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Stairway Exit Signs: Frequently Asked Questions and Regulations

Q. Which are the NFPA requirements for stairway identification signs?


The NFPA requirements for stairway identification signs are listed in NFPA 101-2015 Section The section states that stairs shall be provided with special signage within the enclosure at each floor landing. It further states details to be provided on the signage, such as the floor level, stair enclosure, and its top and bottom terminus, and the exit discharge floor level and direction. 

This NFPA section also includes information about signage placement, use of tactile letters, and design specifications related to letter sizing, placement of the different elements on the sign, and the use of No Roof Access text. 

The section clearly states minimum letter size requirements - the floor/level number in the center should be a minimum 5” high, and the rest of the letters should not be less than 1” (25mm) high. Moreover, Mezzanine levels should be denoted by “M” or other appropriate identification letter preceding the floor number, while basement levels shall have the letter “B” or the appropriate identification letter preceding the floor level number. Also, the floor level designation shall also be tactile in accordance with ICC/ANSI A117.1.

Q. What are the design specifications for IFC stairway identification signs?


As described in 2012 IFC Chapter 10, Section 1022.9.1, stairway identification signs must be at least 18 inches by 12 inches in size. The letters identifying the interior exit stairway and ramp shall be a minimum of 11/2 inches in height, while the number designating the floor level shall be a minimum of 5 inches in height and placed in the center of the sign. All other letters and numbers shall be a minimum of 1 inch tall.

Further, characters and their background shall have a non-glare finish, with the characters contrasting with their background. This may be achieved by using light characters on a dark background or vice versa.

Q. Where can I find the raised character ADA requirements for stairway/floor identification signs?


The specifications related to raised characters on ADA signs are covered in chapter §703.2 of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design. According to these specifications:

  • - Raised characters should be uppercase and situated at least 1/32 inch above the sign base. 
  • - Use of decorative or unusual forms is ill-advised; the characters shall be sans serif. 
  • - Font should be such that the width of the uppercase letter “O” is at least 55 percent minimum and at most 110 percent of the height of the uppercase “I”. 
  • - Measured from the baseline of the character, the character height shall be at least 5/8 inch and not more than 2 inches based on the height of the uppercase letter “I”. 
  • - Where a sign has raised and visual characters with the same information, the raised character height can be a minimum of 1/2 inch. 
  • - The stroke thickness of the uppercase letter “I” shall not exceed 15-percent of the character’s height.
  • - The character spacing shall be measured between the two closest points of adjacent raised characters within a message, excluding word spaces.
  • - Raised characters shall be separated from raised borders and decorative elements by at least 3/8 inch.
  • - Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of raised characters within a message shall be 135 percent minimum and 170 percent maximum of the raised character height.

Q. Which buildings require ADA floor identification signs?


ADA signs, including but not limited to floor identification signs, are required in government facilities as well as public accommodations and commercial facilities. To make establishments readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, these signs are installed in the state, county, and local government buildings, stores, restaurants, shops, theatres, lodging facilities, workplaces, and factories. Public areas of apartment and condo buildings, commercial areas in private properties, etc., are also included. Prisons and buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are the only places exempt from complying with the ADA signage requirements.

Q. Where should stairway identification signs be mounted?


According to 2012 IFC Chapter 10, a stairway identification sign is required at each floor landing in an interior exit stairway and ramp connecting more than three stories. The sign shall be located 5 feet above the floor landing and be readily visible when the doors are in open and closed positions. Additionally, a floor-level sign in raised characters and Braille shall be located at each floor-level landing next to the door leading from the interior exit stairway and ramp into the corridor to identify the floor level. This sign should comply with ICC A117.1

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