A panic bar is a hardware device designed to allow quick and easy exit during an emergency. Also known as a "crash bar" or "exit device," a panic bar takes the place of a knob or lever lock, which may be difficult to maneuver in a panic situation. The use and installation of panic bars is tightly regulated by local building codes, OSHA, and the National Fire Protection Association.

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A panic bar can help people exit safely during an emergency.

Panic Bar Requirements

For many building owners, the trickiest part of installing a panic bar is determining where and when this device is required. According to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Standard 101, a panic bar should always be used in four specific applications. They must be used in rooms holding more than 50 people, areas containing combustible materials, stairwell exits, and doors used to exit a building. Local building codes may require these devices at additional locations, though the majority of codes are based on NFPA Standards. For doors designated as a fire-rated opening, a fire-labeled panic bar must be used. If the door or frame has a fire label, the exit device must also have one. For non-rated doors, no label is required on panic bars.

Choosing a Panic Bar

There are three basic types of panic bars to choose from. A rim device is used on single doors, or on pairs of doors equipped with a vertical mullion. Rim devices are the easiest type of panic bar to install, and generally require the least maintenance. Devices with surface vertical rods are much more difficult to work with, and are not recommended for novice installers. They also require significant door and floor preparation, and tend to need regular maintenance to keep them operational. Finally, a panic bar with a concealed vertical rod is both costly and difficult to install. It requires precise cutouts to be made in the door, which must often be made by the manufacturer.

Buyers should also consider the intended function of the device when selecting a panic bar. Those doors designed to allow exit only with no re-entry will require a device with no exterior trim. Others may require panic bars with a night latch or entry function. Once you've selected the function, you must also choose the desired handle, trim or lever for the exterior of the door.

Prepping the Door

Though there are no requirements as to the length of the device itself, NFPA Standard 101 does state that the push pad on a panic bar must cover at least half of the door. On a typical 36" door, the push pad must be at least 18" long. The majority of panic bars can be cut to fit most doors, though the push pad itself cannot be altered.

Before installing the panic bar, use the paper templates that come with the device to help you mark the door. These templates stick to the door and frame to indicate where holes should be drilled or hardware should be mounted. If no mounting height is provided, arrange the templates so that the center-line of the push pad is 41" above the finished floor. This is the standard mounting height for these devices, and meets all applicable codes and accessibility requirements. This mounting height may be different in some schools or daycare centers, so be sure to check local building codes. Use a circular saw to drill a hole for the cylinder as shown on the template. Pre-drill holes for the panic bar and trim in accordance with the template.

Installing the Device

Fasten the panic bar to the door as shown on the template. Be sure to use only the screws and fasteners included in the package, as other screws may void the warranty or fire rating of the device. Next, install the chassis (lock body) onto the door as indicated. Slide the lock cylinder in from the front of the door and screw the backing ring into place. Test that the push pad and cylinder are operational before proceeding. Use the frame template to fasten the strike plate to the soffit or rabbet of the frame as shown. Open and close the door to ensure the strike is correctly installed. Finally, install any exterior trim or hardware on the outside of the door. If the door is designed for exit only, no trim will be required.