Building Codes

AuthorCharles E. Turnbow
Building Codes
§300 Purpose and Use of Building Codes
§301 Application to Existing Buildings
§302 Negligence Per Se
§310 Common Terminology
§320 Model Building Codes
§321 Exits, Exit Access and Exit Discharge
§321.1 Scope and Intent of the International Building Code
§322 Corridors
§323 Elevation Changes
§324 Doors and Thresholds
§325 Stairs
§325.1 Rise and Run
Picture: Rise and Run Violations
§325.2 Handrails
Picture: Stairway Without Handrails
Picture: Stairway With Only One Handrail
§325.3 Stairway Construction
§325.4 Deposition Guidelines for Experts on Stairway Accidents
§326 Ramps and Inclined Walkways
§326.1 Maximum Ramp Slope
§326.2 High Traction Requirements
§330 Exit Lighting
§331 Illuminating Engineering Society
§340 Local and Special Codes
§350 Handicapped Access Standard
§351 Purpose and Scope
§352 Applicability
§353 Definitions
§354 Parking Aisles
§355 Elevation Changes
§356 Ramps
Table: Allowable Ramp Dimensions for Construction in Existing Sites, Etc.
§357 Stairways
§360 Building Code Checklist
§370 Diagrams and Illustrations
Figure 3.1: Rise and Run
Figure 3.2: Safety Tread Designs for Disabled Persons
Figure 3.3: Ramps
Figure 3.4: Stairway Features
Figure 3.5: Handrail Placement
Figure 3.6: Handrail Cross Section
Figure 3.7: Light Intensity Diagram
Figure 3.8: Angle of Ascent
Figure 3.9: Cone of Vision
§380 Exit Checklists
§300 Purpose and
Use of Building Codes
Counties and municipalities have a series of rules and
specifications regulating the manner in which buildings
are constructed. Collectively, these rules are referred
to as the building codes. With few exceptions, these
codes are adopted from model codes propounded by
various agencies. The major modern codes are the Life
Safety Code (LSC), Uniform Building Code (UBC),
Standard Building Code (SBC), Building Officials
and Code Administrators International (BOCA) and
Minimum Property Standards (MPS) propounded by
the United States Department of Housing and Urban
Development. These regional codes have been super-
seded by the International Building Code (IBC), which
has been adopted by 46 states. The remaining states will
likely adopt this common code in the near future.
Building codes and regulations have only been adopted
by larger cities and counties since approximately 1920.
The first of the uniform codes was propounded about
10 years later. Buildings built before the adoption of
a building code may be covered by subsequent codes
if there has been a change in the type of occupancy or
extensive remodeling. If the safety features have not
been maintained, the building may be in violation of the
current building code under an “Applicability to Existing
Buildings” section.
The express purpose of most building codes, as stated in
§101.2 of the UBC, is to “provide minimum standards to
safeguard life, limb, health, property and public welfare by
regulating and controlling the design, construction, quality
of materials, use and occupancy, location and maintenance
of all buildings and structures and grading and certain
equipment specifically regulated [t]herein.” Note that main-
tenance is a specifically designated area of regulation.
Be aware that the building codes only provide minimum
standards without which there would be an unconscio-
nable disregard for safety. The codes do not represent the
optimum level of safety nor do they necessarily reflect the
custom and practice within the building industry. In some
areas, industry custom and practice may involve more
stringent safety requirements.
The building codes are useful tools in establishing duty
and breach. The duty under the law is to provide ordinary
care under the circumstances to prevent an unreasonable
risk of harm. Thus, circumstances may dictate greater pre-
cautions than the building codes require.
§301 Application to
Existing Buildings
The specific requirements contained in the various
building code sections are applicable to those buildings
completed when the code was in force. For example, a
building built in 1990 would likely meet the requirements
set forth in the building code in force at that time. In the
case of the Uniform Building Code, the 1988 edition
would be the controlling code. Any subsequent changes in
the code would not be applicable to this building.
Handrails have been subject to specific requirements since
the building codes were first published. These require-
ments change from time to time. In 1988, handrails were
required to extend six inches past the nose of the top and
bottom riser. In 1991, this requirement was changed to
12 inches. There was no requirement that an additional
six inches be added to the existing handrails. Such retro-
fitting would create chaos within the building industry. In
some cases, the entire building would have to be demol-
ished in order to re-size the stairway or exit facility.
Section 104(d) of older editions of the UBC and §3402 of
the 1994 edition charge the building owner or the designat-
ed agent with maintaining a safe condition of a building,
existing or new. These provisions are effective regardless
of when the building was built. The International Building
Code (IBC) §3401.2 similarly requires safe maintenance
of existing buildings. Under this chapter, the code requires
at §3409.4 et seq. owners to investigate and evaluate the
existing building for fire safety, means of egress, and gen-
eral safety whenever there is a proposed repair, alteration,
addition or change of occupancy. Defects such as inade-
quate handrails, substandard stairways, changes of level in
the exit systems, and similar physical conditions should be
detected at this time. There is no requirement in the code
for periodic inspections for hazards or defects.
Case Example:
Application of UBC §104(d)
The plaintiff was an employee of a recreational vehicle
manufacturing corporation located on property leased from
its principle shareholder and founder. The building was built
in 1894 as a citrus packing and warehouse facility. Over the
years, the character of occupancy remained the same: com-
mercial and industrial or light manufacturing use.
After working in the building for several years and routinely
negotiating a concrete stairway leading from the second floor
offices to ground level, the plaintiff tripped near the top of the
stairs while descending. As the plaintiff lost his balance, he
reached for the handrail to prevent falling. The plaintiff lost
his grip on the loose handrail and fell down the length of the

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