As I have said many times before, (although I love and appreciate all types of iDigHardware readers equally) it makes me really happy that AHJs visit the site and often share their expertise.  I’m also so excited about how the door and hardware industry’s involvement in and understanding of codes has evolved over the last 15+ years.  AND…I’m seeing a change in architects’ knowledge of door openings.  It’s a WIN-WIN-WIN!

In yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday post I shared a photo of a hotel stairwell where washers and dryers had been installed under the stairs, and several people weighed in on the problem – including some AHJs.  Someone actually contacted me about this issue the other day…wondering where in the codes it states that stairwells can not be used for storage, etc., so it was serendipitous that I ran across the hotel laundry photo in my inbox.

Since this is more of a fire code issue than a building code issue, I would refer to the adopted fire code – although the paragraph from the IFC also appears in the IBC.  There are actually several locations in the model codes that prohibit storage or other uses for a means of egress, but here are a few paragraphs that make the intent very clear:

2021 International Fire Code (IFC):

1023.1 General. Interior exit stairways and ramps serving as an exit component in a means of egress system shall comply with the requirements of this section. Interior exit stairways and ramps shall be enclosed and lead directly to the exterior of the building or shall be extended to the exterior of the building with an exit passageway conforming to the requirements of Section 1024, except as permitted in Section 1028.2. An interior exit stairway or ramp shall not be used for any purpose other than as a means of egress and a circulation path.

Exterior stairways are also addressed in the I-Codes:

1011.7.4 Enclosures under exterior stairways.  There shall not be enclosed usable space under exterior exit stairways unless the space is completely enclosed in 1-hour fire-resistance-rated construction. The open space under exterior stairways shall not be used for any purpose.

2021 NFPA 101, Life Safety Code:* An exit enclosure shall not be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with its use as an exit and, if so designated, as an area of refuge. (See also

A.  This provision prohibits the use of exit enclosures for storage or for installation of equipment not necessary for safety. Occupancy is prohibited other than for egress, refuge, and access. The intent is that the exit enclosure essentially be “sterile” with respect to fire safety hazards.

Enhanced content from NFPA Link states: Paragraph prohibits the use of an exit enclosure for any purpose that could potentially interfere with its use as an exit or as an area of refuge. For example, use of an enclosed exit stair to house vending machines, copying machines, or storage or to run electrical distribution wires and cables to areas of the building is prohibited. Standpipes and emergency lighting that are part of the life safety features are permitted only if their arrangement does not interfere with the passage of people. This limitation covers more than mechanical obstruction of the egress path; it includes any use that could interfere with the use of the exit. See also and

Note that some codes may allow the area under the stairs to be used for other purposes if properly separated from the exit enclosure.  For example, Section of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101 is called Usable Space, and specifies that usable space under stairs must be separated from the stair enclosure by construction with the same fire resistance rating as the exit enclosure.  In addition, the entrance to the enclosed usable space must not be from within the stair enclosure.  This section also states: Open space within the exit enclosure shall not be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with egress.

Keeping the stairwell free of hazards and combustibles preserves the integrity of the means of egress, helping to ensure that it can be safely used in an emergency.  A simple dryer fire would render the hotel stairway unusable by building occupants.

Any questions?

The photo in today’s post was shared by Jimmy Wood Jr…click here for additional photos from that past Wordless Wednesday post.

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