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Nov 20 2017

Storage in Stairwells

Category: EgressLori @ 11:05 am Comments (2)

A lot of the questions I receive start off with “Where does it say that I can/can’t do XYZ?”  Most of us know that stored materials don’t belong in stairwells, including the space under the stairs.  But with square footage at a premium, we are sometimes asked to “prove it” which means finding a code reference to point to.  This is where I can (usually) help save you some time.

For a question that involves the ongoing maintenance of a building rather than how a building is constructed, I would typically refer to the fire code that has been adopted in the jurisdiction where the building is located.  The most common model codes used in the US are the International Fire Code (IFC) and NFPA 1: Fire Code.  NFPA 1 references NFPA 101 for means of egress requirements, so I would go directly to NFPA 101: Life Safety Code.  Note that state and local requirements may vary.

So…where does it say that you can’t use the space under the stairs (or on the stairs) for storage (or anything else)?  In the IFC (2015 edition) I would reference paragraph 1023.1 which says, “An interior exit stairway or ramp shall not be used for any purpose other than as a means of egress and a circulation path.”  In the IFC Commentary for this paragraph, it uses storage in stairways as an example of a use that might obstruct the path of exit travel and is therefore not allowed.  If the stored materials are combustible, that could further jeopardize the means of egress and create a hazard to life safety. 

In NFPA 101 (2015) Section is called Usable Space and states: Open space within the exit enclosure shall not be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with  egress.”  And in Annex A:  “An example of a use with the potential to interfere with egress is storage.”  This is also addressed in the NFPA 101 Handbook, where it clarifies that no open space within the exit enclosure is to be used for any purpose that could interfere with the use of the stairs.  

NFPA 101 does allow the space under the stairs to be used, but the space must be separated from the stair enclosure by fire-resistance-rated construction that is the same as the exit enclosure, and the entrance to this space can not be from within the stairwell.  So imagine enclosing the area under the stairs with fire barriers to separate it from the exit enclosure and adding a door to that space from outside of the stairwell (the space may also need sprinklers) – at some point it becomes more trouble than it’s worth to try to use that area for storage.

Keep in mind that these model code sections are referring to rated exit enclosures in buildings that are required to comply with these codes.  Under-stair storage in single-family homes is all the rage right now, and Pinterest is full of ideas.  Under the stairs in my house, I’m storing enough camping gear to outfit an expedition of 10 to the Sierra Gordas.  And some other stuff.  😀

Nov 17 2017

FF: LTR Panics

Category: Egress,Fixed-it Friday,Panic HardwareLori @ 12:08 am Comments (3)

Well, this is one way to solve the problems with your panic hardware – NOT!  Thanks to Charles Anderson for these Fixed-it Friday photos!

UPDATE:  An eagle-eyed reader noticed that this is also a fire door, compounding the issues.


Nov 16 2017

Local Codes, Rules, and Guidelines

Category: School SecurityLori @ 12:01 am Comments (4)

When someone asks what I do for a living, it strikes me funny that most of my job is related to a couple of chapters of the International Building Code, a portion of NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code, and a few other codes and referenced standards.  People find it hard to believe that door hardware is so complicated that it requires dedicated door hardware consultants to get the right stuff on the door…my current role is focused on just a sliver of the door-hardware pie, which is almost invisible in the context of the overall building design.

With that said, it’s more than a full-time job for me to keep up with the requirements of the model codes and referenced standards – helping to interpret and apply them, updating them, and teaching people about them.  This leaves me little or no time to become familiar with every state and local requirement that applies to door openings.  When I receive a state-specific question, I attempt to locate the state code online, look at which model code has been adopted, and then check for state code modifications to a specific section.  This works most of the time.

When it comes to local requirements, or guidelines of the many agencies within a jurisdiction, it’s impossible for me to be familiar with every publication.  I rely on our local SSCs and especially my list of “Code Champions” to know what’s-what on the local level.  In many cases, there are also distributors, architects and specifiers, code officials, and others who are my go-to people within each jurisdiction.

The perfect example presented itself the other day.  Rick Nemec of Opening Specialists asked me if there is a requirement stating that boiler rooms in schools must have inswinging doors (coincidentally, someone asked me the same question yesterday).  I had not heard of this requirement, and in fact, I’ve heard that some jurisdictions may require boiler-room doors to be outswinging and possibly even have panic hardware.

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