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Understanding Exit Sign Locations

Code requirements can be unclear at times, especially when it comes to exit signs. Therefore, it is vital that construction industry professionals understand the exit sign code requirements as outlined in Section 1013 of the 2018 International Building Code (IBC). Therefore let us take a look at this code section and its exceptions as it pertains to where exit signs must be located.

Where Must Exit Signs be Located?

The location of exit signs are outlined in Section 1013.1 of the 2018 IBC, which reads as follows:

1013.1 Where required. Exits and exit access doors shall be marked by an approved exit sign readily visible from any direction of egress travel. The path of egress travel to exits and within exits shall be marked by readily visible exit signs to indicate the direction of egress travel in cases where the exit or the path of egress travel is not immediately visible to the occupants. Intervening means of egress doors within exits shall be marked by exit signs. Exit sign placement shall be such that any point in an exit access corridor or exit passageway is within 100 feet or the listed viewing distance of the sign, whichever is less, from the nearest visible exit sign.

Where there are two or more exits in a building, it is required that they be marked with illuminated signs which clearly show the location of and clearly indicate the direction to an exit.

Exit signs must be lit with letters that read “Exit.” The illumination may be either from an outside source or internal to the sign. Additionally, the signs must be able to be seen from all directions along the exit access path. In cases where occupants can’t read the signs because of a curve in a corridor or some other reason, there must be additional illuminated signs showing the direction of the path to the exits.

When they are required, exit signs must be in a location that is within 100 feet of the sign’s given viewing distance. UL 924 allows exit signs to be placed with a viewing distance of less than 100 feet. 

If a sign is posted with a less than 100 feet viewing distance, the appropriate viewing distance will be labeled on the sign. If you use a sign like this, it is essential to space it appropriately based on their listed viewing distance.

In general, once a person enters the exit area itself, exit signs are no longer required. However, structures with complicated or confusing exit paths might not be immediately clear in which direction the occupant should go. For example when an exit path turns from a vertical travel to a horizontal travel, it can confuse people in a panicked state of evacuation, so exit signs within the exit enclosures themselves may be necessary in these instances.

Exit Sign Exceptions

As mentioned before there are some exceptions related to the location of exit signs which the code outlines. The 5 exceptions to this code section reads as follows:

Exceptions:

1. Exit signs are not required in rooms or areas that require only one exit or exit access.

2. Main exterior exit doors or gates that are obviously and clearly identifiable as exits need not have exit signs where approved by the building official.

3. Exit signs are not required in occupancies in Group U and individual sleeping units or dwelling units in Group R-1, R-2 or R-3.

4. Exit signs are not required in dayrooms, sleeping rooms or dormitories in occupancies in Group I-3.

5. In occupancies in Groups A-4 and A-5, exit signs are not required on the seating side of vomitories or openings into seating areas where exit signs are provided in the concourse that are readily apparent from the vomitories. Egress lighting is provided to identify each vomitory or opening within the seating area in an emergency.

The exceptions shown above in the code outlines circumstances where exit signs would not add to the safety of the occupants egressing, and therefore are unnecessary.

In the examples of Exceptions 1 and 3, the code assumes that the tenants already know the building well enough to know the safest ways out or that the exits are obvious to the average person. Additionally, the way out is the same as the way in for the most part in these instances.

In Exception 2, the assumption is that the primary exterior door the occupants enter through is also a clear exit, making an exit sign unnecessary. An example of this would be a building with a centrally located customer and employee entrance (such as a shopping mall store), in which the main door can be easily noticeable as an exit as well as an entry. Therefore, no exit sign would be required.

Exception 4 deals with Group I-3 occupancies such as detainee living and sleeping areas (like jails). Because guards will escort the occupants in the event of an emergency, and because inmates can turn the signs into weapons, exit signs are exempted in these types of facilities.

Exception 5 basically describes Group A-4 and A-5 occupancies. In these occupancies the egress path can be obvious and therefore exit signs might not be required. 

Low-Level Exit Signs

Section 1013.2 deals with Group R-1 facilities, and lists specific requirements for this type of occupancy. The code section for Group R-1 exit signs reads as follows:

1013.2 Low-level exit signs in Group R-1. Where exit signs are required in Group R-1 occupancies by Section 1013.1, additional low-level exit signs shall be provided in all areas serving guest rooms in Group R-1 occupancies and shall comply with Section 1013.5. 

The bottom of the sign shall be not less than 10 inches nor more than 18 inches above the floor level. The sign shall be flush mounted to the door or wall. Where mounted on the wall, the edge of the sign shall be within 4 inches of the door frame on the latch side.

This section primarily addresses hotels, motels, and other short-term stay facilities. Because the occupants of these types of buildings are unfamiliar with the layout or may be sleeping, low-level exit signs must be installed to guide the guests from their rooms more clearly. These signs also serve as backup measures in the event that smoke from the ceiling obscures the primary exit signs. Like regular exit signs, these signs must have internal illumination and be listed and labeled in the same manner as the primary exit signs.

Note that this section does not require low-level signs in the guest’s rooms themselves or throughout the entire hotel. Rather, they are only needed in the areas leading from the guestrooms to the exits. These signs must also be mounted on the exit door itself or on the side of the door having the open latch.

The height requirement at the bottom of the exit sign is intended to prevent conflict with accessible route requirements. For example, ICC A117.1 states that doors on an accessible route must be smooth-surfaced on the bottom 10 inches. This allows an occupant who uses a wheelchair to use the footplates on their wheelchair to help them open the door.

This concludes the code requirements related to exit sign locations as referenced per the International Building Code.

For more information regarding exit sign code requirements, be sure to check out Section 1013.

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* Reference Source – 2018 International Building Code – [Buy on Amazon]