This post was published in Door Security + Safety


A delayed egress locking system is a type of electrified hardware designed to keep a door locked in the direction of egress for 15 seconds, or 30 seconds where allowed by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  Typically, this application is used to deter unauthorized egress and/or theft.  To ensure life safety while delaying the egress of building occupants, current codes include requirements for emergency release of the system, as well as limitations on where delayed egress locks can be installed (a previous Decoded article addressed these requirements in more detail*).

The code requirements addressing delayed egress have evolved since they were first introduced in the 1981 edition of NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code, and that evolution continued with the 2018 editions of both NFPA 101 and the International Building Code (IBC).  In the 2018 code-development cycle, several important changes were made to the IBC, including modifications to the locations where delayed egress locks are allowed.

The 2018 IBC included a change that allows classroom doors in Group E occupancies to have delayed egress locks, if the classroom has an occupant load of less than 50 people. This provides a code-compliant option for limiting elopement from classrooms with young children or students with special needs.

Past editions of the IBC allow delayed egress locks to be used in all use groups except for assembly, educational, and high hazard occupancies (the NFPA 101 limitations differ).  For the 2018 IBC two code change proposals were approved, which address specific areas in assembly and educational occupancies where delayed egress locks may be used when a jurisdiction adopts the 2018 code.

Delayed egress locks are allowed by the 2018 IBC in the following locations when all of the listed criteria are met:

  • Groups B (business), F (factory and industrial), I (institutional), M (mercantile), R (residential), S (storage), and U (utility).
  • In Group E (educational), delayed egress locks may be installed on doors serving classrooms with an occupant load of less than 50 people. The intent of this code change was to provide a code-compliant option for egress doors serving classrooms with young students or students with special needs, who might attempt to leave the classroom unsupervised.
  • In Group A (assembly) courtrooms where the building is equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system, delayed egress locks may be installed on the exit or exit access doors, but not on the main exit or exit access door. This change ensures that the main entrance/exit is immediately available for egress, but allows doors leading to judges’ chambers, jury areas, and other secondary means of egress to delay passage for 15 seconds, or 30 seconds where approved by the AHJ.

The 2018 IBC allows delayed egress locks to be installed on secondary egress doors serving courtrooms when the building is equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system. Delayed egress locks are not allowed on the courtroom’s main entrance/exit.

For jurisdictions that have not yet adopted the 2018 edition of the IBC, the changes addressing courtrooms and classrooms may be used as the basis for a code-modification request.  While the code modification will require AHJ approval for these jurisdictions, the changes in the 2018 edition could help a code official feel comfortable with the intent of the code and the approval of an application that has already passed through the code development process.

Another change to the 2018 IBC was related to the number of delayed egress locks that a building occupant may encounter within their egress path.  Prior to the 2015 edition, the IBC stated that a building occupant could not be required to pass through more than one door with a delayed egress lock before entering an exit.  This meant that one delayed egress lock could be installed on the door leading to an exit stairwell, and another on the exit discharge door at the bottom of the stairs; the delay on the exit discharge would occur after the building occupant entered the exit and the code only limited the number of delays encountered before entering an exit.

The 2015 edition of the IBC states that the egress path from any point must not pass through more than one door with a delayed egress locking system – that edition does not allow delayed egress locks on both doors referenced in the previous example because the limit applies to the entire egress path.  This edition also includes an exception for Group I-2 and I-3 occupancies, where the egress path can pass through two doors with delayed egress locks if the combined delay does not exceed 30 seconds.  Group I-2 and I-3 occupancies include hospitals, nursing homes, detention centers, and other similar occupancies; note that controlled egress may be a better solution than delayed egress for some I-2 facilities, where allowed by the IBC.

The 2018 edition of the IBC includes a second exception that applies to I-1 and I-4 occupancies that are equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system.  Exception 2 allows the egress path for these facilities to pass through two doors with delayed egress locks – again limiting the total delay to 30 seconds.  Group I-1 occupancies include residential board and care facilities and group homes (among others), and I-4 occupancies include adult and child day care facilities.  Some areas within I-1 facilities are allowed to have controlled egress locks, which may serve the needs of the facility better than delayed egress locks.

The 2018 edition of NFPA 101 includes some slight changes to terminology, and clarifies that when past editions of the code required doors to “unlock” the intent is for the system to be deactivated and allow unobstructed egress; the access side of the door is not typically required to unlock.  A requirement was added for signage to conform to the visual character requirements of ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.  This standard addresses character size and spacing, stroke width, finish and contrast of the sign, as well as the mounting height.  The final change was to add a requirement for new installations of delayed egress locks to be listed in accordance with UL 294 – Standard for Access Control System Units.

It’s important to consider which edition of a model code has been adopted in a project’s jurisdiction, since each edition may mandate slightly different operational requirements for delayed egress locking systems.  State code modifications can also affect the use of these systems.  Refer to the adopted code for detailed information, and direct any questions to the AHJ if assistance is needed.


* Refer to the Decoded article: Delayed Egress vs. Controlled Egress  (or this video) for more detailed information.  The model codes include requirements for delayed egress locks related to:

  • Sprinkler / fire alarm system
  • Occupancy classifications / use groups
  • Emergency system release
  • Power loss
  • Remote release
  • Force and time to activate
  • Release time
  • Audible signal
  • Manual reset
  • Number of delays per egress path
  • Instructional signage
  • Emergency lighting
  • UL 294 listing

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