Accreditation & Regulatory Journal
November 2023

CIHQ-ARS Article

Compliant Stairwell Signage

Stairwells play an important role in the protection of building occupants. They provide a safe way to escape during a fire or other emergency. Consequently, signage located inside the stairwell at each landing is critical. Signage should be posted at each landing of each enclosed stairwell that states the identification and current level of the stairwell, the range of levels that exist in the stairwell, the level of discharge and the direction of travel to the discharge level, and if roof access is unavailable.
There are multiple standards and federal administrations that define requirements for the language, font, and design of the signs, including the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the American National
Standards Institute (ANSI). NFPA 101, 2012, Life Safety Code, references ICC/ANSI A117.1, American National Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, 2009. Additionally, local city and state codes may have additional requirements for the signage.
This article will focus on the most stringent requirements from NFPA and ANSI, therefore ensuring that all other requirements are met.
Installation & Sizing
The sign should be installed at each floor landing of the stairwell, adjacent to the door, and 5 feet above the ground. Ensure that the sign is visible with the door in the opened and in the closed position. The lettering of the current floor designation on the sign must be at least 5 inches tall, and the identifying name or number of the stairwell should be at least 1 ½ inches tall. All other lettering on the sign should be at least 1 inch tall. All letters and numbers should be tactile and braille. All characters on the sign should have a non-glare finish and should contrast with the background of the sign.
Note that NFPA only requires stairwell signage for new enclosed stairs serving three or more stories, and existing enclosed stairs serving five or more stories. ANSI requires stairwell signage in all enclosed stairwells, regardless of the number of levels. Therefore, to meet the most stringent requirement, all enclosed stairwells should have identification signs at each landing.
Sign Language
The sign should state the building’s unique identification of the stairwell, such as “Stair 15” or “Stair A.” It should state the current level of designation and the level and direction of the exit discharge. For example, “Down to 1st Floor for Exit Discharge.” The sign should include the range of all levels that exist in the stairwell. It is assumed that all stairwells have roof access, however, if roof access is not available, the sign must state “NO ROOF ACCESS” in all capital letters.
Sign Layout
The information on the sign should be listed in a particular order. The unique identification of the stairwell should be located at the top of the sign. If the stairwell does not have roof access, “NO ROOF ACCESS” should be directly underneath the stairwell identification. The current floor designation of the stairwell should be located in the middle of the sign. The range of levels that exist in the stairwell should be located at the bottom of the sign.
Additional Stairwell Signage
In addition to the stairwell informational signage, ANSI and IFC requires a sign that says “EXIT” with braille and tactile lettering on the wall next to the latch of the door that discharges to the outside or the level of exit discharge.
International Fire Code
The International Fire Code (IFC) 2015 has been adopted with or without amendments by some state and city jurisdictions. In hospital high-rise buildings, in areas where IFC has been adopted, the 2015 edition requires self-luminous and photoluminescent egress path markings in interior exit stairways, exit ramps, and exit passageways. This includes landings, steps, handrails, demarcation lines, transitions, door frames, doors and door hardware, and any obstacles that may exist such as standpipes, hose cabinets, restricted height areas, etc. IFC also requires that signage installed in these areas also be made of self-luminous and photoluminescent materials.
NFPA 101, 2012
ANSI A117.1, 2009
IFC, 2015