Quick Code Q&A

Quick Code Q&A: Push Paddles

Paddle latches share some similarities to panic hardware: it operates with one motion in the direction of egress and does not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist.

In September, we discussed designing secured entry vestibules that maintain quick and easy egress. One of the most important jobs a door (and its hardware) has is allowing occupants to evacuate a building during an emergency. It’s so important that panic hardware was the topic of the first post in this blog and has a dedicated page on my own blog, iDigHardware.

For October, I want to return to a type of door hardware used to unlatch a door for egress: push paddles (also known as paddle latches). This hardware shares some similarities to panic hardware: it operates with one motion in the direction of egress and does not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. Push paddles also allow egress without special knowledge or effort.

However, paddle latches differ from panic hardware in other ways—mainly in that the actuating portion does not extend at least half the width of the door, as required for panic hardware. In addition, these products are not listed in UL 305 and ANSI/BHMA A156.3, the listings that apply to exit devices. As such, building professionals may find it difficult to know when push paddles can be used in lieu of panic hardware.

Question: Are paddle latches a code-compliant option for the main entrance of a business occupancy (Group B)?

When mounted within the allowable range of 34–48 inches above the finished floor (AFF) (or 34–44 inches if the building is in California), paddle latches meet egress and accessibility requirements for most Group B occupancies. Examples of this occupancy include office buildings, banks, professional services and educational buildings for students above the 12th grade. While other occupancy classifications may preclude paddle latches, a push paddle is acceptable for Group B occupancies because panic hardware is not required by code. Determining this requires looking at space use and occupant capacities within the building.

Some office buildings include spaces considered assembly occupancies, such as cafeterias, conference centers and large lobbies. When these assembly spaces have a calculated occupant load of 50 people or more, the International Building Code (IBC) requires the doors serving these areas to have panic hardware if the door is equipped with a latch or lock. The IBC also requires panic hardware for doors serving educational occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more and for high-hazard occupancies with any occupant load; however, these occupancies are not commonly found in office buildings.

The National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) includes similar requirements to the IBC but requires panic hardware for doors serving assembly, educational and daycare occupancies with an occupant load of 100 people or more, as well as areas of high-hazard contents with an occupant load of more than five.

If an office building does not include any spaces required by the adopted code to have doors with panic hardware, then a paddle latch is acceptable. The building could have 400, 4,000 or even 40,000 occupants, and the model codes would not require panic hardware—as long as the building does not contain assembly, educational or high-hazard occupancies.

If you have a code-related question you would like answered, please send it to jhuff@glass.com.