This question has come up quite a few times over the years – back when I was writing specifications and more recently from readers:

Can a bedroom door within a suite in a dormitory have a separate deadbolt in addition to the latching hardware? 

Often facility managers in colleges and universities want to add a deadbolt to these bedroom doors for security and privacy.  But are two releasing operations allowed in order to unlatch these doors?

The International Building Code (IBC) and NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code both allow entrance doors to residential dwelling units and sleeping units to have a separate “night latch, dead bolt, or security chain,” in addition to the latching hardware.  This is limited to devices which can be opened from the inside without a key or tool, and the calculated occupant load of the dwelling unit can not be more than 10 people.  In the image above, the entrance door to the suite (lower left) could have a separate deadbolt and be compliant with the model codes.  BUT – are the bedrooms within a suite considered sleeping units?

I’ll use the IBC in my explanation since it has been adopted as the building code in just about every US state; the NFPA 101 requirements are very similar.  Since the separate deadbolt is allowed on the entrance doors to sleeping units (and dwelling units), it comes down to the question of whether a bedroom in a suite is a sleeping unit.  Here are the IBC definitions for the terms sleeping unit and dwelling unit:

SLEEPING UNIT. A single unit that provides rooms or spaces for one or more persons, includes permanent provisions for sleeping and can include provisions for living, eating and either sanitation or kitchen facilities but not both.  Such rooms and spaces that are also part of a dwelling unit are not sleeping units.

DWELLING UNIT. A single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons, including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation.

A dorm suite with a kitchenette would likely be considered a dwelling unit as it would have all of the living spaces referenced in the definition.  Without cooking facilities, it would probably be considered a sleeping unit.  An individual dorm room like the one I lived in at Vermont Technical College would be a sleeping unit – it only had beds, desks, and closets (and a rabbit named Debbie).  Any of these 3 configurations would allow a separate deadbolt on the entrance door to the unit as long as there were no local code modifications affecting these doors.

According to the IBC’s definitions, the bedrooms within the dwelling unit would not be considered sleeping units.  The IBC Commentary supports this interpretation:

The new style of dormitory in colleges consists of two, three or four bedrooms with one or two single occupant bathrooms and a shared living space.  These facilities are considered a sleeping unit. Only where there are full cooking and eating facilities (i.e., a kitchen with a range) within the unit, is the unit considered a dwelling unit. The two-, three- or four-bed-room units operate similar to an apartment.  Considering this group of rooms a sleeping unit clarifies that the provisions in Chapter 7 to separate dwelling or sleeping units allows for this group of rooms to be separated from adjacent groups and the corridors, but does not require the bedrooms to be separated from the associated living room or bathrooms.

I spoke with ICC Staff to confirm, and we both agreed that technically the bedrooms are not sleeping units – therefore, the bedroom doors do not fall into either of the categories of doors that could have the separate deadbolts.  With that said, it might be worth having a discussion with the AHJ – or possibly even proposing a code change – since allowing separate deadbolts on bedroom doors seems like it would be a safe application.  The rooms are inhabited by people who know how to lock and unlock their door, and the occupant load is very low.  Note: This is only my opinion – the AHJ will have to decide.

What do you think?

Image: University of Tennesee – Knoxville, where my kid is a proud Vol!  🙂

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