Understanding Means of Egress: A Guide to Building Code Requirements

Ensuring proper means of egress is fundamental in building design and safety. The International Building Code (IBC) outlines specific requirements for the safe exit of commercial buildings. In this informative guide, we will explore the key components of means of egress, clarify terminology, and provide an overview of the code provisions. By understanding these requirements, you can confidently ensure compliance and prioritize safe access for anyone entering or exiting your building.

What is means of egress?

A means of egress is a continuous, clear path from any occupied portion of a building, structure, or space to a public way, such as an outdoor sidewalk. A means of egress consists of three parts: exit access, exit, and exit discharge.

Means of Egress

A means of egress consists of three parts:

  1. Exit Access: This refers to the path within the building that leads to an exit. It can be a corridor, hallway, or designated path in a room that provides a clear route to safety.
  2. Exit: The exit includes doors leading to the outside, enclosed exit stairways, or horizontal exits. These components are crucial for facilitating a swift and safe evacuation.
  3. Exit Discharge: The exit discharge encompasses the route from the exit to the public way. It ensures that individuals can safely reach a place of refuge or a public street outside the building.
Means of Egress Diagram

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Accessible Means of Egress

For spaces designated as accessible, it is imperative to provide two accessible means of egress. Accessible means of egress enable individuals using wheelchairs to enter and exit spaces safely and comfortably. Walkways, ramps, or elevators can serve as accessible means of egress, and they should be a minimum of 36″ wide to accommodate wheelchair users.

The required number of means of egress is determined by occupant load:

Occupant LoadRequired Means of Egress
*Exception: Buildings that have a low occupant load, such as mercantile spaces, only require one exit.

Non-Accessible Spaces and Area of Refuge

Non-accessible spaces located above or below the ground floor must still offer an accessible pathway leading to an exit stairway, elevator, or horizontal exit. These areas serve as Areas of Refuge where emergency responders can assist individuals in wheelchairs. The required number of means of egress depends on the occupant load, with low-occupancy buildings like mercantile spaces typically requiring only one exit.

Exit Requirements and Compliance

Exits must meet specific requirements to ensure safety during emergencies. They should consist of exit stairways or elevators with standby power and be separated from other interior spaces by fire-resistant construction. To ensure compliance, refer to the IBC stair and handrail specifications sheet and carefully consider refuge areas.

Exit Discharge and Public Way

The exit discharge is the final phase of means of egress and involves the route from the exit to safety. It can be an accessible route such as an ADA ramp or walkway or a stair and platform leading to a refuge area. The exit discharge can be located inside the building, such as a main lobby, or extend outside to an egress court, courtyard, alley, or public way. A public way is defined as an area outside the building that connects the exit discharge to a public street, providing a minimum clearance height and width of at least 10 feet.


Understanding and adhering to means of egress requirements is crucial for building safety and code compliance. By implementing the proper components, pathways, and dimensions as outlined in the IBC, you can ensure a clear and efficient evacuation process during emergencies. Prioritize the safety of occupants by designing and maintaining means of egress that meet these rigorous standards.

At DockStep, we are dedicated to providing innovative, durable, and compliant access solutions to streamline operations and enhance safety. Ready to get started? Contact us today to discover how we can assist you in optimizing safe access for maximum efficiency and peace of mind.

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