This article was published in Locksmith Ledger, and a follow-up article will compare the requirements of the model codes for controlled egress applications. This comparison is especially important in jurisdictions where both codes are used – typically the most stringent requirements would apply.
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For most doors in a means of egress, the model codes require building occupants to be able to exit freely, with one releasing motion to unlatch the door and without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or effort. Delayed egress locking systems are one exception to that rule. This electrified hardware delays egress for 15 seconds, or 30 seconds where approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). The model codes include other required methods of immediately releasing these locks for egress, in order to balance life safety with security.
Common applications for delayed egress locks include retail stores where they are used to deter theft, school classrooms where they are now allowed in order to address concerns about elopement, and courtrooms where secondary exits could otherwise allow access to the judges’ chambers and jury areas. The hardware used in a delayed egress system typically consists of either delayed egress panic hardware or fire exit hardware, an electromagnetic lock with delayed egress circuitry, or a delayed egress controller which delays and then releases an electrified lock.
This article will compare the requirements of the I-Codes, such as the International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC), with the NFPA codes such as NFPA 1 – Fire Code, NFPA 5000 – Building Construction and Safety Code, and NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code. States and local jurisdictions may modify these model codes and requirements may vary from one edition to the next, so it’s crucial to check the adopted codes to verify the requirements for a specific project’s location.
Use group or occupancy classification
I-Codes: Until the 2018 edition of the IBC, delayed egress locks were allowed in all use groups except for A – assembly, E – educational, and H – high hazard. Beginning with the 2018 edition, delayed egress locks are allowed on the secondary exits serving courtrooms (typically assembly occupancies) if the building has a sprinkler system. The 2018 edition also allows delayed egress locks on classroom doors in educational occupancies if the calculated occupant load served by the door is less than 50 people. This gives schools an option if they are looking for a way to prevent elopement of young children or students with special needs.
NFPA: The NFPA codes are less restrictive and allow delayed egress locks in areas of low and ordinary hazard contents, although the Life Safety Code does include some restrictions depending on the occupancy. For example, delayed egress locks are not permitted on the main entrance/exit doors serving assembly occupancies, and they are also prohibited on airport jetway doors. Lodging or rooming houses can only have one door with a delayed egress lock per escape path, and residential board and care facilities are permitted to have delayed egress locks only on exterior doors. The other occupancy classifications are not subject to similar limitations.
Required fire protection system
I-Codes & NFPA: Both sets of model codes require buildings with delayed egress locks to be equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system or approved automatic smoke or heat detection system. This requirement allows either type of system, although the change to the 2018 IBC that applies to courtrooms specifically requires a sprinkler system.
I-Codes & NFPA: Currently, both sets of model codes require the delayed egress timer to begin when a force of 15 pounds is applied for no more than 3 seconds. Prior to the 2015 edition of the IBC, the timer was required to begin after someone attempted to exit for 1 second. The activation time needed to initiate the 15-second (or 30-second) timer is permitted to be less than 3 seconds, but it can not be more than 3 seconds.
Automatic release delay
I-Codes & NFPA: When the timer is activated, the model codes require the delayed egress lock to release in the direction of egress after 15 seconds; the AHJ may approve a time delay of 30 seconds. After that time period, the door will be unlocked in the direction of egress, and another attempt to exit will allow the door to be opened.
Rearming after activation
I-Codes & NFPA: When the timer of a delayed egress lock is activated and the lock allows egress after 15 (or 30) seconds, the model codes require the lock to be manually rearmed. In some codes that were in use prior to the year 2000, the locks were permitted to re-lock automatically after the opening and closing sequence of the door. The intent of the manual rearm is for someone to investigate what triggered the activation of the lock and ensure that it is safe to re-set the delay.
I-Codes & NFPA: Both sets of model codes require an audible alarm to sound when a delayed egress lock is activated, but the codes do not mandate a specific type of alarm. Some products incorporate a continuous alarm while others have an intermittent sound or even a verbal countdown.
I-Codes: Signage must state “PUSH [PULL] UNTIL ALARM SOUNDS. DOOR CAN BE OPENED IN 15  SECONDS.” These signs are required for doors equipped with delayed egress locks (see exception for Group I), mounted above and within 12 inches of the door exit hardware. Beginning with the 2015 edition, signage is required to comply with the visual character requirements of ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. In Group I – institutional occupancies, the AHJ may allow signage to be omitted for certain types of treatment areas.
NFPA: The required text for the signage is the same as the signage required by the I-Codes: “PUSH [PULL] UNTIL ALARM SOUNDS. DOOR CAN BE OPENED IN 15  SECONDS.” The NFPA codes require signage for delayed egress locks to be readily visible, durable, with letters not less than 1-inch high and 1/8-inch stroke with a contrasting background, located on the egress side of the door adjacent to the release device.
Action upon activation of the fire alarm or sprinkler system
I-Codes: When the fire alarm or sprinkler system is activated, the delayed egress locks must automatically allow immediate egress. This ensures that building occupants can exit quickly during a fire.
NFPA: The NFPA codes are more specific than the I-Codes regarding the types of system activation that must unlock the delayed egress locks for egress. These doors must unlock with no delay in the direction of egress upon activation of sprinkler system, or not more than one heat detector, or not more than two smoke detectors.
Action upon power failure
I-Codes & NFPA: When power fails, both sets of model codes require delayed egress locks to unlock immediately in the direction of egress. A common question about delayed egress locking systems is whether battery back-up is allowed in the power supply of the electrified hardware. The model codes do not address this specifically, so it’s often left up to the AHJ to decide whether the delayed egress locks must release upon loss of the main power to the building or if they can continue to delay egress on standby power. However, based on the requirements of NFPA 72 – National Fire Alarm & Signaling Code, I do not recommend using independent battery backup in the power supply of the delayed egress lock. If the fire alarm system and delayed egress locks are powered by two different stand-by power systems, the hardware may not properly interface with the fire alarm after loss of main building power. Using the same stand-by power source for both the fire alarm system and the delayed egress locks is preferred.
I-Codes: To allow immediate egress when necessary, the I-Codes require delayed egress locks to be capable of being deactivated by a switch at the fire command center and/or other approved locations.
NFPA: Remote release is not mandated by the section of the Life Safety Code that addresses delayed egress locks.
I-Codes & NFPA: Emergency lighting is required by both sets of model codes, on the egress side of the door on which a delayed egress lock is installed. It is important to check for the presence of emergency lighting before installing delayed egress hardware.
Quantity of delayed egress locks per egress path
I-Codes: For most use groups, only one delayed egress lock is allowed per egress path. This has changed from past editions of the I-Codes, where a building occupant could only encounter one delayed egress lock before entering an exit. In Group I – institutional occupancies, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and day care facilities, the I-Codes currently allow two doors with delayed egress locks per egress path, with a maximum combined delay of 30 seconds. In Group I-1, Condition 1 and Group I-4, the exception permitting two doors with delayed egress locks mandates that the building is equipped throughout with a sprinkler system.
NFPA: For most occupancy classifications, the NFPA codes do not restrict the number of delayed egress locks per egress path. Only in lodging or rooming houses does the Life Safety Code limit delayed egress locks to one device per escape path.
I-Codes & NFPA: Both sets of model codes currently require delayed egress locking systems to be listed to UL 294 – Standard for Access Control System Units. If a delayed egress lock will be installed on a fire door assembly, it must also be listed to UL 10C – Positive Pressure Fire Tests of Door Assemblies or NFPA 252 – Standard Methods of Fire Tests of Door Assemblies. In addition to the other listings, panic hardware with the delayed egress feature must be listed to UL 305 – Standard for Panic Hardware (both I-Codes & NFPA) and in some cases BHMA A156.3 – Exit Devices (NFPA only).
A future Locksmith Ledger article will cover another electrified hardware application that has some similarities to delayed egress locking systems – controlled egress locks used in health care facilities. For more information about delayed egress locks, refer to the adopted code(s) in the jurisdiction where the building is located, and consult with the AHJ if there are any questions. State or local codes may include modifications to the model code requirements, so it’s important to verify the specific requirements that apply to your project.
IBC sections for Delayed Egress:
- 2021 – 1010.2.13
- 2018 – 1010.1.9.8
- 2015 – 1010.1.9.7
- 2012 – 1008.1.9.7
- 2009 – 1008.1.9.7
NFPA 101 section for Delayed Egress Electrical Locking systems: