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What is Means of Egress?

Means of egress refers to the safe and accessible routes designed for exiting a building or space during emergencies. These pathways, crucial for occupant safety, include exits, corridors, and stairways that meet strict building codes. Understanding their design and importance can be lifesaving. How does your environment measure up to these standards? Let's explore the essentials of egress together.
B. Turner
B. Turner

A means of egress is an exit path that occupants may use to safely exit a building. It is designed to provide safe and easy travel during a fire or other emergency so that the risk of injury or death is minimized. Most facilities have more than one means of egress, though the exact number of exits depends on the building's function, design, and occupancy load. Once in place, exit paths must be carefully maintained to ensure they are not blocked or compromised during normal building operation.

In the US, means of egress requirements are set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). This organization develops standards for fire safety in the building industry. While NFPA standards are not a law in themselves. they are typically adopted into local building codes. Most other countries have similar organizations for developing these standards, many of which have requirements similar to those of the NFPA.

People must have a safe and open path once they walk through a clearly marked exit.
People must have a safe and open path once they walk through a clearly marked exit.

While many builders focus solely on the exit door itself, there are actually three separate components that make up each means of egress. The first is the exit access, or egress path. This is the path of travel that takes occupants from their workspace to a safe exit. It may include corridors, offices, or any other types of space that the occupant must pass through to reach the exit. The path must be well-marked with illuminated exit signs to guide workers or residents during a emergency.

Each habitable room must have a way that people can exit to the outdoors in case of fire or other disasters.
Each habitable room must have a way that people can exit to the outdoors in case of fire or other disasters.

The second component, the exit door, is located at the end of the exit access path. This door must lead out towards the public space, but may not necessarily exit to the outdoors. It may consist of interior doors leading to a vestibule, doors leading to an exterior pathway, or a door leading to an exit ramp.

After passing through the exit door, occupants will arrive at the exit discharge. The exit discharge provides access to the public way, which may include a street, alley, or sidewalk. The area beyond the exit discharge must be kept free of obstacles at all times, including dumpsters, tools, and other equipment.

Egress doors are typically indicated with a back lit sign marked "Exit".
Egress doors are typically indicated with a back lit sign marked "Exit".

According to NFPA, all doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches (71.1 cm) wide to allow people of all sizes to exit safely. The corridors along the exit path should also be 28 inches (71.1 cm) wide, and may not be any shorter than 7 feet 6 inches (2.3 m) in height. Each door must swing in the direction of travel, and should be easily unlocked without keys, tools, or specialized knowledge. Chains and other locking devices may not be used on these doors at any time, as they could prevent occupants from exiting. Other jurisdictions may have other rules.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a "means of egress" in building design?

All doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches wide.
All doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches wide.

A "means of egress" refers to the complete and unobstructed path of exit provided in a building or structure for safe escape of occupants in case of an emergency. This includes all vertical and horizontal pathways leading to a public way, encompassing exit access (the path to an exit), the exit itself (such as stairways or ramps), and the exit discharge (leading to the street or open space).

How many means of egress are required in a typical building?

The number of required means of egress depends on the building's use, occupancy, and size. According to the International Building Code (IBC), most buildings require at least two means of egress. However, buildings with a large occupant load or complex layouts may require additional exits to ensure safety. The specific requirements can be found in the IBC or local building codes.

Are there any legal standards for means of egress?

Yes, there are legal standards for means of egress that are outlined in building codes such as the International Building Code (IBC) and the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. These codes specify the minimum requirements for egress width, number of exits, travel distance to an exit, and other factors to ensure safe evacuation during emergencies.

What features are essential for a compliant means of egress?

A compliant means of egress must be easily accessible, clearly marked, and well-lit. It should be free from obstructions, have a stable walking surface, and be equipped with emergency lighting and signage. Doors along the egress path must be easy to open without special knowledge or effort, and the exit discharge should lead to a safe area away from the building.

How does the means of egress requirement change for high-rise buildings?

For high-rise buildings, the means of egress requirements become more stringent due to the increased complexity of evacuation. These buildings often require additional features such as fire-resistant construction, smoke-proof enclosures, or pressurized stairwells. They may also need more exits and a higher capacity to accommodate the larger number of occupants. Emergency power systems for lighting and elevators are also critical components for high-rise egress.

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Discussion Comments

Certlerant

Another benefit of an egress window in an apartment building, especially ones with several floors, is tenants on top floors can get outside immediately without having to rush into and clog hallways and stairways in a panic to try to escape fire.

Glasis

Another generally accepted means of egress is an egress window.

This is a window built with special requirements, such as size and ease of unlocking, that can replace a door in spaces such as basements or lead to fire escapes.

Egress windows come in handy to meet codes for apartment buildings in cities. Most jurisdictions require multiple unit dwellings to provide at least two means of egress per unit.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by installing an egress window in each apartment that leads to a fire escape.

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    • People must have a safe and open path once they walk through a clearly marked exit.
      By: pixelrobot
      People must have a safe and open path once they walk through a clearly marked exit.
    • Each habitable room must have a way that people can exit to the outdoors in case of fire or other disasters.
      By: HomeSpot HQ
      Each habitable room must have a way that people can exit to the outdoors in case of fire or other disasters.
    • Egress doors are typically indicated with a back lit sign marked "Exit".
      By: wittybear
      Egress doors are typically indicated with a back lit sign marked "Exit".
    • All doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches wide.
      By: ChristianFallini
      All doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches wide.