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ICU Door Breakaway Functoins


Questions and misconceptions on the ICU door swing out/breakaway functions


Do you need “emergency” or “utility” swingout/breakaway?

This is one of the most common misunderstandings we see. An architect or specifier calls for sliding ICU doors that can breakaway at any point along the sliding panel’s path of travel. This is called “emergency breakaway.” To function as an emergency breakaway door, an ICU door has to breakaway at any point (full-closed, full-open or anywhere in-between). And is intended to swing in the direction of egress.

Early ICU doors were on tracks and could easily breakaway at any point. So it wasn’t an issue to provide the emergency breakaway capability. However, in today’s ICU environments, emergency breakaway ICU doors are seldom required, and have become less popular over time..

Fully trackless ICU doors are now the preferred option by code and infection control standards. The 2014 edition of FGI Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospital and Outpatient Facilities (“FGI”) says, “Sliding doors shall not have tracks.” [2.1-].

The FGI appendix explains, “Eliminating floor tracks and using breakaway door hardware minimizes the possibility of jamming.” With few exceptions, the catch is trackless ICU doors can only breakaway when they’re at the full-opened position. Where the bottom pivot point can engage a pin at the jamb.

This is not emergency breakaway. This is what’s known as utility or convenience breakaway. Meaning you can breakout the door panels for convenience purposes. Such as when cleaning a room or moving a patient bed into the room. In most applications where you’ll want to use ICU doors, there’s no need for emergency egress. The low occupancy of the patient rooms these doors serve don’t require it.

In other words, when you specify sliding ICU doors as the entry door to your patient rooms, do the following. Call for trackless doors with breakaway capability from the fully open position.

*Note: When you’re talking about ICU door functions, the term “breakaway” is often interchanged with the terms “breakout” and “swing out.” They all mean the same thing…


Should your ICU doors breakaway into the patient room or out to the corridor?

This great question has been a topic of debate for some time now. Ideally, you want to maximize usable floor space in the patient room. However, when breaking doors into the patient room, you lose usable floor and wall space in the room.

STANLEY sliding ICU door with panels breaking out into the corridor

This affects where you can put your handwashing sinks. Where you can hang a television in the room. Where you’ll stack your cubicle curtains or put your light switch. So, the designer’s preference is usually to breakaway the ICU door panels out to the corridor. This is where the question and confusion on code compliance comes into play.

The IBC and NFPA 101 says a door at its fully open position cannot encroach more than 7" into the minimum required corridor width. So, for an ICU door, its breakaway panels only open 90 degrees. This means the width of the panel can only encroach 7” into the standard 8-foot wide corridor.


In a typical ICU or patient room area, the required corridor width is 96".

So, if a typical breakaway ICU door panel only opens 90 degrees and you specified an ICU door with a 51.5" wide sliding door panel, the corridor width would need to be:

96" (required corridor width) - 7" (allowable encroachment) = 89" + 51.5" (ICU door panel width) = 140.5" (13'-4 1/2") corridor width

However, if your project is in a jurisdiction adopting the FGI guidelines, in the 2014 FGI Guidelines for Hospitals..., Paragraph 2.1- says:

STANLEY sliding ICU door with panels breaking into the patient room

"When sliding doors with breakaway features are used in the full open position, they shall be permitted to temporarily restrict the minimum corridor width required by applicable building codes."

In other words, you MIGHT get a pass on the temporary breakaway encroachment. Unless your project is in a jurisdiction that doesn't recognize the FGI guidelines. Or the code officials won’t allow this particular exception. That’s why it’s so crucial you always make sure you confirm your design and ICU door choices with your project’s authority having jurisdiction.