An Overview of Mechanical Exit Devices

May 1, 2007
In simple terms, an exit device is a lock with an inside release bar. Variations include standard, fire-rated, rim, vertical rod and mortise exit devices and a number of specialty exit bars.

In a fire or other emergency situation, a large number of people may need to exit a room or area quickly. A large group of people funneled into a hallway may count on one door to allow them an immediate exit from the building. Obviously a doorknob and deadbolt is not the best hardware to handle this situation. Under extreme pressure to exit, a knob or lever may bind, preventing the door from opening at all. In addition if the deadbolt is locked, two actions need to occur to open the door. Someone must unlock the deadbolt and turn the knob.

What is needed is an exit device.

The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) Guide to Builders Hardware Terminology describes it this way:

EXIT DEVICE – (Also called panic device, panic hardware, panic bolt and crash bar.) A type of lock having an inside release bar. When depressed, the release bar (called crossbar, push pad, etc.) retracts the latch bolt, thus permitting the door to be opened. Most codes require that the activating portion of the release mechanism extend not less than halfway across the door. A dogging device allows the release bar to be locked down so that the latch bolt remains retracted and the door can be used as a “push-pin” door. They may or may not be key operated. These devices have been investigated for panic use and are listed by a nationally recognized independent testing laboratory and are also under in-plant and follow-up inspection service. They may not be used on fire doors.

FIRE EXIT HARDWARE – These are exit devices which have been labeled for use on fire doors. Dogging devices are not permitted on fire exit hardware as fire doors must have an active latch. When inspecting exit devices on fire doors, look for two labels, one for panic and one indicating the device is fire exit hardware. The label on the fire door itself should also indicate that it is a fire door suitable for use with fire exit hardware.

A number of questions need to be answered in order to determine what type of panic bar is needed in a given situation:

What size is the door? (A common 3-0 X 7-0 door is three feet wide and 7 feet tall)

Is it a wood, hollow metal or aluminum frame glass door?

Is it a single door or double door?

If it is a double door, is there a center mullion?

Is there any glass in the door?

Where does the door lead? (Some doors that lead to the outside are not labeled.)

Is the door a labeled fire door?

Wood or hollow metal (steel) doors both use the same type of locking hardware, usually surface mounted rim and vertical rod devices. Aluminum framed glass storefront doors have special narrow stile exit devices. The metal framework or stile width will determine of a storefront door will determine which models will fit.

Once you determine what style, size and type of exit device you will use, decide on the outside trim. A blank plate will cover any existing holes in the door, but will not allow access from the outside. A pull plate, keyed cylinder, knob or lever trim may be the best choice when outside access is required by your customer.

To meet the variety of local, regional and national codes, involve the AHJ. Your local government fire marshal and/or building inspectors are constantly updated on fire, life safety codes and changes. The final determination to meet applicable codes is made by the governing bodies in the location of the job.

Prior to meeting, contact your local locksmith wholesaler and discuss the installation.


Standard (non fire rated) exit devices can be locked down or open with a dog down feature. This allows a door to remain in an open or unlocked position during an extended period, accomplished by pressing the bar to retract the latch, then turning a special dogging hex key to secure the bar. In some applications a keyed rim or mortise cylinder is used in place of a dogging hex key.

When a bar is dogged down, the door can be opened by pushing it or pulling it from either side. Neither the outside trim nor the bar itself must be activated.

When the door needs to be locked again, the dogging key or for cylinder dogging, the mortise cylinder key is used to release the bar, allowing the latch(s) to re-engage the strike plate. In this position it is necessary to push the bar from the inside or turn the outside trim or key to gain entry.


Fire-rated exit hardware offers the same features as other exit devices in appearance, finish and operational advantages (except dogging). However, fire-rated hardware is constructed to remain secure for at least three hours under test conditions.

Fire-rated devices can't be locked down at any time because positive latching of the door is required at all times. The material of the latch and mechanism must be able to hold up under fire conditions and remain latched. A fire rated exit device must meet the standards of Underwriters Laboratory to receive the UL listing and must be clearly labeled as such.

The final determination to require a fire rated device can be determined by your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), usually a local fire marshal or building inspector.

Exit devices fall into three basic categories: Rim Exit Devices, Vertical Rod Exit Devices and Mortise Exit Devices. Almost every manufacturer's exit device is offered in a standard and fire rated version.


Most single doors use a rim device. This single point mechanism uses a spring-loaded latch (many offer a Pullman style bolt) to secure the door. This may or may not incorporate a deadlatch feature.

The use of outside trim varies from none at all to a simple pull plate to open the door when the bar is dogged down, a pull plate with a keyed rim cylinder to open the door from the outside, or a completely keyed lever or knob with lock cylinder mounted into a trim plate that can be similar in appearance to a conventional lever or knob cylindrical or mortise lock.


There are two styles of vertical rod exit devices. The standard vertical rod exit device is surface mounted. There is also a concealed version, where the vertical rods and the latch mechanism(s) are installed within the body of the door.

In addition to the standard and the concealed versions, there are also Top Rod Only models of vertical rod exit devices. Top Rod only exit devices do not have a bottom rod mechanism. Depending upon the manufacturer and the application, when a Top Rod Only vertical rod exit device is installed, a pop-out latch may be required to be installed into the lower portion of the door which will extend and secure the lower portion of the door should there be a fire.

Probably the most common application for vertical rod exit devices is double-door applications where there is no center mullion. The standard top and bottom vertical rod exit device provides latching action at the top and bottom edges of the door. Depending upon the door's configurations, in a standard double door application, each of the doors can operate independently and open or close with no affect on the other door.

When a fixed center mullion is in place, a pair of double doors can be treated as two single doors, using rim devices on each door that latch to a strike plate mounted onto the sides of the mullion. Another alternative is a removable center mullion, used in schools and auditoriums where large equipment must be moved in and out. By removing the mullion the double-wide opening can be utilized. When the mullion is put back in position, all hardware acts in the normal fashion.

When using a vertical rod device, it may be surface-mounted or concealed. In a new door situation, the door can be factory prepped to accept the concealed vertical rods inside the door cavity with only the bar itself visible on the surface of the door. While this makes a clean appearance, existing door installations usually end up with surface mounted rods.

In special situations, a Less Bottom Rod (LBR) installation may be called for. Because only the top rod is securing the door, approval from the AHJ is required.

Dogging is again allowed in a non fire-rated application. By depressing the bar, the rods are drawn down, retracting both top and bottom latch bolts. Operation is identical to a dogged down rim device until the bar is released to the active position.

Outside trim may consist of none at all, a simple pull plate to open the door when the bar is dogged down, a pull plate with a keyed rim cylinder to open the door from the outside, a keyed cylinder that releases an outside turn knob or lever to draw the rods to the unlocked position, or a keyed lever or knob similar in appearance to a conventional lever or knob.


A mortise exit devices utilizes a bar to release a latching mortise lock. The mortise body is usually similar to that used by any other mortise lock. The bar is surface-mounted on the door and interacts with the mortise case through a special cam or bar that activates to withdraw the latch. Non-fire rated mortise exit devices can be equipped with dogging mechanism which when engaged retract the latch bolt and permit unrestricted access as well as egress.

Mortise exit device outside trim may consist of a lever or knob similar in appearance to a conventional mortise lever or knob and a keyed cylinder to control the locked position.


A wide variety of other hardware is available under the general umbrella of exit devices. Alarmed devices will send a signal when unauthorized exit is attempted. Some feature a delayed egress that will keep the door locked for 15 or 30 seconds before releasing the door to open. This deters shoplifting by giving security time to get to the door. In a fire or other emergency the door releases immediately.

Other alarmed exit devices use a deadbolt type mechanism that is withdrawn as the paddle or bar is activated. The alarm horn is activated and must be reset by someone with the proper key.

Electrified exit devices can be used for access control. An outside keypad, card reader or other credentialed piece is used to allow access to authorized personnel. Some mechanical exit devices can be converted to electrified with a conversion kit; others cannot. Contact the manufacturer of the exit device for information regarding electrification.

There are also electric strikes specially designed to work with exit devices. On rim exit devices, one type of electric strike replaces the surface-mounted mechanical strike and requires no modification to the frame. Dual fingers release to allow the rim latch to bypass the strike when the door is opened from the outside with an accepted credential.

Other types of electrified exit devices contain no locking or latching mechanism. Some contain a small micro-switch is activated when the bar is pressed. This sends a signal to the electric lock to unlock. Another type is touch-sensitive and has no moving parts. By simply touching the bar an electric field is broken, sending a signal to the electric lock to open.

Before installing any electrified exit device, contact your local Authority Having Jurisdiction and discuss your specific application.

The best way to be sure you are getting the correct exit device for the job is to involve your distributor. Locksmith distributors have a wealth of information to be shared by their inside and outside sales professionals. They are there to help you choose the best brand, model and style of hardware.

For more information, contact your favorite locksmith distributor or one of the manufacturers of exit devices.


Architectural Control Systems (ACSI) has added the 1550K-VD to its 1500 Series Product Line of electric exit devices. The UL listed 1550K-VD is field-installable electric latch retraction kit for Von Duprin 33A/35A and 98/99 exit devices. The kit will fit in three-foot or four-foot devices.

Power transfer to the exit device is via an electric hinge, so no special power transfer device or special door and frame prep is required. The 1550K-VD kit must be used with ACSI 1406 or 1426 power supply. Factory engineering support includes riser diagrams and point-to-point wiring diagrams interfacing all components of the opening.

For information, call John Hooss at 800-753-5558 or visit

Command Access

The VLPKIT from Command Access is a replacement for the standard Von Duprin mechanical baseplate used on the 33A/35A and 98/99 series devices. This electrified latch pullback baseplate modified by Command Access features the PM200 interface module which allows the device to be used with most 1.5 Amp or greater switching, linear or non-regulated power supplies and increases the distance from the power supply to the device up to 700 feet.

For information, visit


The 9000 Series exit devices from DORMA Architectural Hardware provide durability and added functionality to commercial and institutional doors.

The 9000 series exit device features a smooth, reduced projection that minimizes catch hazards. The device's partial length touchbar permits field installation of options such as cylinder dogging and exit alarms. For information, visit

Corbin Russwin

As a part of the LiteGuide™ egress lighting system from ASSA ABLOY, Corbin Russwin introduces PathLite™, the photoluminescent touchpad cover option for the ED4000 and ED5000 Series of Architectural Exit Devices.

The PathLite™ patent pending technology offers a number of benefits:

• Requires no wiring or maintenance

• Recharges with exposure to ambient light

• Unaffected by heat or cold

• Non-toxic, will not rub or fade

• Vandal resistant

• Fire resistant and non-radioactive

• Green contrasting word “EXIT” centered on touchbar in 1-1/2” high lettering

• Cost effective; especially suited for existing buildings

PathLite photoluminescent exit devices meet New York City 's newly adopted standards for requirement of photoluminescent signage and stairwell markings in all office buildings in excess of 75 feet in height.

For information, visit


Micromint, Inc. has developed a new automated panic bar (patent pending). for ingress/egress in commercial buildings. Battery life exceeds five years. It is self-contained, with no hardwiring, and can be installed in 15 minutes. Calendar software is included to program unlock & lock schedules. For information, visit

Von Duprin

Von Duprin introduces the XP98/99 Rim Exit device. This revolutionary advancement, with its patented “smart latch bolt” design, raises both the security and safety capabilities for exit device openings. This unique design delivers the highest level of static load force resistance, an industry measurement for protection from abusive attack. These design advancements provide lower operational forces on both loaded and unloaded door conditions. This device is most valuable where door security has been compromised by pull-force attack or where door latching is weakened by deterioration frame conditions.

Other advantages include:

• XP function available in a Retro-fit kit for 98/99 device upgrades.

• Modern touchbar styling for heavy traffic applications.

• Designed for use on single or double doors with mullion.

• Fits doors with stile widths as narrow as 4”.

• Fluid damper that decelerates the pushpad on its return stroke eliminating most noise associated with exit device operation.

• Available in all finishes.

• Flush Mounted End Cap for aesthetic styling and robust reliability.

• Easy Upgrade for 98/99 Series Owners

For information, visit


Detex Corporation is introducing an innovative new design feature on its ECL-230 family of exit control locks. A steel paddle with luminescent, “glow-in-the-dark” text can be ordered in virtually any language.

Rugged and reliable, ECL-230 locks are in wide use on exit doors wherever life safety or loss prevention is critical, from retail stores to hotels to medical facilities. Now, the value of this hardware as a life safety device is enhanced by text that can be easily seen and read in the dark. And, with the added strength of steel, the ECL-230 paddle is more durable.

The steel paddle will come on all ECL-230 orders at no extra cost, or as a cost-effective paddle kit for upgrades on existing installations. The ECL-230D, ECL-230-PH, and ECL-600 locks can be ordered in the new black or standard gray finish. All Detex ECL products are code compliant.

For information, visit or call 800-729-3839.


Dor-O-Matic's 1690 and 1790 exit devices for aluminum doors continue Dor-O-Matic's commitment to quality and long-lasting performance, with the sleek, modern touchpad design.

The 1690 and 1790 panic devices carry the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label and are approved for life safety. In addition, these exit devices meet the requirements of ANSI Grade I.

Both feature an upgraded design that offers increased building security, eliminating the possibility of tampering and forced entry through the use of coat hangers or other tools. The streamlined design has no openings for chains— reducing the risk of code infringements.

The 1690 and 1790 come in three popular finishes, and both carry a two-year warranty. For information, visit