Published on September 1, 2020.

In Compliance | NFPA 101

COVID, reoccupying buildings, and the inspection of doors in the means of egress


The global COVID-19 pandemic caused many areas around the world to shut down, leaving an assortment of buildings vacant for an extended time. Door deficiencies are often discovered through everyday use, but with so many buildings either sitting vacant or being used by fewer people, it is possible that those deficiencies may have gone unnoticed That’s why this is a good time for building owners to ensure the doors in the means of egress are working correctly before buildings are re-occupied.

Often, people think fire doors are the only types of doors that require inspection, but in fact doors of all types are an integral part of the means of egress system, and ensuring they work as expected is vital to occupant life safety. An annual inspection and testing of doors equipped with panic hardware or fire exit hardware, doors in exit enclosures, electrically locked egress door, or doors with any type of special locking arrangements must be performed in certain occupancies. NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, requires these inspections only in assembly, educational, day-care, and residential board and care occupancies. However, if your building has sat vacant, performing one of these inspections may help you identify deficiencies.

During the annual inspection, the doors must be evaluated against criteria outlined in NFPA 101. This is to ensure that occupants can use the door as expected, that the door itself functions properly, and that any hardware or locking systems installed on the door are also functioning properly. The summary presented here is not intended as a complete list of those criteria, but rather to highlight some of the inspection and testing requirements of

For example, under emergency conditions, unobstructed paths will help facilitate the orderly evacuation of a building. Therefore, the floor area on either side of the door must be kept clear and the door must be able to open and close freely. If the path is blocked, or the door cannot be opened, occupants may need to turn around and find another way out, which can waste valuable time.

Occupants must also be capable of opening the door to the fully open position, so the force required to operate the door must be confirmed; for example, the code specifies the maximum force required to release the latch on most side-hinged doors. Similarly, the code also specifies the maximum force required to set the door leaf in motion, the maximum force required to open the door leaf to the required width, and the maximum opening force for doors leaves in existing buildings.

If a door opens into an aisle, corridor, passageway, or landing, the projection of the door leaf must be verified to ensure it doesn’t significantly impede the path of other occupants.

Also, the code specifies that the releasing mechanism for any latch must be mounted at the appropriate height. Occupants tend to look for the releasing mechanism at a certain height, and valuable time could be wasted during emergency conditions if occupants have to search for the release. Additionally, occupants may struggle to find the releasing mechanism in low-light situations.

The balance between life safety and security has sparked an ongoing debate, and as a result of violent incidents such as workplace shootings, a number of after-market security devices have gained popularity. However, many of these devices prohibit the free egress of building occupants, which is a foundational concept of the Life Safety Code. Other criteria of the required door inspection in NFPA 101 ensure that only safe, code-compliant locking arrangements are being used.

While the Life Safety Code requires these inspections annually, it also permits less frequent inspection if a performance-based option is appropriate. Although not all these doors will be fire doors, Annex J of NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, provides information on the performance-based approach that can be used to justify longer periods between inspections. Many of the inspection and testing requirements for these types of doors are intended to ensure the door performs as expected and that any additional hardware and locking mechanisms are code-compliant and working properly.

If your facility has sat vacant for any period of time, whether or not you are required to complete these inspections, it may be beneficial to inspect and test all doors in the means of egress prior to reoccupying the building.

Valerie Ziavras is a Technical Services engineer at NFPA. NFPA members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 101 at Top photograph: Getty Images