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Do You Know the Key Code Requirements for High-speed Doors and Egress?

This article explains how high-speed doors may be used as a means of egress and guidance on door specification and methods for determining code compliance.

High speed closing doors

August 21, 2019

Authored by Stephen Kuscsik, UL Principal Engineer and Joseph Hetzel, Technical Director at Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association 

In designing a path of egress for a building, there may be instances in which a high-speed door becomes a component of the exit path. This article explains how high-speed doors may be used as a means of egress and guidance on door specification and methods for determining code compliance.

A high-speed door is a non-swinging door with a minimum opening rate of 32 inches per second, a minimum closing rate of 24 inches per second and a means to automatically re-close the door. These doors typically roll, fold or slide. High-speed door panels and curtains can be made from rubber, fabric, vinyl, composites, aluminum or steel.

High-speed doors are typically non-fire-rated, and those doors should only be used in walls that are not required to have a fire resistance-rating. However, there are listed high-speed fire doors available that are certified for that use.

Typical uses of high-speed doors

High-speed doors are most commonly used in factories and in institutional, mercantile, and storage buildings, where environmental separation, energy efficiency or security are required. They are not generally used in public assembly, educational, high-hazard, residential or utility/miscellaneous occupancies. High-speed doors can be utilized to accommodate motorized equipment and vehicle traffic and pedestrians or building occupants when properly designed as a component of a means of egress.

The International Building Code (IBC) defines “means of egress” as “a continuous and unobstructed path of vertical and horizontal egress travel from any occupied portion of a building or structure to a public way.” Similarly, NFPA 101, known as the Life Safety Code, defines “means of egress” as “a continuous and unobstructed way of travel from any point in a building or structure to a public way.” Both the IBC and NFPA 101 describe a means of egress as consisting of three separate and distinct parts: exit access, exit and the exit discharge.

High-speed door egress options

When installing a high-speed door as a component of a required means of egress, there are several industry best practices that are commonly used to achieve a fully code compliant system:

  1. Manual operation through door counterbalancing: The door should be easy to open from either side of an opening without special knowledge or effort. The force required to operate or set the door in motion cannot exceed 30 pounds and cannot exceed 15 pounds to open the door to the minimum required height and width for egress. Manual operation can include chain hoist, crank or gripping points.
  2. Breakout panels: The door panels should be easy to break out manually in the event of power failure. The force required to break out the door panels cannot exceed 30 pounds, and the force required to push open the door panels to the minimum height and width for each egress opening cannot exceed 15 pounds.
  3. Backup power supply: The door assembly must have an integrated standby power supply which is electrically monitored. The door assembly must open to a minimum height of 80 inches and a minimum width of 32 inches within 10 seconds of activation. The door must stay open until full power is resumed (fail-safe mode). A backup power supply as a standalone option is subject to approval.

Code requirements

Full requirements and parameters for certain door types are outlined in International Building Code (IBC) Section 1010.1.4.3 titled “special purpose horizontal sliding, accordion or folding doors. Additionally, the specific code(s) applicable for each installation should always be considered.

The IBC does not specifically address high-speed doors. However, sections within the IBC can be applied to high-speed door installations as an egress component. To demonstrate compliance with the IBC, applicable code content must be cited for approval by the code official.

NFPA 101 also does not address high-speed doors. For these applications, code officials using NFPA 101 may invoke Section 1.4, titled “Equivalency,” and/or the subsections “Technical Documentation” and “Equivalent Compliance.” This requires technical documentation demonstrating equivalency to a conventionally operating door. To be recognized as compliant, the intended purpose must be established as an equivalent system, method or device.

Door operator safety requirements

Aside from the requirements for a door to serve as a means of egress or as a fire-rated door, there are established safety requirements that apply to the door operator (and door system). These requirements are intended to reduce the risk of electric shock, risk of fire (from within the product) and risk of entrapment. UL 325, the Standard for Safety of Door, Drapery, Gate, Louver, and Window Operators and Systems is a national standard for the U.S. and Canada and is the most applicable Standard. Having an operator control/drive system certified to this Standard is an easy way to demonstrate compliance.

It’s easy to specify or verify motorized door operators/systems – including high-speed systems –certified by UL, using the UL Product IQTM search tool. Product iQ is free, but a one-time registration is required.  Motorized door operators/systems are found in product category FDDR.  Fire-rated doors can be found in product categories GSNN or GSNV. Simply enter the appropriate product category in the search box for a list of UL Certified products.

Steps to remember

For a high-speed door to be an egress component, architects, engineers and designers should:

  • Confirm that a high-speed door is needed at a location.
  • Determine the egress requirements for the building and ensure that the door is a listed and code-compliant door based on the occupancy and proposed installation location.
  • Consider the users of a door from within a building (private versus public) and provide necessary signage.
  • Ensure that the automatic operator (typically an electrically powered control and motor drive) is compliant and listed to the applicable standards, such as UL 325.
  • Include all relevant “entrapment protection” devices or methods as required by the door operator manufacturer and the UL 325 Standard.

High-speed doors provide designers a performance option and can serve a valuable and important function in certain buildings. Review the applicable building code requirements for the door, i.e., means of egress and/or fire rating, and ensure that a specified door is certified and code compliant for the intended use.

For more information, please contact [email protected].