No, an opening in a fire wall is not automatically considered a horizontal exit per the 2012 (or the 2021) International Building Code (IBC), nor the 2014 Indiana Building Code (2012 International Building Code with 2014 Indiana Amendments). The code distinguishes between fire walls and horizontal exits, and they are separate provisions with different requirements.

Fire Walls

Section 706 of the IBC covers fire walls, which are defined as “a fire-resistance-rated wall having protected openings, which restricts the spread of fire and extends continuously from the foundation to or through the roof, with sufficient structural stability under fire conditions to allow collapse of construction on either side without collapse of the wall.” 1

Three key points about fire walls:

  • They create separate building areas for determining allowable height, area, and construction type (503.1).1
  • Openings in fire walls must be protected with fire door assemblies or fire window assemblies (706.8).1
  • There are limits on the size and spacing of openings in fire walls (706.8).1

However, the fire wall provisions do not explicitly require openings to meet the criteria for horizontal exits.

Horizontal Exits

Section 1026 covers the requirements for horizontal exits, which are defined as “a path of egress travel from one building to an area in another building on approximately the same level, or a path of egress travel through or around a wall or partition…” 1

Key requirements for horizontal exits include:

  • They must create a fire-resistance rated separation of 2 hours minimum (1026.1).1
  • The fire door assemblies must be self-closing or automatic-closing upon detection of smoke (1026.3).2
  • Capacity limits – horizontal exits can comprise no more than half the required exits or exit capacity (1026.1).1
  • Refuge areas may be required on the other side of the horizontal exit (1026.4).1

Refuge Areas

The refuge area must have sufficient capacity and proper egress configuration to safely accommodate the occupant loads from both the refuge area itself and the adjoining fire area reached via the horizontal exit. 6,7,8,9,10


  • Capacity of Refuge Area
    • The refuge area must be adequate to accommodate the original occupant load of the refuge area itself, plus the anticipated occupant load from the adjoining compartment/area served by the horizontal exit. 6,7,10
    • The anticipated occupant load from the adjoining area is based on the capacity of the horizontal exit doors entering the refuge area. 6,7,10
    • The capacity of the refuge area is computed based on a minimum floor area allowance of 3 square feet (0.2787 m2) per occupant. 6,7,10
  • Configuration of Refuge Area
    • The refuge area must be a space occupied by the same tenant or a public area. 6,7,10
    • It cannot be a locked space, stairwell, corridor, toilet room, closet or mechanical room.6
    • At least one exit from the refuge area must lead directly to the exterior, an interior exit stairway, or an exit ramp.6,7,10
  • Exceptions
    • The adjoining compartment served by the horizontal exit does not need its own direct exterior exit, as long as the refuge area has adequate exterior exits arranged so occupants don’t need to return through the area of fire origin.6,7,10
    • For certain occupancy types like assembly, the floor area allowance per occupant in the refuge area may be increased based on code exceptions.7


Are Standpipe Hose Connections Required at Horizontal Exits?

Yes, standpipe hose connections are required at horizontal exits per the codes.

  • Standpipe Hose Connections at Horizontal Exits
    • Per Section 905.4.2 of the International Building Code (IBC), a Class I standpipe hose connection is mandated on each side of a horizontal exit opening. This requirement serves a critical life safety function by ensuring that a charged hose line from the building’s standpipe system is readily available in the immediate vicinity of the horizontal exit.11, 13
    • In the event of a fire emergency, firefighters can quickly access these hose connections and deploy hose lines to protect the horizontal exit, control any fires along the path of egress travel, and potentially conduct interior attack operations. The strategic placement of these connections on both sides of the fire-rated separation is crucial for effective fire response tactics.
    • However, the IBC does provide one exception to this requirement. If the floor areas on each side of the horizontal exit are located within a 130-foot travel distance from other exit stairway standpipe hose connections, then the horizontal exit connections may be omitted. This exception acknowledges that in certain configurations, the areas can be adequately covered by nearby standpipe outlets associated with the exit stairways.
  • Cost and Design Implications
    • If any opening in a fire wall is designated and constructed as a horizontal exit per Section 1026, it triggers the requirement for standpipe hose connections on each side, unless the aforementioned exception applies. This can have significant cost and design coordination implications, especially in larger facilities with multiple fire wall openings.
    • The installation of each standpipe hose connection, including the associated piping, valves, and accessories, can be a substantial expense. Additionally, the required clearances and access provisions around these connections may impact adjacent room layouts, furniture placement, and other design elements.
    • Consequently, architects, engineers, and designers must carefully evaluate the fire and life safety strategies during the early planning stages. They need to weigh the benefits of utilizing horizontal exits against the added costs and complexities of incorporating the necessary standpipe infrastructure. In some cases, alternative approaches like additional enclosed exit stairways may be more practical or cost-effective.
    • Ultimately, ensuring code compliance while optimizing both safety and project feasibility requires close collaboration between all stakeholders, including the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). A thorough understanding of the code requirements, coupled with thoughtful design decisions, is essential for successful project delivery.
  • Additional Requirements for Consideration
    • NFPA 14 (2024 edition) adds some new requirements related to the installation and clearances for horizontal exit hose connections, such as being visible within 20 feet of each side of the exit and having proper clearances from obstructions.12


The 2012 IBC does not state that any opening in a fire wall must automatically meet the provisions for a horizontal exit. While a horizontal exit could potentially be created using a fire wall with protected openings, it is a separate design decision and the horizontal exit criteria must be explicitly met.3 An opening in a fire wall serves to separate the building into fire areas but does not inherently create the egress separation and features required for a horizontal exit.4,5