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Exit Door Hardware & Life Safety
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Don't touch that exit device! When considering making changes in an exit device, also known as a panic hardware or fire exit hardware, first be sure you understand why it is there and what effect any changes you make will have on code compliance, life safety and security.
 
The exit device usually comes to the attention when a building owner wants to remove or override its functions to provide extra or extreme building security. A company may be losing products or work time from its customers or employees by unauthorized use of an exit door. The danger arises when a locksmith or security installer is called in to add additional locks and possibly replace the existing exit devices. In many cases the result of the modification is a violation of the life safety code.
 
Life safety codes require the use of exit devices in specific situations, and most codes prohibit the use of any other lock or mechanism on the door that would prevent the use of the device or confuse the user. The primary purpose of an exit device is to protect life safety by providing free egress to occupants of a building or room. These devices are designed for easy use, even in the dark. The independent testing laboratories that test them require that they be relatively easy to operate, so they can be used by small children and physically impaired adults.
 
Panic Devices or Fire Devices?
There is a distinct difference between panic and fire devices, which carry a fire label. Latching devices or locks on fire doors must be self latching. The latch bolt cannot be retracted to prevent the door from latching when closed. The other major requirement for fire doors is that they be self-closing, which requires a door closer. Wall magnets or hold-open door closers can be used to keep fire doors in the open position but close them automatically in case of fire. Electric latch retraction devices can be used, again only when tied into the fire alarm system.
 
 
Dogging is the mechanical or electrical retraction of a latchbolt to provide push/pull operation during heavy traffic periods, to reduce wear on the mechanical parts.
 
Fire doors are normally not found on the outside or perimeter doors, where owners normally want to add security. However, there are sections of a building that an owner wishes to separate which do contain fire exit devices and doors. It is necessary to understand that most building codes do not allow any machining or altering to fire doors or fire exit devices in the field. Holes over 1" in diameter cannot be drilled into a fire door, except for cylinder holes.
A fire exit device not only provides egress but also maintains building separation, so if there is a fire, the fire door and all of the products mounted to it will prevent the spread of the fire. Because this requires that it be constantly latched, a fire exit device must be designed so it cannot be dogged. It also is made with heavier parts than a standard panic device, as well as additional parts, which cause the latch bolt to deadlock in the event of a very hot fire over a period of time. At this point, any occupants in the room would have succumbed to the fire and containment of the fire would be the primary objective.
 
Exit Devices vs. Locksets, Push/Pull Latches & Others
The main criterion that allows the use of a lockset in a public building rather than an exit or fire device is low occupancy. What constitutes “low occupancy” really depends on the local building codes, so any time it is suggested that an exit or fire exit device be removed and replaced with any other type of lock, be sure to get approval in writing from the authority having jurisdiction. This would be the fire marshall, not the building owner.
 
Push/Pull latches, sometimes referred to as a hospital latch, are also used to latch doors in rooms with low occupancy, where the code does not require a panic or fire device. Hospital latches provide the same easy egress as the panic device but do not have a full-width bar.
 
Classifications used by independent testing laboratories differentiate panic exit devices from exit locks. An exit lock, otherwise known as a panic alarm, typically consists of a paddle with a dead bolt.
 
Depressing the paddle retracts the deadbolt, allowing egress through the door and at the same time generating an alarm. Exit locks are designed for locking a door but do not provide the life safety features of exit or fire exit devices. For example, they are not designed for high frequency use and may be difficult for a small child or an adult with a disability to use.
 
Additional Locks?
The safety code that most model building codes are based on, NFPA 101T Life Safety Code, says that no other lock may be installed on a door equipped with a panic or fire exit device. It goes on to state that even a chain hanging nearby would be in violation of the life safety code if it is there for the intention of locking the exit device.
 
The main criterion for an exit or a fire exit device is that it must open in one motion. Adding an exit lock or a dead bolt with a thumb turn could cause confusion or panic if someone were to walk up to a door in a dimly lit room and push on an exit device. They should be able to expect that the door would release with no other motion.
 
"Special Locking Arrangement" is a relatively new term in the door hardware industry. When permitted, special locking allows additional hardware to be added to an opening to slow down the unauthorized use of an exit. The special locking equipment must meet certain requirements and is attached to a door in addition to the exit or fire exit device. The second locking operation must follow the Life Safety Code with several requirements, including being tied into the fire alarm system. On activation of the fire alarm the second locking arrangement must release immediately. Electromagnetic locks are popular in this operation. Von Duprin combines special locking and the exit or fire exit device, meeting both requirements of life safety and security. This type of combined device is actually classified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) as a “Controlled Panic Exit Device”.
When a store owner wants to add an electromagnetic lock to an exit door or replace an exit device with an electromagnetic lock, there are consequences to consider. Because all panic devices or fire devices are listed in Warnock-Hersey, UL or other listing agency manuals, any panic or a fire exit device that is removed from a door should be replaced with one that is listed under the same category. The only exception is if the device is being replaced with one listed in one of the third-party testing manuals as a Controlled Panic Exit Device.
 
Electric Strikes
Many times electric strikes are used with a panic exit/fire exit device. When an electric strike is used with a panic or fire exit device, it must have the same strength as the latch bolt or security will be reduced. Typically, an ANSI Grade 1 strike should be used. When using an electric strike with a panic device, make sure it is recommended by the manufacturer of both the panic device and the electric strike.
 
When using an electric strike with a fire exit device, it is necessary that manufacturers of both items recommend their use as a system. When an electric strike is used with a fire device, it must be non-fail safe (fail secure) to protect the integrity of the fire exit. Most requirements that allow the use of an electric strike with a fire exit device permit this use only at the bottom of the stairwell, where the door will not have to unlock in the event of a fire. Stairwell doors on all floors above must be designed so people cannot be trapped in the stairwell in the event of a fire. Because fire doors must be self latching, there usually is little opportunity to use an electric strike on a fire door. On a single-floor building where fire doors are used to separate parts of a building, a fail-secure electric strike can be used with a rim or mortise lock fire exit device.
 
The Effect of Door Design
Certain types of exit doors may affect security or safety, and therefore lock selection. When building designers or store owners use full glass doors, they make it easier for someone to break the glass and release the exit device. To counteract this possibility, they may try to add other locks and security devices and end up compromising life safety.
 
Because the use of exit devices is required by life safety codes, inswinging doors have been prohibited on most occupancies. When adding or changing locks on an inswinging door, the first consideration is whether the opening requires an exit device. If it does, it will also be necessary to re-swing the door so it opens outward. This situation is more common on older buildings.
 
For a single door, a rim-type exit device is easier to install and maintain, and it allows more adjustment if the door warps or the frame moves as the building settles. If the door has been pre-prepped for it, a device with a mortise latch also can be used.
 
Door Coordinator 
Pushing the inactive door will push the active door out of the direction of travel. On this application, a coordinator is recommended to hold the active door open until the inactive door closes. Depressing trigger or inactive door side will allow active side to close. 

Pairs of doors without a mullion will require at least one vertical rod exit device, but two rim devices may be used on pairs separated by a mullion. This is the most secure and also the easiest installation, and it requires the least amount of maintenance. Pairs of doors without an overlapping astragal can accommodate two vertical rod or two concealed vertical rod devices. Pairs of doors will also accept a vertical rod device on one leaf with a mortise or rim device on the other. Most manufacturers recommend the use of a mortise on the second leaf. When pairs of doors have an overlapping astragal it is imperative that only one leaf utilize a vertical rod exit device, since with two vertical rod devices, one door could not be opened until the other was opened first.

Double Egress Pair of Doors 
A special pair of doors called double egress are not used on the exterior of a building but are useful to separate portions of a building, typically in a firewall application. The doors are designed such that when approaching them in either direction, one leaf swings in the direction of travel. This type of application requires use of vertical rod exit devices on both leaves.
 
Exterior Doors
The most frequent call for added security is on exterior doors. The simplest, most secure exit device application is an exit-only door, such as the rear door of a store. This type of exit device has no exterior trim or provision for a key knob, thumb piece or lever. The shortcoming of this is that the owner cannot gain entry from the exterior.
The second-best application would be a "night lock" function, which provides entry, but only to those having a key. This type  of operation is similar to a storeroom function lockset. If a higher security is required, unlocking could be accomplished using a card or a code access system. For a weekend and nighttime operation the access control system could be turned off, prohibiting entry even with a valid code. This type of exit device could either use electric locking of the knob set, or even better, electric latch retraction. In this case, the exterior of the door can be equipped with a flush cup pull, making forced entry almost impossible.
 
Interior Doors
On single interior doors, use only rim exit devices, or mortise devices on doors equipped for that type of lockset. A hotel or a corporate headquarters that has large meeting rooms or ballrooms often presents a special problem. The owner may want the doors locked at night but unlocked, possibly with the devices dogged, during the daytime. In most cases, however, these doors are fire doors and mechanical dogging is not permitted. In this case the use of electric latch retraction is the only answer. To control access, the latches may be hooked to a card access system or to a remote switch. For fire doors, the latch retraction function should be wired to the fire alarm system so that an alarm or a power failure will cause the doors to latch.
 
Related to interior applications is the use of exit devices on vestibule doors. These are typically nonfire doors, and dogging is permitted. Only one of the doors in a pair or multiple doors need be equipped with an exterior key, typically as a night latch function. Once the owner has entered the area, all the devices could be mechanically dogged. For an operation with numerous doors and where security is a high priority, electrified latch retraction could be incorporated. In this case the security office could electrically dog all doors at a predetermined opening time and then at closing time simply flip the switch to release or relatch all the doors. In this case no one would be locked in the building but everyone would be locked out of the building.
 
Installation Pointers
One of the biggest challenges for a locksmith or maintenance personnel, when it comes to exit devices is installation. The importance of using the fasteners provided by the manufacturer cannot be overemphasized, to ensure that all parts are stable and do not move around. Using the correct fasteners also provides the level of locking that the manufacturer has tested for.
 
For surface-mounted hardware, rim and surface-mounted vertical rod exit devices, use the correct fastener or sex nuts and bolts, as specified by the manufacturer. When mounting surface devices on wood doors, make sure that the door manufacturer has put in the correct reinforcement blocking materials. Use sex nuts and bolts whenever possible, rather than wood screws. Many times sex bolts are necessary to meet code requirements of the door manufacturer, particularly on wood doors and on some steel doors. Always check with the door manufacturer if this is not clear. When using machine screws, it is imperative to drill the correct size holes and use a tap where specified. Attempting to shortcut the installation by using self-tapping screws will always come back to haunt the owner and possibly the installer.
 
When mounting a rim exit device, be sure to use the correct backset. Whenever possible choose a manufacturer that has an adjustable strike to compensate for building expansion or contraction from air conditioning, weatherstripping and climate changes. This is especially noticeable in dark aluminum doors on the south side of buildings, which have been known to expand as much as 3/16" to 1/4" in the summer sun.
 
When installing a cross bar exit device, make sure that the hinge and the lock stile cases are level, the cross bar is cut to the correct length, and the cross bar is installed rigidly.
When installing a touch pad exit device, make sure that the exit device clears any glass beads that may extend past the surface of the door. The glass bead is the little rim that goes around a window, also called a light. Kits are available to shim the device away from the door surface.
 
When installing vertical rod devices, make sure that the vertical rods are perpendicular to the exit device to prevent binding. Also, make sure that the rods are in line with the top and bottom latch. Read the manufacturer’s installation instructions carefully before cutting the vertical rods to length. In most cases, only the top rod should be cut. It is also helpful to understand how the vertical rod exit device works. In many cases the top latch controls the operation of the bottom latch. This will be covered in the manufacturer’s installation manual.
 
When using the vertical rod exit devices, it is imperative that both rods be used. If both rods are not used on a fire device, the fire label will be voided. For security purposes, if both rods are not used, the door is an easy entry point.
One of the most common mistakes when installing vertical rod exit devices is to interchange the top and bottom latch cases. When unpacking a vertical rod device, carefully examine both of the latches and make sure that they are not mixed up.
 
Earlier we mentioned the term astragal. An astragal is simply an overlapping wood or metal part that is attached to the face of one door to either help protect doors in need of fire label or to prevent entry of weather, sound, or light. If a pair of doors is equipped with an astragal, do not use two vertical rod exit devices. It is also critical to know which door must be opened first and equip it with a rim or mortise lock set.
 
This door is referred to as the active leaf of the pair of doors. The inactive or second leaf is the one that is equipped with the vertical rod exit device. On pairs of doors that must close in a particular sequence, the use of a coordinator is required. The coordinator prevents the active leaf from closing before the inactive leaf has closed. A carry bar is sometimes used with a coordinator, to open the active leaf if the inactive leaf is opened first by mistake.
 
Regardless of the type of lockset, vertical rod, rim device or other hardware that has been selected, it should be combined with a good quality closer to assure continued satisfactory operation of the hardware. While this article does not deal with door closers specifically, it is important to realize that if a bargain-priced door closer is put on an expensive pair of doors with expensive hardware, it will probably destroy the door and the hardware that is mounted on it rather quickly. For exterior doors that are exposed to windy conditions or heavy usage, an overhead stop is also a requirement.
 
This information is intended to provide a better insight into the use of exit devices and provide some facts to work with when servicing, replacing or inspecting them. The overall goal should be to secure a building while not violating any life safety or fire codes.
 
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