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What about high porches and no railings?

Posted by brutuses (My Page) on
Wed, Oct 21, 09 at 23:15

I have some questions and not sure anyone here can help, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

Our insurance broker came by to get photo's of the new house for insurance purposes and when I followed up with him he said the delay was due to the height of the porch with no railings and he had to check to see if they would accept our porch that way. He said the insurance company has an issue with a porch that has more than 2 steps. I found the reference to the number of steps kind of goofy. What if the steps were 2" tall? LOL You know what I mean?

I know others have built houses with porches as high as ours and no railing and I'm sure they must have insurance. So I'm wondering, why if this was not an issue with our inspector then should it be an issue with the insurance company? Is it an independent decision by different companies? Thanks for any information you can lend on this subject. For those who don't know, I'm just outside of N.O., LA


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

I can't really help much, but give you my reaction. How high up is the porch floor from the ground? Could a toddler injure themselves? When I built my house I used a std code height upstairs, I believe it was 36". I wanted to see out on the lower porch so I put it at 30". The insurance people either didn't notice, or thought it was OK, or whatever. Check my pic....

Here is a link that might be useful: House front


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Around here, code will not permit a porch to be a certain amount off the ground without railing. While it passed code at your house, it doesn't surprise me that an insurance company would balk.

I am aware of one case nearby where the owners really didn't want the look of railing, so the GC built raised beds around the porch instead.

If the insurance company does come back with an okay, you might want to ask if it affected your rate.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Our code requires 30 inches.
The two step rule does not make sense.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Underwriting. At some point, this insurance company decided that more than two steps (and I bet they define steps in their guidelines) requires a railing.

If you're using an insurance broker, tell them that he/she earns his money by finding you insurance, not finding companies that won't insure you. I have yet to get a quote from a home insurer where our front porch not having a railing was an issue (4 steps and 30" off the ground).


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Exterior residential entrance steps are usually about 7 inches high, so a porch with more than 2 steps would be about 21 inches high.

Most building codes require a 36 inch high "guard" (railing) if the change in level is 30 inches or more.

Building code requirements are very lenient about protection from falling but insurance companies have their own standards so you'll either have to comply or change companies.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Our building code says that if your porch is more than 24" off the ground, you need a railing. Our house is raised quite a bit, and in order to get around that, we are building in raised beds with retaining walls so that the ground is fairly level off the porch. The irony of that is that the drop off from some of the retaining walls around our house is probably more than 24" and you don't see any codes telling you that you need railings around your retaining walls.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Residential building codes address "walking surfaces" in a structure but sometimes they apply the building guard requirement to a site retaining wall that is attached to the house.

Site structures are not addressed by most residential building codes but are regulated by the primary (sometimes called "commercial") building code if the difference in grade level is greater than 4 feet.

Typical provisions usually follow the old BOCA code wording (one of the three organizations that formed the ICC which now writes the IBC and IRC) which said:

"Where retaining walls with differences in grade level on either side of the wall in excess of 4 feet are located closer than 2 feet to a walk, path, parking lot or driveway on the high side, such retaining walls shall be provided with guards that are constructed in accordance with Section 1021.0 or other approved protective measures."

Section 1021 required 42" high guard railings.

MACV


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

In my city, we also have the no more than 2 steps rule/code.
By code, risers can not be higher than 7" so we do not have the possibility of having 24" steps :)

I visited an architect's home with no stair railings.
He knows that if an accident occurs he'd be in big trouble. I have no idea how the inspectors allowed him to do that. The stairs looks very contemporary.

If your porch complies with the local code, you could show that to your insurance agent, maybe he'll change his mind in your specific case.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Louisianna has adopted the International Residential Codes statewide since about January 2008.

The International Residential Code states in section R312 that porches, balconies, and raised floors more than 30" above the floor or grade below require guardrails at least 36" high.

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There is also another Code section which requires guardrails for stairs when there are at least 4 risers (2003 version of the IRC only).

So what your insurer is considering has precedent in Louisianna state law...although he may need to fine tune his understanding of it...and appears more than willing to do.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Code here requires a railing if it the porch/deck floor is more than 30" above grade. We don't have a railing, in some areas it is very close to 30" (in others it is more like 21"). The insurance company didn't care.

An insurance company can have stricter rules than the residential code.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Thanks everyone. Manhattan, thanks for the Louisiana law requirements.

The house is up 36".

I haven't heard back from the insurance broker as yet. Hoping we can find a way around this issue. Last thing we need is the expense and work of putting up railings.

What's ironic about this is, our original house plan had railings, but the style was a bit more country than it is now. I don't want to even think of having to make another design decision. Ugh, I'm tired and just want to move in.

Here is a photo of the front of my house for those of you who haven't seen it.

Photobucket

driveway


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

sr, love your house and all those porches. Very nice. Yes, a toddler could injure themselves if they fell off the porch. The fact is I am a bit queezy about going to the edge of the porch, but then again, I'm afraid of heights.

We are going to have a railing around the back porch and that's where I figured kids would stay if and when they come over as guests.

I'm thinking the insurance company will come back and say we have to have the railings. DH is going to have a fit, but I kind of suspected this some time back and tried to put a bug in his ear to which he didn't listen. Poor guy is tired and just wants to be finished so I can't blame him.

I'll keep y'all posted on what happens. Thanks again for your input.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Where I live, if there is more than 36 inches and there is no railing, you can put flower boxes in front of the porch so the soil level would be higher.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

36" is high (I think our porch is 18"). I love the look, but if you have to add railing think black wrought iron would disappear so would keep the look (and look more like NO).


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

How things look is important, but safety is primary. If your neighbor (as an example) comes over for a cup of tea on the porch and backs up and falls off the edge of a 30" drop, you are a "sitting duck".


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

aj, I love the thought of iron, but my wallet does not. LOL We'll have to install wood, but we'll make the spindles or whatever they are called, as narrow as possible and hopefully the railing won't be a distraction.

I would be nervous all the time and not want people socializing on the front porch without a railing. I suspect a railing is in our future.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Brutuses, International code requires not only that you would have to have railings on the steps and porch floors that are 30" above grade, but also that the hand rail height be a minimum of 34" high, with spindles no more than 4" apart. Just warning you what the code is, so you can start planning on your modifications.

BTW, I love your home!


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

That's a nice picture.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

nanny, thanks for the heads up on the requirements and the compliment on the house.

Thanks Jason.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

"The International Residential Code states in section R312 that porches, balconies, and raised floors more than 30" above the floor or grade below require guardrails at least 36" high. There is also another Code section which requires guardrails for stairs when there are at least 4 risers (2003 version of the IRC only)."

You use the word "guardrail" in one sentence to describe a "guard" and in the next sentence you use "guardrail" to describe a "handrail." It is easy to confuse the IRC requirements for handrails and guards but calling both of them "guardrails" confuses everyone else.

4 or more risers makes a 34" to 38" high "handrail" necessary (with open sides) and a stair that rises 30" or more above the adjacent grade must have a min. 34" high "guard" (with maximum openings of 4 3/8").
Walking surfaces 30" or more above the adjacent grade must have a min. of 36" high "guards" (with maximum openings of 4") and no handrail is required.

These requirements are the same in the 2003 and 2006 IRC.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Sorry for the typo in my post, that should have been 36", not 34", and no more than 38" high.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

nanny2a

You had the 34" min. stair handrail height right but left out the max. height of 38", but because the overall height is over 30", the handrail must also be a min. 34" high stair "guard" with max openings of 4 3/8". If the stair rise had been less than 30" only the handrail would be required with no protection below it.

No handrail is required at the platform but a 36" high "guard" is with max openings of 4".

These distinctions may seem minor but it is always important to keep them straight so you (or the person you are advising) can apply them correctly to all conditions.

In this case, if the grade were to be raised 7 inches, the guards at the platform and stair would not be required but a simple handrail at the stairs would.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with making the design more protective; the code is intended to provide minimum protection rather than being a design guide which is why the insurance company will probably have their own standard based on their injury data.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

For comparison, in Ontario, guards are required where the difference in elevation of walking surfaces is greater than 600mm (23.6 ins.)

Handrails are not required for exterior stairs having not more than 3 risers and serving a single dwelling unit.

Insurance company requirements can and do differ from government requirements. For instance, undisturbed knob & tube wiring is acceptable here. But insurance companies insist it be removed altogether or 75%-80% before they will cover the property. They will not cover any home with an old fuel oil tank either and certainly not one with a buried tank.


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RE: circular drive aside

Just noticed your circular drive and a double garage. Boy, they sure are generous with the curb cuts there. There's another thread here where the h.o. with an acre can't get a circular drive.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

With the newness of the IRC in our areas (we're in Pass Christian), it seems that the inspectors enforce only the parts of the codes that they are familiar with. I think we knew more of the code than our inspectors! The 30" requires a railing is one that they did check for, but hardly any of the staircases in our area come close to meeting code!


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

I'm curious about what the inspectors didn't enforce.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Thanks for the photos.

It only reinforces the need that IRC Louisianna Code reqires both guardrails for this porch and guard rails and handrails for these steps.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

For the most part, we tried to meet all aspects of the IRC. The ones that I can think of that were not enforced or checked were the door/window wind ratings (we are in a hurricane region), and the stair codes. Our windows and exterior doors meet the guidelines, but it was something that the inspector never checked.

Our interior staircase railing does not meet the code - the railing was from a house in New Orleans - 3" diameter walnut. For circular railings, I believe the max radius is 2". Because of a wall, the railing on one of the stair runs starts at the second step from the top, which is also a code violation. The inspector never commented on these items, nor did he check the rise/run requirements (which we did meet).

Many houses around here are elevated, and almost all of the exterior stairs use a flat 2x4 or 2x6 for the railing. These stairs are usually exposed to the weather, and will occasionally be slippery.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

The requirement for residential handrails is not a max radius of 2" (which would be a diameter of 4") . The IRC limits handgrip design to two kinds: Type I and Type II.

To put it simply, Type I is round (or almost round) and is limited to a max. diameter of 2" or a maximum perimeter dimension of 6 1/4" and a maximum cross-section dimension of 2 1/4". Type II is a non-round handrail that exceeds 6 1/4" in perimeter dim. and has slight finger recesses along the sides. It is also limited to a maximum overall width of 2 3/4".

You will find that these dimensions match the most commonly available wood handrails.

A 3" diameter antique railing would not meet the requirements of a Type I handrail but if it was no wider than 2 3/4" (or close to it) and it was possible to get your fingers around the upper part of it, the building inspector is within his authority to accept it as a Type II, if he thinks it serves the intended purpose of the IRC or is equivalent to its provisions.

As for the flat 2x4/2x6 handrails, assuming the stairs are high enough to require a handrail (4 or more steps), and were built after the building code was adopted, they should have been 1x4's trimmed with radiused edges to be no more than 2 3/4" wide overall in order to meet the Type II grip requirements. It would be easy to add a standard Type II wood handrail on top of the flat boards.

As for termination of handrails, the IRC requires a residential handrail to extend to the last riser but it also provides two exceptions, one of which allows a "volute, turnout, starting easing or starting newel ... over the lowest tread". This allows a building inspector to accept a major deviation for the distance of the last tread, even the absence of the handrail if he believes it serves the intended purpose of the IRC or is equivalent to its provisions. Without this exception many traditional stairs could not be built.

If there is a handrail on the other side of the stair, one of the handrail is not required so the inspector can accept almost anything.

There would be no reason for a building inspector to comment on things he has decided to accept so I don't understand why you mention that. The inspector also relies on the design documents to indicate how many controlled elements (like windows) meet the building/energy codes. Not everything in a house has it's specification standards written on it.

I mention all of this trivia only to demonstrate that building codes are not simple or interpreted in only one way as is so commonly assumed by homeowners and even builders. The authority of the inspector to accept alternative design solutions is also not commonly understood.

In the end, it is not a building official's responsibility to make sure you meet the requirements of the building code; that is your responsibility alone, even if you privately assign that responsibility by contract to design professionals and/or builders.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

Sorry - I mistyped. I did mean 2" diameter. There is not a second handrail - that was our back-up plan if the inspector rejected our handrail. We also did not put the volute - our railing runs into the ceiling half-way along the second step, which clearly violates the intent of the code. We chose, and take responsibility for, not meeting the code on our interior stairs. I was listing the parts of my staircase which do not meet code - not listing the full requirements of the code.

FYI - The elevations of houses that I was referring to is typically 8' or more. The 2x4 handrails for these staircases are not modified in any way. It a method that all the local builders use, and is accepted by the inspectors. We used Timbertech deck boards, modified to meet the IRC shape requirements, for our exterior stairs.

We had minimal design documents - there were stickers on the windows regarding energy, but nothing about wind ratings. We went out of our way to purchase french doors that met the wind ratings, rather than going with the more commonly used doors from the big box stores, which were not rated (I asked). It's possible that the inspector asked my husband about the wind ratings.

I am confused as to the responsibility of meeting codes - I personally didn't trust our GC's or subs, nor our code office, so we took responsibility. But part of our insurance rating is based on the community's adoption of the IRC. If that's not part of the code offices responsibility, than how does the insurance company know that the code is being enforced?

My point was to the original OP that just because her house passed the inspections, it did not necessarily meet the code. Especially given that the inspectors have not been enforcing the code for very long. You asked for more info, and I fired a quick response off the top of my head with what I could recall. I apologize for any offense I caused - was not my intention.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

cart, I appreciate your input and no, there was no offense taken. This is the first and I might add, the last house we are building, so we were green on a lot of things. You know that live and learn thing, it's true. LOL

I just heard back from my insurance guy and he said all the guidlines say the porch is too high to be without a railing, but he is not stopping with that explanation.

He brought my photo's to the attention of the head person,(forgot the title) and his arguments were, firstly, there are other houses in that area of this city who have the same kind of porches and secondly, our porch is much deeper than the average 3-4' porch. His point being it's not like someone could just walk along it and miss step easily.

I appreciate his efforts, but if we have to build a railing I won't be all too sorry. I wanted a railing from the beginning because as I said earlier, the height did bother me. I would not want to do any type of entertaining on the front porch, but would keep all my guests on the back porch, especially young children.

So that's the lastest. Again, thanks so much for the education. I will keep you posted.


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RE: What about high porches and no railings?

No offense taken.

You need to first get past the implications of the term "enforced"; it's not really what a building department does; it's what they wish they could do. The inspectors are just reviewing drawings, observing the work and catching whatever mistakes they can which is like the kind of "enforcement" provided by the police and fire departments; they can't catch everything and no one expects them to. People are responsible for meeting the law regardless of what kind of "enforcement" or "construction control" the municipality provides. Building inspectors do not provide quality control for a project, you do that by assigning that role to someone like an architect or, if you feel really lucky, a builder.

The insurance company can accept whatever they want for quality assurance but they certainly know better then to think a Certificate of Occupancy means a city is certifying that a building meets all applicable codes. The city would not be able to afford the lawyers necessary to defend themselves from that kind of responsibility.


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