maglock and fire alarmI have written about this topic from various angles, but this Quick Question keeps coming up:

Is it code-compliant to have an electrified lock that is normally locked on the egress side, if it unlocks automatically upon fire alarm activation?

The short answer:  In most cases, no.

The long answer:

Doors that are part of a required means of egress and doors that are provided for egress purposes must allow free and immediate egress at all times, with a few exceptions.  The International Building Code (IBC) includes the following locations where the egress requirements differ:

  • Places of detention or restraint – This is intended to apply to Group I-3 occupancies, like jails or prisons.  For these facilities where building occupants are not allowed to evacuate during a fire, the IBC includes detailed criteria to help ensure life safety with a defend-in-place strategy.
  • Doors with delayed egress locks – When a door is equipped with a delayed egress lock, the lock may delay egress under normal operation.  The delay is limited to 15 seconds, or 30 seconds where approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  When an attempt to exit is made, the lock must release for egress after the 15/30 second delay, and the lock must release immediately (no delay) upon fire alarm activation and power failure.
  • Controlled egress locks in health care facilities – In health care units where the clinical needs of patients or residents require containment for their safety or security, egress doors may be locked until evacuation is needed.  There are detailed requirements in the model codes including the means of releasing the doors for egress by staff, fire alarm activation, remote release, and power failure.
  • Elevator lobby egress doors – The 2024 edition of the IBC will include a new section addressing fail safe electrified locks on doors serving elevator lobbies.  Some state codes and NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code include similar requirements for these doors, which must unlock upon fire alarm activation and power failure.  In addition, the elevator lobby must have a two-way communication system to allow a building occupant to call an approved, constantly-attended station.

In addition to the examples above, there are a few locations where locks that could prevent egress are allowed by the IBC.  Key-operated locks are allowed for the main entrance doors to a building or tenant space in some occupancies, if the requirements stated in the code are met.  Doors serving unoccupied roofs may be locked to prevent access to the building, and egress doors serving exterior spaces may have double cylinder deadbolts under certain circumstances.  (Click the links for more info on these applications.)

For doors that are not covered in one of these exceptions, the IBC requires doors to unlatch for egress with one releasing motion*, and with no key, special knowledge, or effort.  Latch-releasing hardware must be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor**, and must be operable without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist***.

So back to the original question…if an electrified lockset is installed on a door in a means of egress, is it acceptable for the lock to prevent egress during normal operation as long as it unlocks automatically upon fire alarm activation?  The idea that it’s ok to lock a door in this way is very common, but this is not code-compliant for most locations.  If the door is in a detention center, behavioral health treatment facility, or health care unit where the people receiving care require containment, locked doors in a means of egress may be acceptable.  If a door is equipped with a code-compliant delayed egress lock, egress may be delayed for 15/30 seconds.  If the adopted code allows elevator lobby doors to be locked, and the door in question serves an elevator lobby, the door may be locked if the code requirement are met.

If the door is not installed in one of these locations, or does not meet the criteria listed in the code, an electrified lock that is only unlocked upon fire alarm activation would not be code-compliant.  An AHJ may allow it, but in my experience, that is not common.

Do you have any insight on this type of application?  Share it in the comments!

*The IBC includes an exception for dwelling unit entry doors, where a second releasing motion is allowed.

**Some state codes specify a different allowable range for the mounting height of hardware.

***Most doors are required to comply with the accessibility requirements, but there are some exceptions.

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