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When stairs need not comply

Glenn

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Denver
I was involved with a 2021 IRC modification regarding which stairs and ramps must comply with IRC provisions. 311.7 excludes stairs to nonhabitable attics and crawlspaces. It also excludes stairs "not within or serving a building, deck, or patio". This is meant to address "hardscape" stairs in the landscaping.

Though I supported this modification and it was approved, does not mean I think it's done. Code development is never done. I know of many professionals and jurisdictions that do not agree with this and will be amending it locally to require all exterior stairs to comply, regardless of what they serve or not. That is a message to me that maybe this section needs more work.

So, I made this video specifically to prompt discussion on this topic. It includes a clip from my On-Demand Course, and a walk around of my property to really talk about American homes and reality. I am preparing proposals for the 2024 IRC and I welcome your comments on this subject.

Exterior walking surfaces, ramps, stairs, driveways, patios, porches, decks, concrete slabs, crusher fine pathways, etc, have many names, but what are the humans actually doing on these surfaces and what is the probability of hazard? What makes a concrete ramp from the sidewalk to my deck different than a concrete driveway in the same place. We walk up our driveway just as we would a ramp. So many subjects in the code are hard to interpret consistently when we get to these outdoor features, and that makes things very difficult for dreaming homeowners and the contractors and designers trying to serve them.

One comment I have heard is that there should be a fully compliant path from the required egress door to the public way, and if there are stairs within that path then even if separated by sidewalk and yard, it is "serving" the building. Maybe "serving" is not the correct term.

Let's talk! Code development takes a village!

 

tbz

Silver Member
Joined
Sep 10, 2010
Messages
775
Location
PA/NJ - Borderlands
Glenn and everyone,

Here in lies the problem with to a public way.

For those of you who only live in the city or suburbs the thought gets lost quickly what do the people who live on a large property do with the term public way.

Up until recently I lived smack dab in the middle of 30 acers with a 1,300 foot long driveway, I had many stairs around the landscaping around the house.

The IRC is a simplified code to build under getting from the house to grade in an emergency is all that is needed IMO.

Might sound good to public way on 1/2 acre lots, but for others that can be a costly tab.

It was the same issue with sprinklers, when you are on a well that pumps 4 gallons a minute, what are you feeding.

Though I can see the 2021 from a deck, I have different thoughts about patios.

1.5 cents on a Tuesday
 

fatboy

Administrator
Joined
Oct 17, 2009
Messages
6,352
Location
Northern CO
Excellent video Glenn, and excellent talking points.

Drive as a ramp, never really thought of it as such, but a great point.

Series of "non-landings" creating four rises. Oops?

Which one is the required egress path, what needs to be done to be compliant?

Same as you, I would have never thought twice about your set up.

I did call it once one a custom home sidewalk, probably 10-12 rises, about 24" winder treads, that were non-compliant (varied widths), going to the public ROW. I required a continuous handrail. My boss actually supported it, and we got it done, at least for the Final.

It was down two weeks later. :rolleyes:
 

JCraver

Sawhorse
Joined
Feb 20, 2014
Messages
829
Location
Southern IL
Good video.

Serving is definitely not the right word, that's going to get "interpreted" to death by overzealous inspectors..

The IRC should end at grade. Rails on landscape stairs is the same thing as guards around window wells - dumb, and should not be a code requirement.
 

my250r11

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Joined
Feb 16, 2015
Messages
861
Location
Roswell, NM
I personally would call the drive way a vehicular path and doesn't need to meet slope but the public sidewalk should meet the ADA requirements for walkways and ramps if needed. That's how we deal with it here. As others have said I probably wouldn't have worried about your landscaping stairs.
 

Inspector Gift

Sawhorse - Made in USA
Joined
Oct 17, 2009
Messages
390
Location
City of Sandy, Oregon
What is often forgotten overlooked is the INTENT or PURPOSE statement of the applicable codes. This oversight may be from lack of experience or understanding, or intentional. But knowing the intent and purpose of the code is a fundamental requirement before any building official can rightly apply the application, or render an interpretation as to it's application.

2021 IRC
"R101.3 Purpose. The purpose of this code is to establish minimum requirements to provide a reasonable level of safety, health and general welfare through affordability, structural strength, means of egress, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards and to provide a reasonable level of safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations."
 

Glenn

Corporate Supporter
Staff member
Joined
Nov 1, 2012
Messages
748
Location
Denver
What is often forgotten overlooked is the INTENT or PURPOSE statement of the applicable codes. This oversight may be from lack of experience or understanding, or intentional. But knowing the intent and purpose of the code is a fundamental requirement before any building official can rightly apply the application, or render an interpretation as to it's application.

2021 IRC
"R101.3 Purpose. The purpose of this code is to establish minimum requirements to provide a reasonable level of safety, health and general welfare through affordability, structural strength, means of egress, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards and to provide a reasonable level of safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations."
I'm trying to understand how your comment applies to this? Please explain a little more. I don't want to respond from a guess.
 

Glenn

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Denver
I personally would call the drive way a vehicular path and doesn't need to meet slope but the public sidewalk should meet the ADA requirements for walkways and ramps if needed. That's how we deal with it here. As others have said I probably wouldn't have worried about your landscaping stairs.
Are you referring to my sidewalk as the public sidewalk? It's a private sidewalk, but perhaps you're referring to it being the sidewalk inviting the public to walk up to my door?
 

Glenn

Corporate Supporter
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Nov 1, 2012
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748
Location
Denver
Glenn and everyone,

Here in lies the problem with to a public way.

For those of you who only live in the city or suburbs the thought gets lost quickly what do the people who live on a large property do with the term public way.

Up until recently I lived smack dab in the middle of 30 acers with a 1,300 foot long driveway, I had many stairs around the landscaping around the house.

The IRC is a simplified code to build under getting from the house to grade in an emergency is all that is needed IMO.

Might sound good to public way on 1/2 acre lots, but for others that can be a costly tab.

It was the same issue with sprinklers, when you are on a well that pumps 4 gallons a minute, what are you feeding.

Though I can see the 2021 from a deck, I have different thoughts about patios.

1.5 cents on a Tuesday
And that is why there will always be local code amendments. Many years ago there was a simplified version of the UBC for "small jurisdictions". I'm working with Denver to assist with their 2021 code updates, and they are planning to remove this exception. They state that their small lots, density, and the common accessory structures and ADUs require safer paths of travel around lots. They also want to require guards around large area wells and other retaining walls. As urban living becomes increasingly regulated and rural living increasingly pushing back, I am very curious what will see in the next decades of code administration.
 

Glenn

Corporate Supporter
Staff member
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Nov 1, 2012
Messages
748
Location
Denver
Excellent video Glenn, and excellent talking points.

Drive as a ramp, never really thought of it as such, but a great point.

Series of "non-landings" creating four rises. Oops?

Which one is the required egress path, what needs to be done to be compliant?

Same as you, I would have never thought twice about your set up.

I did call it once one a custom home sidewalk, probably 10-12 rises, about 24" winder treads, that were non-compliant (varied widths), going to the public ROW. I required a continuous handrail. My boss actually supported it, and we got it done, at least for the Final.

It was down two weeks later. :rolleyes:
Deep treads are really a unique issue to decks and exterior stairs. It is rare to non-existent to see interior treads have depths more than the minimum. However, in decks, deep treads are common. Using up valuable square footage is no longer an issue, and people like treads to act as seats and to place planters and pots. For rises of 6 or less, deep treads are very common. However, this creates questions that did not previously need to be answered. Should 24 inch deep treads still be held to the 3/8 uniformity? What about 30 inches? Would 4 or more 30 inch deep treads really require a handrail for assistance? (like in the video) I don't like complicating the code, but I do worry the code industry is getting less and less comfortable to make calls for the intent and purpose. This drives the need to spell more subjects out definitively. Of course... that is a never-ending road to go down.
 

ICE

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Jun 23, 2011
Messages
9,736
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California concrete jungle
We have a bunch of satellite offices and each one has it's own way of dealing with this issue. That's not to say that there's twenty-five different approaches because obviously there is some overlap. But you'll have to ask somebody every time it comes up. I have worked in more than a few. Some office managers would regulate the neighbor’s yard steps if they could and some some don't even see the steps. One requires handrail on the gunite steps leading to the top of a pool slide. That's always an afterthought and then it has to be bonded to the equipotential bonding grid.

My opinion is that if the stairs are not connected to the building, porch or a deck that is also attached to the building, the stairs are not regulated by the code.

Here's Costco striving to get sued:

IMG_1403.JPG
 
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tbz

Silver Member
Joined
Sep 10, 2010
Messages
775
Location
PA/NJ - Borderlands
Glenn,

? for you, I see you lived in your place for 20 plus, in my 56 plus years alive I have never lived in a residence that has had a paved driveway of any type of hard surface.

pea gravel and 3/4 gravel have been the norm, going to be putting down 3/4 next month were I am at, and all my walkways are gravel also.

Now think how substituting your driveway and walkway with gravel changes things.

The IRC is a minimum, not a ultimate have and unlike your state, many here in the east have State Wide building codes that have to take in the rural with the city in mind.

Not just the local or county AHJ were they can tailor it to the local likings, like Denver does.
 

steveray

Sawhorse
Joined
Nov 25, 2009
Messages
8,602
Location
West of the river CT
Engineers should not be providing Special Inspection on their own projects. Special inspectors should be hired by the building owner.

1703.1.1 Independence
An approved agency shall be objective, competent and independent from the contractor responsible for the work being inspected. The agency shall disclose to the building official and the registered design professional in responsible charge possible conflicts of interest so that objectivity can be confirmed.

[A] APPROVED AGENCY. An established and recognized agency that is regularly engaged in conducting tests, furnishing inspection services or furnishing product certification where such agency has been approved by the building official.

We have a bunch of satellite offices and each one has it's own way of dealing with this issue. That's not to say that there's twenty-five different approaches because obviously there is some overlap. But you'll have to ask somebody every time it comes up. I have worked in more than a few. Some office managers would regulate the neighbor’s yard steps if they could and some some don't even see the steps. One requires handrail on the gunite steps leading to the top of a pool slide. That's always an afterthought and then it has to be bonded to the equipotential bonding grid.

My opinion is that if the stairs are not connected to the building, porch or a deck that is also attached to the building, the stairs are not regulated by the code.

Here's Costco striving to get sued:

View attachment 8090
Because they are blocking the accessible route? Or the 7 other violations there?
 

steveray

Sawhorse
Joined
Nov 25, 2009
Messages
8,602
Location
West of the river CT
2 sections we have to deal with now.....If we chose to expand that, then that is on us and the ICC process:

R311.1 Means of egress. Dwellings shall be provided with a
means of egress in accordance with this section. The means
of egress shall provide a continuous and unobstructed path of
vertical and horizontal egress travel from all portions of the
dwelling to the required egress door without requiring travel
through a garage. The required egress door shall open directly
into a public way or to a yard or court that opens to a public
way.

That gets you to the door (opening), and technically not even out of the house in theory....

R311.3.1 Floor elevations at the required egress doors.
Landings or finished floors at the required egress door
shall be not more than 11/2 inches (38 mm) lower than the
top of the threshold.
Exception: The landing or floor on the exterior side
shall be not more than 73/4 inches (196 mm) below the
top of the threshold provided the door does not swing
over the landing or floor.
Where exterior landings or floors serving the required
egress door are not at grade, they shall be provided with
access to grade by means of a ramp in accordance with
Section R311.8 or a stairway in accordance with Section
R311.7.


That gets you to grade.....You are safe...If you trip going across you lawn or down the driveway or the "landscape steps" to get the mail, that will hopefully never be my problem....
 

Inspector Gift

Sawhorse - Made in USA
Joined
Oct 17, 2009
Messages
390
Location
City of Sandy, Oregon
I'm trying to understand how your comment applies to this? Please explain a little more. I don't want to respond from a guess.
Glenn, You started the discussion regarding code language regarding stairs, but then broadly expanded the discussion by mentioning "Exterior walking surfaces, ramps, stairs, driveways, patios, porches, decks, concrete slabs, crusher fine pathways, etc,...".

The City of Sandy is predominately located on a hillsides and ravines, with the majority of homes having sloping driveways and has ice and snow every winter. We have adopted a policy to require One-and-Two Family Residential homes be provided with a "Safe Walkway to the street, sidewalk or the public way". This policy applies the same standards for stairs, handrails and ramps to the required Safe Walkway. Oregon Building Codes Division questioned our requirement, saying that it was not supported by the Residential Code. However, we pointed to Intent and Purpose as being the fundamental standard, and that our policy was consistent with the Intent statement. Further more, the duties and powers of the Building Official states that the Building Official has the authority to render interpretations and adopt policies that are in compliance with the intent and purpose of the code. Our policy is to provide a safe walkway from the primary entrance to the public way. The driveway may be used as part of the Safe Walkway if it does not exceed a slope of 1 unit vertical to 12 units horizontal (8.3%) and does not have a cross slope greater than 1/4 inch per foot (2%).

So back to your question regarding my statement. The intent of the building code is to provide minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety - including fire fighters and emergency responders. And I would suggest that also includes building inspectors, mail carriers, delivery persons, etc...
 
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ORinspector

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Feb 11, 2021
Messages
5
Location
Oregon
I would prefer we concentrate on buildings and requirements allowing people to exit through at least one door and to grade. I noticed Glenn has a trampoline in his backyard which certainly has the potential for injury, but as regulators, we shouldn't be telling him he can't have one. Let's concentrate on buildings which is our field of expertise and give homeowners the freedom to landscape in a way that works for them, whether it involves non-required stairs, ramps, etc. -- or not. I live outside of town and have a fairly long gravel driveway, and a gravel walkway, and that works for me. I am also in the process of building some trails on the property that will be woodchips and fairly steep through our woods. At some point we need to draw a line and not regulate everything...
 

my250r11

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Joined
Feb 16, 2015
Messages
861
Location
Roswell, NM
Are you referring to my sidewalk as the public sidewalk? It's a private sidewalk, but perhaps you're referring to it being the sidewalk inviting the public to walk up to my door?
No Glenn I was referring to the actual public sidewalk that is usually in the ROW not on your side of the property line
 
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ADAguy

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Sep 11, 2013
Messages
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California
OK Glen, waited long enough; If a man's home is no longer to be his castle, then what of personal/visitor safety and accessibility?
ADA avoids SF's but gentrification of present and future occupant needs do not.
Do insurance companies see an advantage to considering this?
 

tbz

Silver Member
Joined
Sep 10, 2010
Messages
775
Location
PA/NJ - Borderlands
Glenn, You started the discussion regarding code language regarding stairs, but then broadly expanded the discussion by mentioning "Exterior walking surfaces, ramps, stairs, driveways, patios, porches, decks, concrete slabs, crusher fine pathways, etc,...".

The City of Sandy is predominately located on a hillsides and ravines, with the majority of homes having sloping driveways and has ice and snow every winter. We have adopted a policy to require One-and-Two Family Residential homes be provided with a "Safe Walkway to the street, sidewalk or the public way". This policy applies the same standards for stairs, handrails and ramps to the required Safe Walkway. Oregon Building Codes Division questioned our requirement, saying that it was not supported by the Residential Code. However, we pointed to Intent and Purpose as being the fundamental standard, and that our policy was consistent with the Intent statement. Further more, the duties and powers of the Building Official states that the Building Official has the authority to render interpretations and adopt policies that are in compliance with the intent and purpose of the code. Our policy is to provide a safe walkway from the primary entrance to the public way. The driveway may be used as part of the Safe Walkway if it does not exceed a slope of 1 unit vertical to 12 units horizontal (8.3%) and does not have a cross slope greater than 1/4 inch per foot (2%).

So back to your question regarding my statement. The intent of the building code is to provide minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety - including fire fighters and emergency responders. And I would suggest that also includes building inspectors, mail carriers, delivery persons, etc...
So I am guessing from your statement on driveways you don't allow them to be over 1 in 12 is that correct?

and you will require someone in the middle of a large parcel of land lets say 40 plus acers to have a pathway from the middle of that property were the home is to the street, comply with that requirement.

Heck most of the streets were I am located are dirt, not even paved and the roads exceed 1 in 8.

I would agree with the state questioning you, your local authority is over stepping the intent of the IRC and the minimum code. If your going to extend all the way to the public right of way, scrap the IRC and just require every building to be built under the IBC.
 
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steveray

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Nov 25, 2009
Messages
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West of the river CT
So I am guessing from your statement on driveways you don't allow them to be over 1 in 12 is that correct?

and you will require someone in the middle of a large parcel of land lets say 40 plus acers to have a pathway from the middle of that property were the home is to the street, comply with that requirement.

Heck most of the streets were I am located are dirt, not even paved and the roads exceed 1 in 8.

I would agree with the state questioning you, your local authority is over stepping the intent of the IRC and the minimum code. If your going to extend all the way to the public right of way, scrap the IRC and just require every building to be built under the IBC.
Even the IBC does not always require a path to the public way....1028.5
 
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