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Panic Device Considerations: What Architects and Glaziers Need to Know

by CRL
June 15, 2022
by CRL

It's always crucial to identify life safety issues, UL requirements and standards, ANSI/BHMA criteria, fire code requirements, occupant loads and opening force for the safety of building occupants.

When it comes to fire codes, panic devices are required when there are certain occupant capacities; the type of building is also a factor that needs to be considered. It's also important to have a range of exit devices for every outcome, from fire to active shooter situations so that occupants can always get out of the building.

Let's examine some crucial considerations for panic devices and glass doors through the lens of three leading codes: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), IBC (International Building Code) and CBC (California Building Code).

Key Code Considerations for Tempered Glass Doors

These five items should be kept top-of-mind on the front end of a design.

  • Opening force
  • Clear opening
  • 10" bottom rail
  • Hardware height locations
  • Locking hardware

Opening Force

ADA - 404.2.9 Door and Gate Opening Force. Fire doors shall have a minimum opening force allowable by the appropriate administrative authority. The force for pushing or pulling open a door or gate other than fire doors shall be as follows:

  1. Interior hinged doors and gates: 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.
  2. Sliding or folding doors: 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.

These forces do not apply to the force required to retract latch bolts or disengage other devices that hold the door or gate in a closed position.

Advisory 404.2.9 Door and Gate Opening Force. The maximum force pertains to the continuous application of force necessary to fully open a door, not the initial force needed to overcome the inertia of the door. It does not apply to the force required to retract bolts or to disengage other devices used to keep the door in a closed position.

IBC 2018; CBC 2019 - 1010.1.3 Door Opening Force. The force for pushing or pulling open interior swinging egress doors, other than fire doors, shall not exceed 5 pounds (22 N). These forces do not apply to the force required to retract latch bolts or disengage other devices that hold the door in a closed position. For other swinging doors, as well as sliding and folding doors, the door latch shall release when subjected to a 15-pound (67 N) force. The door shall be set in motion when subjected to a 30-pound (133 N) force. The door shall swing to a full-open position when subjected to a 15-pound (67 N) force.

Clear Opening

ADA - 404.2.3 Clear Width. Door openings shall provide a clear width of 32 inches (815 mm) minimum. Clear openings of doorways with swinging doors shall be measured between the face of the door and the stop, with the door open 90 degrees. Openings more than 24 inches (610 mm) deep shall provide a clear opening of 36 inches (915 mm) minimum. There shall be no projections into the required clear opening width lower than 34 inches (865 mm) above the finish floor or ground. Projections into the clear opening width between 34 inches (865 mm) and 80 inches (2030 mm) above the finish floor or ground shall not exceed 4 inches (100 mm).

10" Bottom Rail

IBC - 404.2.10 Door Surface. Door surfaces within 10 inches (255mm) of the floor or ground measured vertically shall be a smooth surface on the push side extending the full width of the door. Parts creating horizontal or vertical joints in such a surface shall be within 1/16 inch (1.6 mm) of the same plane as the other. Cavities created by added kick plates shall be capped.


  1. ​​​​​Sliding doors.
  2. Tempered glass doors without stiles and having a bottom rail or shoe with the top leading edge tapered at no less than 60 degrees from the horizontal shall not be required to meet the 10 inches (255 mm) bottom rail height requirement.

Hardware Height Locations

IBC 1010.1.9.2 - Door handles, pulls, latches, locks and other operating devices shall be installed 34 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum above the finished floor. Locks used only for security purposes and not used for normal operation are permitted at any height.

Locking hardware

IBC 1010.1.9.4 Locks and Latches. Locks and latches shall be permitted to prevent operation of doors where any of the following exist:

  1. Places of detention or restraint.
  2. In buildings in occupancy Group A having an occupant load of 300 or less, Groups B, F, M and S, and in places of religious worship, the main door or doors are permitted to be equipped with key-operated locking devices from the egress side provided:
    2.1. The locking device is readily distinguishable as locked.
    2.2. A readily visible durable sign is posted on the egress side on or adjacent to the door stating: THIS DOOR TO REMAIN UNLOCKED WHEN THIS SPACE IS OCCUPIED. The sign shall be in letters 1 inch (25 mm) high on a contrasting background.
    2.3. The use of the key-operated locking device is revocable by the building official for due cause.
  3. Where egress doors are used in pairs, approved automatic flush bolts shall be permitted to be used, provided that the door leaf having the automatic flush bolts does not have a doorknob or surface-mounted hardware.

Selecting the Right Panic Devices

When it comes to occupancies, the NFPA 101 mandates panic devices on doors under these conditions:

  • Assembly Occupancies: 100 or more people
  • Educational Occupancies: 100 or more people
  • Day Care Occupancies: 100 or more people
  • High Hazard Occupancies: 5 or more people

With door controls for these panic devices, any type of closer is a good closer — most people don't even know it’s there, since it’s usually in the floor, concealed, or surface mounted.

It's also important to understand the trends that are influencing the future of glass entrances, including NFRC documentation and energy code requirements. These will dictate the implementation of panic devices for years to come. For example, COVID has been a huge eye-opener, both in understanding that glass can be a great transparent barrier solution and in finding ways to keep doors accessible without touch to stop the spread of disease. Now, we have push buttons, sensors, smartphone apps, and more.

Here are a few key features of the future of exterior doors to consider along with these trends:

  • Ultra-narrow 1-1/8" vertical stiles
  • NFRC rated and Title 24 compliant
  • U-factors as low as 0.43
  • Meets ASHRAE 90.1 air infiltration requirements
  • Panic hardware mounts directly onto 1" insulating glass
  • All-glass aesthetics, full-frame thermal performance
  • Floating door hardware
  • Matching sidelite and transom glass
  • 10-foot maximum door size
  • 15 psf wind load at 42" x 120"
  • 20 psf wind load at 42" x 108"

CRL is always available as a resource to help keep you up to date on the latest codes and standards. Knowing these and the trends they impact will keep your business cutting edge and keep your customers' building occupants safe.

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