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    2009 IRC Exiting from an enclosed interior courtyard?

    2009 IRC Exiting from an enclosed interior courtyard?

    New postby SWillier on Thu Jun 11, 2015 5:05 pm

    I am working on a project consisting of 3 story rowhouse (townhouse) units. Units are 4000-5500 SF. The project is broken up into separate buildings of 4 units each. The project falls under the 2009 IRC. In our concept review meeting with the city, a gentleman from the fire department made an egress comment that I am having a hard time finding a clear reference to in the code.

    Each of these units have a main floor courtyard. In the 2 interior units of the building, this court is completely enclosed. The North and West wall are bounded by the unit, East wall bounded by the 2HR unit separation wall (2HR per local amendments), south wall bounded by a garage off the alley. The fire department comment is that we need to provide direct egress from the courtyard to the alley ROW and that we may not exit back through the interior of the unit to access the front door that is the one required means of egress. These center units are just narrow enough that if we tried to reduce our garage width to accommodate exit paths from the courtyard it would be too tight.

    He correctly stated that second courtyard exit through the adjoining garage to access the alley is prohibited per R311.1. However, I do not see any references that could require a second exit out of any space in the IRC and I do not see any references to exterior spaces. I intend to discuss the interpretation with the FD, but I want to make sure I am not missing anything obvious as this is the first project I have worked on that falls under the IRC.

    I'm wondering if he may be thinking of some other IBC or NFPA reference??? In my mind this is just like a typical roof deck condition where exiting back through the unit is required for egress.

    Please let me know your thoughts....
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    Joined: Thu Jun 11, 2015 11:02 am

    Re: 2009 IRC Exiting from an enclosed interior courtyard?

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Thu Jun 11, 2015 5:54 pm

    From the 2009 IRC. (underlining is mine)
    - Chapter 2 - Definitions
    - - TOWNHOUSE. A single-family dwelling unit constructed in a group of three or more attached units in which each unit extends from foundation to roof and with a yard or public way on at least two sides.

    He is likely referring to what a townhouse is defined as: each must have at least two ways out, located on different sides, to a yard or public way (and the "yard" being referenced would be required to lead directly to a public way). This is for egress and rescue purposes.

    Once outside (in the courtyard) one is not allowed to be required to go back through a building (especially not a garage) to reach safety ... what if the building was on fire ... and the only path to escape the fire threat was to go back through the building?

    Many years ago I inspected a single-family residential development in a town in South Florida, the configuration of the yards and dwellings was such that there was an exit from each dwelling to the front (street and public way), and an exit from each dwelling to the rear yard - except that all of the yards were fully enclosed with 6 foot wood privacy fences and there were no gates out of any of the yards.

    I asked the Fire Chief how that was approved, he said that it was approved before he was there and that it never should have been approved as constructed - he thanked me for bringing that subdivision to his attention as he had not seen it except from the front streets and was not aware of there not being any way out of the rear yards.

    He then said that he is not overly concerned about the fences as he has not seen a wood privacy fence which could stop one of his fire trucks ... he then added that someone would be paying dearly for any scratches on his chrome bumpers should the need arise to drive over those fences.

    In your case, as I envision your description ... it is not just a fence enclosing the courtyards ...

    However, even if it were just fences enclosing those courtyards, that prevents the buildings from meeting the definition of townhouses as there are not two ways out to yards or public ways on two different sides.

    As such, it would not meet the residential code, it would need to meet the building code, and the building code would require many additional items and protection for the egress exits, discharges, and area of refuge.
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