress and to be “equipped with panic bars, pressure plates, or other devices that are normally latched but open under simple pressure.”  This change was motivated by injuries and even fatalities caused by accidents within rooms housing electrical equipment, which left the technicians unable to open the door to escape.

The original terminology used to describe the hardware for some electrical room doors was not very specific, leaving it open to interpretation.  “Simple pressure” would typically be an operation in the direction of egress to release the latch, rather than turning a knob or lever.  By this definition, a hospital latch or paddle-type release could be considered devices that are normally latched but open under simple pressure, but because the words “panic bar” were used, many code officials interpreted the requirement to mandate panic hardware.

The 2002 edition (Article 110) requires hardware that operates with simple pressure for rooms housing equipment with more than 1200 amperes (amps) or more than 600 volts, and for transformer vaults.  In the 2005 edition, a slight change was made with regard to room size requirements, and the 2008 edition added language that would require this hardware if the door was within 25 feet of the nearest edge of the required working space around the electrical equipment.  The 2011 edition added some specifics for electrical vaults, including a requirement for a 3-hour-rated fire door, with the same description of the hardware – panic bars, pressure plates, or other devices that are normally latched but open under simple pressure.

In the 2014 edition of the NEC, several sections were changed to require “listed panic hardware” instead of devices that open under simple pressure. Listed panic hardware is listed to UL 305 – Standard for Panic Hardware.

This edition also changed the voltage and amperage limits which mandate panic hardware on rooms housing such equipment. Personnel doors within 25 feet of the working space and intended for entrance and egress are required by the 2014 edition of NFPA 70 to have listed panic hardware:

  • where equipment is 800 amps or more and contains overcurrent devices, switching devices, or control devices (Section 110.26 (C) (3)),
  • where equipment is 600 volts or more (Section 110.33 (A) (3)), and
  • on doors serving battery rooms (Section 480.9 (E)).

The sections of the 2014 edition that address electrical vaults (Section 110.31 (A)), transformer vaults (Section 450.43 (C)), and modular data centers (Section 646.19) still included the vague language: Personnel doors shall swing out and be equipped with panic bars, pressure plates, or other devices that are normally latched but that open under simple pressure.” 

The 2017 edition of NFPA 70 has changed these requirements once again. In jurisdictions where the 2017 edition has been adopted, personnel doors intended for entrance/egress, less than 25 feet from the nearest edge of the working space, must be outswinging and equipped with listed panic hardware when serving the following rooms:

  • Rooms housing equipment of 1000 volts, nominal, or less, with equipment rated 800 amps or more that contains overcurrent devices, switching devices, or control devices (Section 110.26 (C) (3))
  • Rooms housing equipment of more than 1000 volts, nominal (Section 110.33 (A) (3))*
  • Transformer Vaults (Section 450.43 (C))*
  • Battery Rooms (Section 480.10 (E))
  • Energy Storage Systems (ESS Rooms) (Section 706.10 (D))

* These doors must also be equipped with locking hardware and kept locked on the outside, allowing access only to qualified people (>1000 volts – Section 110.31 (A) (4), transformer vaults – Section 450.43 (C)).

Section 646.19 addresses personnel doors serving modular data centers. If the equipment is more than 6 feet wide or 6 feet deep, there must be a door at each end of the working space, providing entrance to and egress from the required working space. The door must be at least 24 inches wide and 78 inches high, and must be outswinging and equipped with panic bars, pressure plates, or other devices that are normally latched but open under simple pressure. Refer to the NEC for an exception that would allow one door instead of two if certain criteria are met.

In order to specify, supply, and/or install panic hardware on the proper doors, verify which edition of the National Electrical Code applies to the project, and then refer to that edition for the specifics. There are still a couple of FAQs which are not addressed by the NEC. One is whether panic hardware is required on one leaf of a pair of doors serving these rooms, or both leaves of the pair. Another question is in reference to “extra doors” that are not required by code but may be used by the technician. I tend to go with panic hardware on both leaves of the pair and also on the extra doors to avoid problems in the field, but the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) should be consulted for the official answer.

Thank you to Nathan Burkhardt of Opening Technologies for the photos!

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