Red emergency exit door

Door Locks for Emergency Exits: Selecting the Proper Level of Protection

Emergency exit door locks have two main functions: prevent unauthorized entry into or exit from a building, and allow fast exit from the building. International and local building codes, as well as fire safety laws, require them.

Directors of businesses, and private or public institutions who wish to make changes to the locks on buildings subject to these codes must do so within regulatory guidelines. There are various factors to keep in mind when making such changes or installing new locks on existing doors.

General Regulations for Emergency Exit Door Hardware

Local building codes dictate the type of locks that can be used on any type of emergency door or fire exit. Most building codes do not allow for additional locks to be placed on doors with a panic bar or emergency exit device. Placing a chain or latch on the door in order to lock it is a violation of most building codes.

For emergency exits, there are three general types of hardware and locks which can be installed in compliance with building and fire safety codes. These are free egress, delayed egress and controlled egress.

Free Egress

Unless the emergency exit doors fall into a special category – two of which are outlined below – they should comply with the requirements for free egress. Locking devices for most commercial doors designated emergency exits must meet the following requirements.

Regulations for Controlled Egress Doors

  • Free egress exits are required in buildings used for business, assembly (such as restaurants and movie theaters) and education.
  • Even in low occupancy settings, emergency exit door locks must open to the outside in one simple motion without pinching or twisting the wrist.
  • Emergency exit door locks meet Federal Accessibility Laws. They need to be easy to open for individuals with limited mobility and children. (Though the age and height requirements differ based on local building codes.)
  • Emergency exit doors must allow people to leave the space quickly without using a key, tool, extra force or special knowledge to unlock the door. This ensures that, even in dark, smoke-filled or otherwise frightening situations, people can exit safely without looking for a key or using a complicated locking device.
  • Hardware and locks installed on the door must be 3 to 4 feet from the floor.

There are multiple kinds of electric locks which work with panic bars or touch pads and meet the free egress regulations. These include electrified mortise locks, electrified cylindrical locks, electric strikes and electric panic hardware.

These types of locks function in similar ways. When someone presses the bar, it causes the deadbolt to retract. For most emergency exit systems, when the lock releases, it will trigger an alarm to alert others of danger. At the same moment, the door can be pushed open and the person can safely walk out.

Delayed Egress

Certain types of institutional buildings, including healthcare facilities, can use special locking arrangements. Delayed egress doors have hardware that activates a timer when someone pushes on the panic bar of the exit door. Codes require most delayed egress locks to sound an alarm immediately alerting other occupants of the emergency or lets the staff know that there has been an unauthorized exit. After a delay of 15 or 30 seconds, the locking mechanism will release and occupants will be able to exit from the doorway.

Regulations for Delayed Egress Doors

  • Delayed egress doors cannot be used on buildings used for assembly, education or highly hazardous activities.
  • The building must be equipped with a fire alarm or sprinkler system.
  • Locks must immediately release (without delay) when fire safety systems are activated or when the power goes out.
  • There must be a remote release for the delayed egress door which permits immediate exit.
  • Proper signage, alarms and lighting must be present.

Controlled Egress

Some institutional buildings can be permitted to use controlled egress systems. These include nursing, psychiatric, detoxification, memory care and other medical facilities where the clinical needs of occupants require more secure exit door locks. They often apply to facilities where patients require 24-hour care and would need assistance exiting the building. Electromagnetic locks or delayed egress devices programmed to have an infinite delay are used with remote lock releases. The remote release can be installed at a nurses’ station or safety command desk.

Regulations for Controlled Egress Doors

  • Controlled egress doors cannot be used on buildings used for assembly, education or highly hazardous activities.
  • The building must be equipped with a fire alarm or sprinkler system.
  • Locks must immediately release (without delay) when fire safety systems are activated or when the power goes out.
  • There must be a remote release for the delayed egress door which permits immediate exit.
  • Facility staff must be able to unlock the exit doors at any time.

Professional Assistance with Emergency Exit Lock Selection & Installation

Buildings and fire safety regulations are serious business. Guidelines must be followed strictly for liability reasons, but also as a public safety measure. Because these codes are specific and can be complex, we recommend consulting with licensed locksmiths. Get help from professionals with experience in hardware installation for businesses, educational buildings, as well as institutions. It’s also important that technicians fully understand the local codes applicable to security regulations.

Great Valley Lockshop is your local expert in emergency exit door locks. Ask our team for an estimate on the best lock solutions for your building. Contact us at 610-644-5334 request a free estimate using our online form.

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