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Adding stairs to a crawl space

Dhelm72

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Joined
Jan 14, 2022
Messages
3
Location
South Carolina
I obtained a permit to add a spiral staircase from the main living floor to my crawl space.
This is a unique "crawl space" in that it is 6'10" from the concrete slab to the floor joists and 6'1" to the beams. It is fully encapsulated, dehumidified, ventilated with an ERV, and has a concrete slab over half of the space. I am currently using this for storage via an exterior access door that is 5'6" tall. I would like to be able to get to the space without going outside in the weather. I would also like to add a small wine cellar. I have no plans to finish the space or use it for living area.
A local inspector said the entire space will have to meet the standards of habitable space if I add a stairway from the main living space (We use the 2018 IRC and have no other local restrictions). The spiral staircase is a 5' diameter kit engineered to meet the IRC requirement for an egress stairway. I have no problem insulating the space, adding smoke detectors, insulation, fire separation, and already have an emergency egress opening via the exterior door. The one thing that will prevent me from making this space habitable is the 6'10 ceiling height.
I don't see anywhere in the IRC that requires the space to be habitable just because there is an interior stairway to access the space. In fact, the IRC only mentions that under floor areas must be accessible through an interior or exterior opening. The interior opening requirement only specifies a minimum of 18"x24" and there is no maximum dimension. There is also nothing in the code that specifically prohibits stairs within that opening.
There are plenty of code compliant stairways to crawl spaces, wine cellars, and other non habitable spaces in existence.
The International Residential Code (IRC) defines a habitable space under R202 as “a space in a building for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces and similar areas are not considered habitable spaces.”
Is there any reason why I can't have a stairway to this existing crawl space if it is only going to be used as storage (and therefore not habitable space) without meeting the requirements for habitable space?
 

ICE

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California concrete jungle
Either the inspector misspoke or was not understood but stairs to a basement do not cause the basement to be treated as habitable space.

HABITABLE SPACE. A space in a building for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces and similar areas are not considered habitable spaces.

BASEMENT. A story that is not a story above grade
plane. (see “Story above grade plane”).

STORY ABOVE GRADE PLANE. Any story having its finished floor surface entirely above grade plane, or in which the finished surface of the floor next above is either of the following:
1. More than 6 feet above grade plane.
2. More than 12 feet above the finished ground level at any point.

R305.1 Minimum height. Habitable space, hallways and portions of basements containing these spaces shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet. Bathrooms, toilet rooms and laundry rooms shall have a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 8 inches.

R305.1.1 Basements. Portions of basements that do not contain habitable space or hallways shall have a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 8 inches.
Exception: At beams, girders, ducts or other obstructions, the ceiling height shall be not less than 6 feet 4 inches from the finished floor.
 
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Dhelm72

Registered User
Joined
Jan 14, 2022
Messages
3
Location
South Carolina
R305.1.1 Basements. Portions of basements that do not contain habitable space or hallways shall have a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 8 inches.
Exception: At beams, girders, ducts or other obstruc- tions, the ceiling height shall be not less than 6 feet 4 inches from the finished floor.
Thank you for the helpful advice. I noticed R305.1.1 in my research. I only have 6'1" of clearance at the beams and 6'10" to the joists. Do you think I could enclose a 180 square foot area at the bottom of the stairs with a wall at the first beam making that entire area 6'10" tall. This is where I planned to do the wine cellar. I could have a door from that area to the rest of the crawl space.
Would this define the enclosed area that is directly accessible by stairs as non-habitable basement and the rest of the space can remain a crawl space as it currently exists? I have seen plenty of foundations with partial basements that connect to crawl spaces. Alternatively, do you think the entire space has to meet the R305.1.1 requirement for non-habitable basement area once a stairway is involved?
 

ICE

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California concrete jungle
Do you think I could enclose a 180 square foot area at the bottom of the stairs with a wall at the first beam making that entire area 6'10" tall? This is where I planned to do the wine cellar. I could have a door from that area to the rest of the crawl space.
I would not have a problem with that. Be aware that I do not know what the code requirements are where you are located. There's plenty of wrong coast members here so you might get a different answer after the weekend.
 

Dhelm72

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Joined
Jan 14, 2022
Messages
3
Location
South Carolina
I would not have a problem with that. Be aware that I do not know what the code requirements are where you are located. There's plenty of wrong coast members here so you might get a different answer after the weekend.
Thank you for your help ICE.
I just wanted more information before pleading my case. My county uses the 2018 IRC minimums and has no restrictions above and beyond that.
I realize that there is allot left to individual interpretation of the codes. In my case, I don't see anything in the IRC prohibiting me from doing what I am attempting. I just have to find a way to convince the inspector that it complies.
 

Msradell

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Jul 23, 2011
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Louisville Kentucky
There's plenty of wrong coast members here so you might get a different answer after the weekend.
No, we're the correct coast, and the West Coast is the wrong coast! The East Coast doesn't get earthquakes, wildfires, high taxes, ridiculous code requirements, massive traffic jams, etc. It just gets occasional hurricanes.
 

ICE

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California concrete jungle
Thank you for your help ICE.
I just wanted more information before pleading my case. My county uses the 2018 IRC minimums and has no restrictions above and beyond that.
I realize that there is allot left to individual interpretation of the codes. In my case, I don't see anything in the IRC prohibiting me from doing what I am attempting. I just have to find a way to convince the inspector that it complies.
If the inspector balks remember that he has a supervisor. Given the hurricanes that visit every year, you might rethink storing wine below the flood rim.
 

ICE

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No, we're the correct coast, and the West Coast is the wrong coast! The East Coast doesn't get earthquakes, wildfires, high taxes, ridiculous code requirements, massive traffic jams, etc. It just gets occasional hurricanes.
Except for the taxes I can escape it all. Hurricanes wipe Earth clean and there’s no escaping that....oh, and let's not forget the occasional tornado.
 
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Mark K

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May 12, 2010
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To propose that there is a wrong coast is divisive. Is the user of that descriptor suggesting that we divide the country?

Problems with interpretations by inspectors and building officials also occur in California.

A fundamental question is whether the inspector is enforcing the adopted code or is he enforcing his preferences. I suggest that if the applicant proposes and interpretation that does not violate the written code that interpretation should be respected even if the building official or inspector proposes another interpretation.
 

Paul Sweet

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Oct 17, 2009
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Richmond, VA
South Carolina gets earthquakes as well as hurricanes.

Enclosing a space under 200 SF and leaving the rest crawl space sounds reasonable to me, although you might have to request a code modification since it's not a storm shelter or mechanical room. The building official might want to have no access to the crawl space from the wine cellar.
 

Joe.B

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Dec 4, 2020
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458
Location
Myrtletown Ca
To propose that there is a wrong coast is divisive. Is the user of that descriptor suggesting that we divide the country?
Well the idea of anybody here making divisive comments is unthinkable! That's right up there with sarcasm! [said with extreme sarcasm]
 

ADAguy

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Sep 11, 2013
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California
No, we're the correct coast, and the West Coast is the wrong coast! The East Coast doesn't get earthquakes, wildfires, high taxes, ridiculous code requirements, massive traffic jams, etc. It just gets occasional hurricanes.
What of tornadoes and snow storms (smiling)?
 
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