Printed from the blog of Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI
Allegion
Email: lori_greene@allegion.com, Blog: www.idighardware.com or www.ihatehardware.com


Sep 11 2018

QQ: Break-Glass Switches

I’ve received this question many times over the years…

Can a break-glass switch be used to unlock a door in the means of egress?

The short answer – probably not.

According to the International Building Code (IBC), “egress doors shall be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort.”  NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code includes very similar language.  Although there are some exceptions to that requirement, most required egress doors and doors intended for egress must comply.  Breaking the glass in order to activate a switch to unlock the door for egress would be considered special knowledge and effort.

When an egress door is equipped with an electromagnetic lock, the IBC and NFPA 101 include sections that address two different releasing methods.  One is where the lock is released by a switch in door-mounted hardware, and by power failure; this application does not require an auxiliary push-button or fire-alarm release.  The other method is where the lock is released by a motion sensor which detects a building occupant approaching the door.  In addition to the sensor, this application also requires the lock to be unlocked by power failure, fire alarm activation, and by an auxiliary push button.  The IBC requirements for the push button state that “ready access” to the button must be provided; a button behind a glass panel would not comply.  Here is the applicable paragraph from the IBC:

The doors shall be arranged to unlock from a manual unlocking device located 40 inches to 48 inches (1016 mm to 1219 mm) vertically above the floor and within 5 feet (1524 mm) of the secured doors. Ready access shall be provided to the manual unlocking device and the device shall be clearly identified by a sign that reads “PUSH TO EXIT.” When operated, the manual unlocking device shall result in direct interruption of power to the lock—independent of other electronics—and the doors shall remain unlocked for not less than 30 seconds.

NFPA 101 includes a similar section regarding the auxiliary push button, and states that “the manual release device shall be readily accessible.”  It’s possible that a code official could approve a modification to these codes for a specific location, but that is not a common occurrence.

Can you think of any locations where a break-glass switch would be allowed to unlock an egress door in the direction of egress? 

(If you have any trouble leaving a comment, please send me an email and tell me what happened.  We’re trying to troubleshoot the commenting system.)

 

Thank you to Mark Trittipo of Advant Solutions for the photos!

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9 Responses to “QQ: Break-Glass Switches”

  1. Gary A Huizen says:

    Just looking at the available picture I would say no.
    Unless they have special approval it appears to need DEL on the doors.
    The aluminum door looks to be on the ingress side?

  2. Jim Elder says:

    I have used a pull station cover for emergency exit from an elevator lobby, with approval by the AHJ. I would believe this would probably be unacceptable today.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Jim –

      Was it the kind of cover that you just lift or was there something else required to move the cover and access the button? I don’t mind the covers that lift up.

      – Lori

      • Jim Elder says:

        This is the Stopper unit I used at that time. We connected the output to the security system. Lifting the cover sounded a local and remote alarm. Seeing’s how these are used on fire alarm pull stations (one motion), I figured that the AHJ would not have a problem with it. The station was customized blue with a white letters “Lift and Push to Release door Alarm will sound”. Opening the covers reveals this key reset pushbutton.
        No timers are necessary because the button is locked in until security arrives and resets it with a key.

  3. Peter Schifferli says:

    How about where the button is covered by a “lift here” cover like the STI Stopper Station? https://www.sti-usa.com/series/stopper-stations/

    • Lori says:

      Hi Peter –

      I don’t have a problem with the covers that you just lift. An AHJ could disagree, but to me that’s ready access. It shouldn’t require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting.

      – Lori

  4. Jack Ostergaard says:

    Years ago we used break glass switches on a two way swing set of cross corridor doors with mag locks in a high school. Eye roll? – As I said it was years ago. The problem was the kids were attracted to the silver hammers dangling in front of the glass. These became want-to-have neck wear for the goth set. Replacements disappeared the same day. Eventually replaced with wooden stick.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Jack –

      I can totally see that happening! One of my little brothers (I have 4) used to think it was fun to remove anything he could unscrew or otherwise detach at school – switch plates, parts of the desks, stuff in the bathroom…anything that was attached. He finally outgrew it, but yeesh!

      – Lori

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