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    Retaining Wall Guard requirements

    Retaining Wall Guard requirements

    New postby KEARCH on Tue Oct 18, 2011 2:35 pm

    Hi,

    I have a series of retaining walls (4) 5ft high walls that lead from the rear yard of a property down to a lake. The levels are each connected by stairs with paved paths leading from landing to landing.

    The local AHJ wants us to install guard rails along the walls. In referencing IRC, R312, I don't believe a landscape path along a retaining wall ='s a porch, balcony or raised floor surface. He may have me at the stair but still, it's not attached to the house.

    Thoughts? When does the IRC stop? Does it oversee a retaining wall not connected to a residence?

    Many thanks!!

    Katrina
    KEARCH
     
    Posts: 6
    Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2011 1:52 pm

    Re: Retaining Wall Guard requirements

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Tue Oct 18, 2011 6:21 pm

    While many AHJ do not include retaining walls and exterior away-from-the-house-stairs, many other AHJ do include those items as the code does address both. Thus the walking surface next to the retaining wall would require a railing on the retaining wall if there is more than a 30 inch drop to the grade below.

    From the IRC:

    The retaining walls and exterior away-from-the-house-stairways fall within the definition of accessory structures:
    - ACCESSORY STRUCTURE. A structure not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m2) in floor area, and not over two stories in height, the use of which is customarily accessory to and incidental to that of the dwelling(s) and which is located on the same lot.

    Accessory structures are included within the scope of coverage of the IRC: (bold and underlining are mine)
    - R101.2 Scope. The provisions of the International Residential Code for One- and Two-family Dwellings shall apply to the construction, alteration, movement, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, removal and demolition of detached one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses not more than three stories above-grade in height with a separate means of egress and their accessory structures.

    Guards are required where the floor or grade is more than 30 inches above the floor or grade below:
    - R312.1 Guards. Porches, balconies, ramps or raised floor surfaces located more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade below shall have guards not less than 36 inches (914 mm) in height. Open sides of stairs with a total rise of more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade below shall have guards not less than 34 inches (864 mm) in height measured vertically from the nosing of the treads.
    Porches and decks which are enclosed with insect screening shall be equipped with guards where the walking surface is located more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade below.

    Technically, all AHJ should be including those accessory structures, but not all do. Your AHJ is apparently one of the AHJ who has read and understands what the code is saying regarding the scope of the IRC and to what it is to be applied, i.e., the code "shall apply to ... detached one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses ... and their accessory structures".
    Jerry Peck - CodeMan
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    Re: Retaining Wall Guard requirements

    New postby KEARCH on Thu Oct 27, 2011 11:21 am

    I understand your explanation and read through the code many times. I'm probably splitting hairs here but for the Accessory Structure, does a retaining walls system and walkway equal "floor area"? To me, to have floor area, it woud require an enclosure of any sorts to define the floor area.

    Also, I don't think the walkway of pavers set into the ground equals a "raised floor surface" or a "floor". I understand the code rationale on this section: to protect folks from exiting, especially in an emergent fashion but a series of retaining walls with stairs 200' or more away from a home doesn't seem to fall under the same category of safety.

    Also, our State Amendments specifically amend R312 Guards requiring retaining walls attached to a house that has a vert. drop of more than 30" on one side to have guards. If the intention of the code was along all retaining walls, why would they have specifically added "attached to a house".

    We'll see where the chips fall on this one. Thanks for your perspective and assistance.

    Katrina
    KEARCH
     
    Posts: 6
    Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2011 1:52 pm

    Re: Retaining Wall Guard requirements

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Thu Oct 27, 2011 7:40 pm

    Your question on the grade and floor is why I underlined and added bold to the following:
    R312.1 Guards. Porches, balconies, ramps or raised floor surfaces located more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade below

    The code is treating the lower surface as a floor or grade, and there is no difference between that and the upper floor or grade, especially when you have a series of retaining wall as you described where the "floor or grade below" becomes the "raised floor surface" you stand on when you walk down to that level and look down to the "floor or grade below"

    What would matter if the surface you were standing on was a wood floor, a tile floor, a paver floor, a gravel surface, a grass surface, or a dirt surface? How would the difference in the surface you were standing on affect your injuries from falling to the next level down?

    It seems to me that you do not want the guard railings and are looking for someone who will say that the guards are not needed, but anyone reading the codes and who understands the codes also understands that there is no difference from falling from one floor surface or another floor surface if the fall is the same and you land on the same material below.

    Your local AHJ is the one who rules on things like that, and, yes, you can fight them, but in doing so on a safety issue such as that you are opening yourself up to accepting the liability for not installing railings and your insurance company may well find a claim for an injury from the same is not a valid claim as *you* specifically went out of your way to *not install* the very guards which would have prevented the injury you are now asking your insurance company to cover.

    All I can do is provide information and answers, and that information and answers are simply based on the what the codes say.
    Jerry Peck - CodeMan
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    Return to Stairways, Ramps, Handrails and Guards: Stairways, ramps, handrails, guardrails, landings, entry stoops/porches, recessed floor areas



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