White door and panic against white wallLast week’s Quick Question about the accessibility requirements related to hardware finish brought up a related reoccurring question:

Do the model codes require a certain amount of contrast between the releasing hardware and the door, so the hardware is distinguishable for egress purposes?

The quick answer is that neither the I-Codes  nor the NFPA codes specifically address the color or finish of the hardware, or whether the hardware finish contrasts with the door.  However, the model codes require egress doors to be easily recognizable.


1010.1 General…Doors in the means of egress shall be readily distinguishable from the adjacent construction and finishes such that the doors are easily recognizable as doors. Mirrors or similar reflecting materials shall not be used on means of egress doors.

NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code:* Exit access and exit doors shall be designed and arranged to be clearly recognizable.
A.  Doors that lead through wall paneling, and that harmonize in appearance with the rest of the wall to avoid detracting from some desired aesthetic or decorative effect, are not acceptable, because casual occupants might not be aware of such means of egress even though it is visible.

(Both of the above sections also include information regarding curtains or draperies that conceal or cover an exit.)

The intent is that a building occupant can locate the egress door and operate the releasing device for egress without a key, tool, special knowledge or effort.  The contrast between the door hardware and the door face is not specifically addressed in these model codes.  With that said, the codes and standards are a minimum, and without prescriptive information, code officials may interpret the requirements in different ways.  For example, releasing hardware that is difficult to distinguish may be considered an application that requires special knowledge or effort.

I typically take the conservative approach when specifying hardware, and ask for AHJ approval when a field interpretation might create a problem.  For example, when I have been asked to specify recessed panic hardware that is the same color as the door, I have always recommended that the architect discuss it with the code official.

In the example below, my concern was that the architect wanted the Von Duprin Inpact device to be powder coated to match the stainless steel door, and the door was also the same finish as the surrounding panels.  The design was approved by the AHJ.

White doors against white walls

Have you come across an application like this in the field?  I’d love to see some photos.

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