Another look at how to build a 3 story building without an elevator

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Ground Floor with one accessible unit to take care of the Fair Housing Act requirement for all the ground floor units  to be accessible.
Ground Floor with one accessible unit to take care of the Fair Housing Act requirement for all the ground floor units to be accessible.
Upper Story Plan
Upper Story Plan

 

Reprising this post because folks keep asking me about it via email, etc.

These thresholds fit a three story apartment building or mixed use building into the fire/life safety requirements of the International Building Code (IBC) and the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

 

1. All ground floor units are accessible/adaptable (minimum one unit).
2. TYPE V wood frame construction with fire sprinklers.
3. When built with a single stair, upper stories are limited to four units each. (more than 4 units on a floor and two stair will be required separated by a rated corridor at least 1/2 the diagonal of the building floor plate in length –1/3 for buildings with fire sprinklers.)
4. 2nd floor units are limited in size to 125′ max. exiting distance from the furthest point inside the unit to the entry door.
5. 3rd floor units are limited in size to 125′ max. exiting distance from the furthest point inside the unit to the entry door. (3rd floor units can be two story units with internal stairs as long as the max. exiting distance of 125′ is observed).

 

Code research and design by David Kim

 

A comment from Will Dowdy:

This is a good summary. It’s probably worth being explicit about that ground floor unit. If you don’t have a unit on the ground floor, the requirement for accessibility is shifted to the second floor of the building, which means that you’re stuck with an elevator. BIG problem. This design is an elegant solution.

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33 thoughts on “Another look at how to build a 3 story building without an elevator

  1. Will Dowdy May 13, 2015 / 4:40 am

    This is a good summary. It’s probably worth being explicit about that ground floor unit. If you don’t have a unit on the ground floor, the requirement for accessibility is shifted to the second floor of the building, which means that you’re stuck with an elevator. BIG problem. This design is an elegant solution.

  2. Mike lamb May 15, 2015 / 3:19 pm

    John,
    ola from Minnesota – so is the Fair Housing Act limit you to 4 units above for 1 unit on the ground floor? is that a ratio or could you design for more units above? M. Lamb

    • rjohnanderson May 15, 2015 / 4:44 pm

      Mike Lamb, The Fair Housing Act requires all ground floor units to be accessible/adaptable in a building with 4 or more units. It is the International Building Code (IBC) that limits a building with a single means of egress (one stair) to 4 units on a floor. The IBC also limits the number of floors to 3 for a single stair walk-up. A single stair walk-up can have 8 units on the upper 2 floors, 4 units per floor under the IBC. Under the Fair Housing Act, a building with no elevator and 4 or more units in the building, must have at least one unit on the ground floor and all the ground floor units must be accessible/adaptable. The Fair Housing Act applies to buildings built after 1991.

      • Mike May 15, 2015 / 4:49 pm

        ok, I get the IBC but I a s s u m e that doesn’t get a lot of attention with our first and second ring communities around here; so with your example if I wanted more units then I build another building….right?

      • rjohnanderson June 24, 2015 / 3:16 am

        Yes. Add more than 4 units per floor and you need to add a second stair and a ratted hallway separating them by at least 1/3 the diagonal of the floor plate. The size of the four units can be quite large, up to 4,000 SF in a sprinklered building. When you say the IBC does not get much attention in the first and second ring suburbs, what do they use as the model building code in Minnesota?

  3. roldanttlb May 17, 2015 / 10:23 pm

    Hi John,
    Are you ok with other developers borrowing/reusing these plans? I’d love to include a slightly modified version of this in a proposal I am putting together. Feel free to reach out to me directly (I assume you’re able to see my email address based on my login).
    All the best – Matthew Denker

    • rjohnanderson May 18, 2015 / 2:47 am

      Matthew, Please use them and modify them as you need to. We have been very deliberately distributing these plans as Open Source, encouraging people to modify them as they need to. We offer the sharpened stick and encourage everyone to pick it up and go poke something. Occasionally this approach turns into some architectural work in a state where David Kim or Bruce Tolar is registered and we can help on the architecture side, but that is not the principal aim of the effort. The main thing is to get small scale, incremental buildings to happen. Keep us in the loop as to what happens with your proposal. Best, John

  4. Nick Mayr May 18, 2015 / 8:09 pm

    This design is great! I live in Baltimore and want to get involved in development, and designs like this would fit right in in the neighborhoods around downtown.

    What’s the design program you used for the renderings?

    • rjohnanderson May 18, 2015 / 8:34 pm

      David Kim did the rendered elevations using regular ol’ Photoshop on top of PDF line work from AutoCAD LT for Mac. I think his designs are elegant and straightforward. He is a genuine pleasure to work with.

      • Stephanie June 13, 2015 / 3:35 am

        John, I would actually question two parts of your code research. The ground floor unit appears to be designed as a Type B unit. FHA requires all ground floor units to be designed as Type B, but IBC Ch. 11 requires 2% of your units to be the more accessible Type A version. It’s my understanding that single ground floor unit would need to be designed as Type A. Second, I believe that the stair needs to be enclosed as a 1-hr exit enclosure, per 1022.2. Thoughts?

      • rjohnanderson June 15, 2015 / 5:58 pm

        Stephanie, My able partner, David Kim will post a response in the next day or so on how the rating of the hallway and the configuration of the ground floor units works under the IBC.

  5. bill@evstudio.com (@billevstudio) October 21, 2015 / 3:50 pm

    Stephanie, the type A requirement only applies to buildings with over 20 units.

    IBC 2009, 1107.6.2.1.1 Type A units. In Group R-2 occupancies containing more than 20 dwelling units or sleeping units, at least 2 percent but not less than one oftheunits shall be a Type A unit. All R-2 units on a siteshallbe considered to determine the total number of unitsand the required number of Type A units. Type A unitsshall be dispersed among the various classes ofunits.

    • Stephanie October 22, 2015 / 1:48 pm

      ah HA! I usually gloss right over that since my typical project is 100+ units. Thanks for pointing that out!

  6. Thomas Alan Morris January 23, 2016 / 8:49 am

    Would it be possible to convert the den in the larger upper floor unit to a small bedroom? In my opinion this would make it more attractive. I heard somewhere that in order for a real estate listing to call a room a bedroom, it would need to have a closet.

    • rjohnanderson January 23, 2016 / 9:08 am

      The study is 10 x 12. Big enough for a full sized bed and an armoire. You could steal son space from the public rooms for a closet.

  7. jmwyman February 11, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    Well done!

    If the building were three story on one side, and due to grades, two stories on the opposite side, could the ground floor accessible unit be on the second floor level, exiting to grade? Commercial floor would be below and residential above.

    • rjohnanderson February 11, 2016 / 3:18 pm

      The first level that housing appears on is the “ground floor” under the fair housing act and all the units on that floor need to be accessible/adaptable.

  8. jmwyman February 14, 2016 / 9:35 am

    And the stair is not considered a communicating stair because it is open to the exterior?

  9. Ed Jaroch February 20, 2016 / 5:46 pm

    John,
    This is a great resource. I see you have a boot camp coming up in Providence RI. Do you dive into all of these code interdependencies at your boot camp?
    Ed

    • rjohnanderson February 20, 2016 / 6:52 pm

      Yes. We have a session that my partner David Kim usually teaches called “Straightforward Design”. David is really good at navigating the codes to adapt the kind of basic buildings a small developer needs in their tool box and McGyvering the building Code, Fair Housing Act,ADA and the local zoning codes. Rather than just hand people canned solutions that we have worked out we try to use those as examples of how you can assemble the code hack that your project needs. More of a way of cooking with left overs and basic ingredients than high cuisine. Incremental development is like a really good omelet made from left overs with just the right spices, not a 4 course fancy dinner. Lately we have been looking at the Triple Decker building type as a building that can deliver a mixed use program and still qualify for a 30 year conventional mortgage.

  10. Dorian moore February 21, 2016 / 6:06 am

    John, David. This is such a good clarification of the code. Could you do this as a four story building for a total of 13 units? What is the elevator code max # of stories? I believe with wood sprinklers you can go 4 stories.

    • rjohnanderson February 21, 2016 / 7:09 am

      Wood frame with sprinklers can be four stories, but three stories is the maximum for a single stair with sprinklers. An elevator does not get you any more stories without a second stair , as the exiting in the event of a fire is assumed to be in the rated stair. Add another story or use more than four units per flor and you need a second means of egress, a second stair which needs to be separated with a rated corridor at least 1/3rd the diagonal distance of the floor plate. More stairs, more corridor to build and maintain. You coul build some or all of the third floor units as double height units with a mezzanine or interior second level, but the travel distance from the farthest point in the upper level to the rated stair enclosure cannot exceed 125 feet.

    • rjohnanderson March 2, 2016 / 4:18 pm

      That will depend upon what your local zoning code requires for the minimum amount of off-street parking. If the site has an alley in the rear the site can be a small as 100′ wide and 70′ deep. That would provide 9 off-street parking spaces with one accessible space and room for a trash enclosure and a surface mounted transformer in the rear of the site.

  11. adam December 7, 2016 / 8:16 am

    I am currently working on a similar layout. The code official has indicated that the 125 foot travel distance is from the most remote point on the third floor inside a unit to the exit discharge. (IBC 2009 1014.3 exception 4 refers to “common path of egress travel”)

    Your analysis indicates I have 125′ to the door of the unit but this is not the exit discharge, rather it is the entry to the stair. Is your analysis based on the stair being a vertical exit enclosure with one hour rating?

    Thank you.

    • rjohnanderson December 7, 2016 / 12:58 pm

      Yes. The stairway needs to be rated exit enclosure. It could also be detailed as a rated but unconditioned breezeway open to the rear of the building.

  12. Chris August 8, 2017 / 8:07 am

    Suppose you’re rehabilitating an old 2-story building (1920’s) into an apartment and want to start with the second floor. Does there have to be an elevator? Would they have to put at least one accessible ground floor unit in to avoid installing an elevator?

  13. wynnski August 8, 2017 / 12:40 pm

    Thanks, John. I just watched your excellent CNU video of the same. Would you care to explain what 1/3 the diagonal of the floor plate means? The reason I’m asking is to find out what would be required to build a 3-story 130-ft by 80-ft plan with two staircases serving eight units per floor.

    • rjohnanderson August 8, 2017 / 1:04 pm

      Measure diagonally from one corner of 130 x 80 rectangle to the opposite corner. The entry doors for each of your exit stairs have to be separated by at least 1/3rd that distance in a building built with fire sprinklers. You could avoid creating all that corridor/common area by building two buildings each with a single stair. 40 x 80 with a 20 El and a 2 hour rated wall separating the two structures. This would produce a U shaped footprint and provide an entry court.

      • wynnski August 8, 2017 / 2:37 pm

        Thank you very much. As to why one building rather than two: Aren’t four walls are cheaper than six, and energy easier to conserve within one envelope?

  14. rjohnanderson August 8, 2017 / 3:48 pm

    Sure, but 80×130 corridor building is going to have more common area and that is not just a first cost, but it will have an impact on your ongoing operating expenses. Also a corridor building creates lots of units with windows on only one side of the unit. Also, it’s not just what it costs. It’s what it cost _and_ what it makes. A courtyard building is way better for the reside

  15. mario nepo October 2, 2017 / 12:27 pm

    Is there anywhere in the IBC code we can confirm that a 4 storey high residential building requires elevator?

    • rjohnanderson October 2, 2017 / 1:31 pm

      The IBC doesn’t require an elevator for a fourth story. It does require a second means of egress and a rated corridor at least 1/3rd the diagonal measurement of the floor plate in length separating the access to the two exit stairs in TYPE V. construction with fire sprinklers.

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