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Door Openings and Building Code Changes

Glass DoorsThroughout history, tragic events have prompted the development of codes that protect the safety of building occupants – a subject that builders and property managers alike are familiar with.  Building code changes made within the last 10 years, combined with increased security and frequent litigation with regard to injuries and fatalities, have prompted a greater focus on the operation of doors and hardware.  Below is a brief refresher on some of the codes and standards that apply to door openings, and a few of the recent code changes associated with them. 

Fire and Life Safety

During a fire, fire door assemblies deter the spread of smoke and flames, helping to contain the flames and protect the means of egress to allow safe evacuation. Recent changes to NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, and the International Fire Code (IFC) call for the annual inspection of fire and egress doors, ensuring that the doors will perform as designed if a fire occurs. Deficiencies found during these inspections must be repaired “without delay.”

Egress doors facilitate the evacuation of building occupants if there is an emergency. In most locations these doors must allow free access at all times, not only when the fire alarm is set into motion.  Recent editions of the International Building Code (IBC) include changes to panic hardware requirements for doors serving assembly and educational occupancies.  In these locations, panic hardware must now be used when the occupant load is 50 people or more, while previous editions of the IBC require panic hardware in these occupancy types with a load of 100 people or more.  This effectively means that spaces half the size now require panic hardware compared to prior editions of the code.  Some rooms housing electrical equipment are also required to have panic hardware under current codes. 

As the use of access control and electrified hardware increases, there are a multitude of code requirements that need to be considered.  The protocols for stairwell reentry, the remote unlocking of stairwell doors, became an area of scrutiny for many jurisdictions because of a 2003 fire that resulted in 6 fatalities when stairwell doors were mechanically locked.  Recent changes addressing electromagnetic locks, delayed egress devices, and elevator lobbies ensure the safety of building occupants when access control systems are used.

Impact-Resistance Requirements

Changes to the impact-resistance requirements for glass and glazing affect new buildings and renovations, but should also be reviewed for existing buildings. Glass that is not impact-resistant, such as traditional wired glass, is extremely hazardous. Injuries from this glass have resulted in lawsuits and settlements – even if the glass was code-compliant when installed.  According to recent court cases, the building owner should have been aware of the hazard created by this glass, and may therefore be held liable.

Codes Related to Accessible Design

The 2010 edition of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design went into effect in March of 2012, and the standards are now more closely aligned with ICC A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.  Both standards address requirements for openings on an accessible route, including clear opening width and height, operating hardware, opening force and closing speed, maneuvering clearance, as well as requirements for automatic doors. 

One of the recent ADA accessibility changes requires low energy automatic operators to be activated by a knowing act, such as pushing a button, using an access control reader, or opening the door, rather than being triggered by a motion sensor.  Another change is the requirement for manual doors to have a flush area with no projections on the push side of the door, from the floor to 10 inches above.  This affects narrow bottom rails, as well as projecting hardware such as surface-mounted vertical rod panic devices.  One issue that is addressed in the ADA standards but not in A117.1 is the allowable operational force for door hardware.  The ADA requires door hardware to operate with 5 pounds of force, which is a challenge for the panic hardware currently available, as the other codes and standards that apply to panic hardware mandate a 15-pound limit.

It’s important for builders and property managers to become familiar with the requirements affecting door openings, as well as recent and upcoming changes.  This will help to maintain fire and egress protection as well as accessibility for building occupants, and allow for proactive planning to address new requirements.  An experienced hardware consultant can assist in wading through the complexities of code requirements and hardware applications.

Lori Greene is manager, codes & resources for Allegion, PLC.  More information about the topics in this article can be found on her blog at

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