NFPA Requirements for Exit Routes

Of all the safety features a building has to offer, one of the most crucial is the exit route doors. Having a path of exit travel in emergency situations that employees or residents know and can rely on is the key to getting them out safely in a fire. The point of these NFPA exit doors is to get people away from hazardous conditions such as smoke, fire, and heat in the shortest time possible. To achieve that, the NFPA makes strict guidelines for what these emergency exit doors look like, and how they need to operate. Here’s a guide for understanding the NFPA emergency exit door requirements.

exit door definitions

Exit Door Definitions

Before we dive into the individual requirements set by NFPA 101, let’s take a second to make sure we understand the definitions of some of the terms we’ll encounter.

  • Means of Egress: A continuous, unobstructed path of travel from any point in a building to a safe public way. A means of egress will have these three traits
    • Exit Access – The travel path from where people are located to the beginning of an exit.
    • Exit – The part of the means of egress separated by building structures. In other words, these structures could include walls, floors, doors, or other structures that provide occupants with a reasonable safe path of travel to the exterior of the building. This can include vertical structures as well, like stairwells inside or outside of a building. Likewise, elevators are not considered an exit as they do not provide a reasonably safe means of exit. After that, other types of exits might include ramps, smoke-proof towers, or escalators in existing buildings.
    • Exit Discharge – The portion of the exit that connects the interior of the building to the exterior.

the NFPA emergency exit door requirements

The NFPA Emergency Exit Door Requirements


It is a requirement for any area in a building to have at least 2 means of emergency exit. The exits must not be located next to one another. This will reduce risk for these pathways blocked by fire. Or anything else that makes it an unsafe way to travel to the exit.

For new structures, there is something called the “one half diagonal rule”. This means that the means of egress must be located no less than half of the diagonal distance of the area being serviced.

Required Number of Means of Egress

The minimum number of exits from any location in a building is two. Firstly, this even includes areas like balconies and mezzanines. Secondly, the number of means of egress increases with the number of occupants a building has.

The minimum number increases in means of egress are as follows:

  • Buildings with occupant loads of more than 49 but less than 500
  • A Building with occupant loads of more than 500 but less than 1,000
  • Buildings with occupant loads in excess of 1,000
  • Exceptions will be granted for certain existing buildings, as described by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

The minimum occupant load is determined by using the expected number of employees or occupants divided by the net floor area your means of egress service. After that, there are additional requirements for buildings that have fixed seating arrangements.

The exit capacity is in reference to maximum capacity, not an average. This ensures the highest level of safety for a building’s occupants.

access to exit doors is required for both occupants and emergency responders

Access to an Exit

The NFPA emergency exit door requirements code states there is a maximum travel distance allowed to find an exit. If there is a fire in the area where occupants are, they are already being exposed to smoke, fire, and heat. This access to exit requirements seeks to minimize occupants’ exposure to these and other hazards.

While these NFPA emergency exit door requirements differ from place to place, this is the general rule of thumb:

  • Buildings that do not have a sprinkler system should have a maximum travel distance to an exit under 150 feet.
  • Buildings that do have a sprinkler system should have a maximum travel distance to an exit under 200 feet.

Depending on a building’s number of occupants, there may be additional requirements. This can include a limitation on dead-end corridors and common pathways required to access an emergency exit. This decreases the chance for physical harm caused by confusion or by chaos induced by emergency exiting.

obstructions to means of egress

Obstructions to Means of Egress

Paths to means of egress will never go through places where obstructions are likely and/or unavoidable. Or where pathways will be constricted in any other manner.

Means of egress will never go through these places:

  • Kitchens
  • Storerooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Workrooms
  • Closets
  • Bedrooms

The design of exit access doors that lead to emergency exit doors need to be clearly recognizable. Any sort of obstruction, like drapery, posters, or anything else, is expressly forbidden. These sorts of extraneous objects can impede emergency exiting. Exit access doors can never be obscured. That’s certainly one of the most important NFPA Emergency Exit Door Requirements.

Discharge of Emergency Exit Doors

Certainly, exits should always discharge directly to the exterior of the building or an equivalent safe area. This is to reduce confusion of where occupants need to go to exit a building in an emergency situation. Above all, exit doors should always lead to an exterior or equivalent safe area separated from other areas.

means of egress components

Means of Egress Components

These are the specific physical requirements for a means of egress to meet the NFPA 101 standards and codes.

Means of Egress Width

Consider how wide a means of egress needs to be. Specifically, a set of fully opened and unobstructed doors. To clarify, doors that are means of egress should not be less than 32 inches wide at all points. This provides enough space for wheelchairs to fit through the door.

Moreover, in rooms of less than 70 square feet, this minimum might reduce to 28 inches wide. This will only happen in rooms where wheelchair use is not permitted.

In existing structures, the minimum width is 28 inches wide. The maximum door leaf width is 48 inches

door swing

Door Swing

A door in a means of egress should allow for easy opening and closing. This could mean either side-hinged or pivot-swinging doors.

Doors must swing in the direction of exit when:

  • The means of egress serves a room with an occupant load above 50 people
  • The means of egress is used in an exit enclosure or while serving a high-hazard area

While swinging, the door should leave available at least half of the required width of a corridor/hallway/etc for use.

NFPA Emergency Exit Door Requirements for Locks

NFPA Emergency Exit Door Requirements for Locks

Doors are laid out so that they can be opened from the outside when the building is occupied. For instance, a latch or some other fastening device is a requirement for doors with a simple releasing device. And one that can be easily used at all light levels.

Above all, equip doors with panic hardware and fire exit hardware. Hardware consisting of bars that extend to at least half of the width of the door leaf. For example, this should not be less than 30 inches and not more than 44 inches above the floor. An applied force of 15 pounds should be enough to release the latch.

NFPA Emergency Exit Door Requirements for Marking

All exit paths must have a clearly recognizable exit sign. It will need distinctive colors and easily seen or reflectable when facing the path of egress. And in addition, lit by a reliable light source. Subsequently, place these exit signs only on emergency exit doors and doors leading to an exit.

making sure your emergency exit doors are NFPA compliant

Making Sure Your Emergency Exit Doors are NFPA-Compliant

If that seemed like a lot of information, that’s because it is! A building’s emergency exit doors are some of the most important parts of their emergency system. Therefore, when your building has to get its annual fire and safety inspection, you’ll want a technician that knows what to look out for.

That’s why you should only turn to technicians who use Inspect Point technology! With Inspect Point, a fire safety technician will never miss a single aspect of your safety inspection. That’s because Inspect Point’s software quickly and easily lays out everything the tech needs to know to make your inspection the safest one ever.

Ready to see how Inspect Point can help fire protection professionals ensure NFPA compliance?