In today’s post on iDigHardware, Mark Kuhn addresses an application that I have questioned myself.  When a stairwell door unlocks (or is always unlocked) to allow building occupants to leave the stairwell if it becomes compromised during a fire, what happens next?  The codes do not specifically state that the doors between the compromised stair and another exit are also unlocked to allow free passage, although in my opinion, that is the intent.  Mark shares a great real-life example…WWYD?  ~Lori

P.S. I also know what it’s like to be the bad guy, except in my case I have been called names like the “Anti-Fairy Godmother.”


Stairwell DoorwayA big part of my job is what I call “being the bad guy.”  Let me explain.   As a hardware consultant I attend a lot of project planning meetings, where the owner tells the architect and myself exactly how they want the doors to function.  Sometimes this can be a general overview, sometimes the owner only cares about a handful of “important doors,” and sometimes we look at every door in the building.

At some point during this meeting, the owner will often suggest a door function that violates an egress code and it’s my job to say, “You can’t do that.”  This is when I become the BAD Guy!  When presented with the specific section of the code they would be violating and a short explanation of the intent of the code requirement, we typically come up with a code-compliant solution.  Some of these roadblocks are clear-cut and there’s no work-around, while with others we find a solution that is palatable to everyone.

A typical conversation will go like this:

Me: “You can’t lock that door.”  (stating the reason why)

Owner: “But I want to.”

Me: “Well, you can delay it or alarm it, but you can’t lock it.”

You get the idea….and I literally have this same conversation on a weekly basis.  🙂

However, there are those rare occasions when the owner of a building, even when faced with the fact that the desired application will violate the building code, will look for a way around the requirement.  Today’s WWYD is just one of those cases.  Like the old Dragnet line: “The story you’re about to hear is true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

We have a stairwell door (A) and according to Section 1010.2.7 of the 2021 International Building Code (IBC), this door must be openable from both sides without a key or special knowledge or effort.  This set of requirements is typically called stairwell reentry.  There are 5 exceptions to this code requirement and the only one that could possibly apply in this case would be Exception 3.  I presented the option of Exception 3 and explained exactly how the door would function:

  • The door is normally closed and locked.
  • Entry by card reader on stairwell side.
  • Free egress at all times into the stairwell.
  • The lever handle on the stairwell side will unlock upon loss of power or a signal from fire command center.

We all agreed about the function right up until the last point.  For security reasons, the owner didn’t want the door to unlock to allow building occupants to leave the stairwell and enter the tenant floor.  So I explained “I don’t write the code, I just interpret it” (another line that I repeat on a weekly basis) and we moved on.

A few weeks later, I was presented with the drawing below.  Although Door A will allow a building occupant to leave the stairwell as required by the IBC, Door B will prevent access to the tenant floor beyond the vestibule.  The intent of the code is that if someone has to leave the stairwell during a fire, they can use another stairwell to continue their means of egress.


Stairwell locking diagram

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