Means of Egress

The means of egress requirements are part of the International Building Code (IBC) that refer to the ability to exit the building and the path to get outside. Every new building must have means of egress, but the number of means of egress paths and size differ from building to building.

Means of egress definition:

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

  1. The exit access – path within the building that leads to an exit
  2. The exit – doors to the outside, enclosed exit stairways, and horizontal exits
  3. The exit discharge – the route from the exit to the public way

Diagram Credit: U.S. Access Board

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Part 1: The Exit Access

When the IBC talks about “accessible,” it  means that somebody in a wheelchair can use whatever thing they are referring to. Therefore, an “accessible space” means that a person in a wheelchair can enter and exit that space via an “accessible means of egress” (i.e. walkway, ramp, or elevator).

Accessible spaces must have two accessible means of egress, and they are typically required to be no less than 36″ wide.

For Non-accessible spaces, which are floors above or below the ground floor, the accessible pathway must lead to an exit stairway, elevator, or horizontal exit. These areas serve as an Area of Refuge where emergency responders will come to help people in wheelchairs.

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

Occupant Load




Required Means of Egress




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

Part 1: The Exit Access

The exit consists of an elevator with standby power or exit stairway and the exit door on the ground floor. Refer to the IBC stair and handrail specifications sheet and the refuge areas to make sure your means of egress are compliant.

Part 1: The Exit Access

The exit discharge consists of either an accessible route, such as an ADA ramp or walkway, or a stair and platform with a refuge area.