Cracking the code: Understanding the latest IBC revisions for builders hardware

by John Woestman

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Door hardware standards play a significant role in life safety by ensuring products used in commercial and residential buildings are suitable for their intended use. These standards serve as tools for hardware manufacturers and building professionals by providing them with a mutual understanding of door hardware requirements and types of locking systems.

The International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC) are model regulations stipulating performance requirements for builders hardware—such as door locks, door closers, and door exit devices (i.e. panic hardware)—to ensure public safety and welfare. These model building, fire, and life safety regulations incorporate by reference product-specific consensus standards specifying a baseline level of performance, durability, and safety requirements for building materials and components. States, counties, and cities, when developing or updating their building and fire codes, usually adopt one or several of the model codes in conjuction with jurisdiction-specific modifications to the model code language and requirements.

Standards—such as those for builders hardware—play 
an integral role in building codes by identifying minimum performance requirements for products or materials used in building construction. Like building codes, standards are developed by researching how products, materials, or structures have responded in the past to various conditions as well as weather and geological hazards. By packaging the complexity of numerous standards into a single document, building codes make it quicker and easier for officials to assess whether 
a building meets the necessary requirements for it to be considered “up to code.”

Setting a standard for safety
One priority of IBC is to make sure there are paths of egress at all times for building occupants. Doors within the path of egress, and how doors are required or permitted to function, have significant implications for safe egress. Over the years, IBC has evolved significantly. Some recent changes relate to the language used with reference to door hardware and emergency egress.

One organization that has served as a subject matter expert for revisions to IBC is the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA). BHMA is the only organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop and maintain performance standards for door locks, door closers, door exit devices, and other builders hardware. BHMA has been significantly involved in IBC change proposals, providing language and guidance on safe egress systems as it relates to builders hardware.

Like building codes, builders hardware standards must be developed by consensus and reviewed every few years. These consensus standards are also approved by ANSI. The ANSI/BHMA A156 Standards Series currently includes 41 standards, a number that keeps growing as new and emerging technologies continue to enter the door hardware space.

Building code updates
Some of the most recent IBC language updates, particularly as they relate to door hardware, include revisions to the descriptive names of the special locking systems to better describe the required functions of each system. These revisions are a result of the desire by door hardware manufacturers, specifiers, and security integrators to more accurately describe the function of the special locking systems, and to expand where these locking systems are permitted to be installed by IBC. BHMA worked closely with many stakeholders to ensure the revised IBC language was appropriate. The requirements for each of these special locking systems was refined to be more clear and concise, and to be more consistently interpreted, applied, and enforced.

“Special locking arrangements” revised to “controlled egress doors”
When referring to IBC, building professionals and code officials now find “special locking arrangements” for Groups I-1 and I-2 has been changed to “controlled egress doors,” to clarify a controlled egress door is locked to prevent egress, and egress is controlled by someone else. These door locking systems are permitted only in healthcare facilities where the clinical needs of the patient require this functionality, such as newborn nurseries and some assisted living facilities.

“Delayed egress locks” revised to “delayed egress locking systems”
Changing “delayed egress locks” to “delayed egress locking systems” emphasizes there is an entire system behind the delayed egress lock, to allow for the safe egress of building occupants in the event of an emergency. Delayed egress locking systems function as the name implies—they facilitate egress but with 
a relatively brief delay (15 to 30 seconds). These systems are designed so that when the fire protection system activates, the delay of the delayed egress locking system is automatically eliminated, allowing the door to remain locked mechanically and electrically preventing ingress, while providing immediate and free egress.

“Access-controlled egress doors” to “sensor release of electrically locked egress doors”
The term “access-controlled egress doors” referred to electronic locking systems designed to prevent building access (ingress), while allowing egress by unlocking the door when a sensor on the egress side of the door detects movement. In other words, while the door(s) remains locked at all times, when the interior sensor detects a person approaching the door, the electrical locking system automatically unlocks the door(s) allowing immediate and free egress. However, since nearly all locking systems—electrical and mechanical—control access to a building, the older term “access-controlled egress doors” had a wide variety of interpretations and applications, and enforcement varied significantly due to ambiguity. By changing the language to “sensor release of electrically locked egress doors” the ambiguity surrounding this particular locking system will be reduced and a more uniform understanding of its applications will occur.

“Electromagnetically locked egress doors” revised to “door hardware release of electrically locked egress doors”
Originally, any reference to “electromagnetically locked egress doors” was for door locking systems in which the door-mounted hardware triggers the release of the door’s electromagnetic lock. For clarity, this language was revised to “door hardware release of electrically locked egress doors” to emphasize exactly how this type of locking system is released, and to allow electrical locks that function by means other than electromagnetically. Additionally, since electromagnetic locks are commonly used in all of the locking systems mentioned, this revision addressed a misperception that any door locking system with an electromagnetic lock would be required to comply with the requirements for electromagnetic locks.

Delayed egress locking systems may be used in schools and childcare centers to prevent abductions or delinquency.
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Code proposals

With the 2021 IBC code development cycle currently in progress, BHMA continues to be actively involved in the process. In this development cycle, BHMA has proposed several revisions to the 2021 IBC intended to improve life safety.

ANSI/BHMA A156.24, Delayed Egress Locks
Contrary to door locking systems providing immediate egress, delayed egresslocking systems prevent a door from opening immediately when egress is attempted in a non-emergency situation. ANSI/BHMA A156.24, Delayed Egress Locks, covers products used in connection with conventional exit devices or locks causing doors to remain electrically locked for a predetermined length of time (usually 15 seconds) after triggering the countdown timer. In other words, delayed egress locking systems are a device, or a combination of devices, arranged to be locked in the direction of egress travel, and intended to temporarily delay the egress of occupants.

While a lock is not generally supposed to impede egress, there are specific situations where it may be necessary, as long as the application is in accordance with the relevant building or life safety code. For example, when used in healthcare facilities, delayed egress locks can alert staff to a patient attempting to leave the premises. Delayed egress locking systems may also be used in a retail setting to discourage shoplifting, or in schools and childcare centers to prevent abductions or delinquency. Delayed egress locks, in other words, operate like exit devices, yet provide the added safety and security in situations that may not be considered life-threatening.

Over the last two editions of IBC, delayed egress locking systems have been permitted in new occupancy groups and, in some instances, more than one delayed egress locking system is permitted in the egress path. Since IBC has expanded where these systems are permitted to be used, they are now employed more widely; therefore, requiring compliance to ANSI/BHMA A156.24 in the 2021 building codes can help assure these locking systems will function reliably and as they are intended time and time again.

Door hardware single motion to egress
According to IBC 1010.1.9.6, “Controlled egress door in Groups I-1 and I-2,” “the unlatching of any door or leaf shall not require more than one operation.”

Door hardware standards play a significant role in life safety by ensuring products used in commercial and residential buildings are suitable for their intended use.
Photo courtesy

Unfortunately, this language has code officials, specifiers, building owners, and security professions asking what is required of door hardware to meet the requirement for “not more than one operation” to unlatch a door, and what is permitted. To address these questions, BHMA developed ANSI/BHMA A156.41, Standard for Door Hardware Single Motion to Egress. It established requirements for hardware used on doors in the means of egress, to comply with code requirements for “not more than one operation” to unlatch a door for egress. BHMA proposed IBC language be revised to “the unlatching of any door or leaf for egress shall not require more than one motion in a single linear or rotational direction to release all latching and all locking devices.”

In today’s connected world, there is a greater emphasis 
on building science and technology than ever before. New technologies and advances in building materials—including builders hardware—are occurring each year. As a result, building codes are also evolving to ensure the safety of building occupants and the public.

John Woestman is director of codes and government affairs for the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA). In this capacity, he provides building codes advocacy and technical service on behalf of BHMA. Woestman is a member of the International Code Council (ICC), the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), and ASTM International. He has represented BHMA’s interests in ICC building codes development; NFPA codes and standards development; and ASTM standards development. Woestman has a mechanical engineering degree from Iowa State University and a MBA from the University of Iowa. He can be reached at

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