Codes to Know for Panic Hardware

Panic hardware is designed to let people exit a building safely in the event of an emergency.   March 28, 2023

By Lori Greene

This article was previously published in 2017 and has been updated to reflect current information.

Panic hardware, also known as an exit device or fire exit hardware when used on fire doors, is designed to provide fast and easy egress to allow building occupants to exit safely in an emergency. Code publications define panic hardware as, “a door-latching assembly incorporating a device that releases the latch upon the application of a force in the direction of egress travel.”

Determining whether the egress doors of a facility need panic hardware can be a challenge, even for the experts. While most jurisdictions have adopted the International Building Code (IBC) requirements, it’s important to be aware that there are also areas like New York City where state or local requirements vary and will need to be consulted in order to ensure code compliance.

Basic Requirements

According to all editions of the IBC starting with the 2006 edition, panic hardware is required for doors serving three use groups:

1. Assembly occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more

2. Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more

3. High hazard occupancies with any occupant load

Note that these requirements only apply to doors that lock or latch. They do not apply if a door has push/pull hardware and no lock or latch.

In facilities that are required to follow NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code, there are four occupancy classifications where panic hardware is required:

1. Assembly occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more

2. Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more

3. Day care occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more

4. High hazard occupancies with an occupant load of more than 5 people

Be aware that if a room contains electrical equipment, NFPA 70 – National Electrical Code may require panic hardware to be installed. This requirement was first included in the 2002 edition of the NEC, and has been modified in subsequent editions. Beginning with the 2014 edition, doors that latch or lock, within 25 feet of the required work area, serving the following rooms, require listed panic hardware or fire exit hardware:

1. Where equipment is 800 amps or more and contains overcurrent devices, switching devices, or control devices

2. Where equipment is 600 volts or more

3. Battery rooms

Residential, business and mercantile occupancies such as apartments, office buildings or retail facilities typically would not require panic hardware on any doors unless there is an assembly, educational, or high hazard area within the building with an occupant load of 50 or more (per the IBC) or 100 or more (per NFPA 101). If these buildings contain electrical rooms that meet the criteria above, panic hardware would be required on those rooms.

Additional Code Considerations

  • Where panic hardware is required, the actuating portion of the device (touchpad or crossbar) must be at least half the width of the door leaf.

Current codes require panic hardware to be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor. Existing panic hardware may have been installed at other mounting locations in accordance with previous code requirements.

  • A force of 15 pounds applied to the touch-pad or cross-bar must release the latch. However, some codes have recently been modified to require door hardware to operate with 5 pounds of force, and the more stringent limitation may apply to panic hardware in jurisdictions where these codes have been adopted.

No additional locking device (deadlock, chain, padlock and hasp, etc.) may be installed on a door required to have panic hardware, and panic hardware may not be equipped with any device that prevents the release of the latch when the touch-pad or cross-bar is pressed. The exception to this is a delayed egress or controlled egress device allowed by code in certain applications.

  • When panic hardware is used on fire doors, it must be fire exit hardware and the door must be equipped with a label stating “Fire Door to be Equipped with Fire Exit Hardware.” Fire exit hardware is labeled for panic and fire, and is not equipped with a mechanical “dogging” mechanism. An electric latch retraction device may be used to provide dogging for fire exit hardware, as long as the latch projects automatically upon actuation of the smoke detection system.
  • If panic hardware is used on balanced doors (doors where the pivot point is located several inches in from the hinge edge of the door) a pushpad/touchpad device must be used and the actuating portion of the device must not extend more than half the width of the door. Crossbar style devices may not be used on balanced doors. The reason for this is that if the actuating portion extended all the way over to the hinge edge of the door, a building occupant could push on the wrong end of the panic device and the door would not open.
  • In some jurisdictions, doors and hardware must meet testing requirements for hurricane and tornado protection. Consult the applicable codes and manufacturers’ certifications for compliance information.

Of course, panic hardware can always be installed for convenience, security, or durability, even if it is not required by code. The AHJ may also request panic hardware in other instances if he or she believes that a hazard exists which warrants a need for panic hardware in order to provide life safety.

Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI is the Manager of Codes and Resources for Allegion. For more information about this topic and to download a free reference guide on codes, visit


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