If I have questions about whether the stairs/railing I want is up to code, who should I ask?
You can do a lot of research on the ICC website. You can even get a two week free trial of one of the code books on the site. After that, you will likely have a better idea of what questions to ask your contractor or state code representative. Most cities have a Code Compliance Office, or at least a Town Hall official that can direct you to the right person.
What happens if code changes after my build?
You don’t need to be too concerned about code requirements once your house is built. However, if you’re reconstructing or altering your home, make sure to check in on the most recent code for reconstructions and alterations and to see if a permit is required for those alterationss.
Are there exceptions to the code discussed in this article?
Yes! This document serves as a guide to the standard rules. While some exceptions were covered here, many were not, so be sure to check out the code more closely when you’re ready to build. Spiral staircases and composite stairs are especially famous for having a number of exceptions.
What about reconstructions and alterations?
Reconstructions and alterations have their own sections of code laid out in the 2018 IRC. The code discussed in this article applies to new builds, though some of the code does cross over and it is encouraged to follow the latest IRC update in order to keep house and resell value.
What residential structures are subject to IRC?
The ICC defines residential code as being the minimum regulations for one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses. Homes that defy these standards, like three-story homes and tiny houses, are subject to their own regulations. Each subcategory of the IRC (like the stairway, handrail, and guard railing code) has its own set of exceptions. Spiral staircases, for example, do not adhere to the basic IRC code for stairways. In addition, the international residential code refers primarily to new builds, with addendums written for alterations and reconstruction.
Do I need to follow the 2018 IRC?
Maybe. We know that’s a frustrating answer, but it’s really the best answer we can give. Every state (and even some municipalities) can decide for themselves if they want to adopt the IRC and sometimes state or local codes vary from IRC. This obviously complicates things for you as the homeowner — but if you are in the dark about your state’s requirements, check this page of resources developed by the ICC. It will tell you which version of the international code your state has adopted.
Why does the IRC exist?
In short, it’s about safety. Many people think that code is something that keeps a house from toppling over, and that’s true. But it serves additional purposes that aren’t as obvious.
For example, imagine that your house is on fire. Firefighters and other first responders will be entering and exiting your home quickly, and the IRC is what helps to keep them safe while they’re running up or down your stairway.
The IRC also contains energy conservation strategies, to protect and minimize damage to the environment. Finally, the code allows you, the homeowner, to enjoy your dwelling with healthy amounts of light and ventilation. It allows you to rest easy knowing that your family is safe from fire and other hazards, and keeps your home structurally sound.
What about the ladder effect?
Restrictions against horizontal railing that produces a “ladder effect” haven’t appeared in IRC since 2001, but many consumers are still concerned and confused about horizontal railing safety.
Fortunately, in 2007, a report from the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) brought some clarity to the matter. The sixty-plus page study revealed that young children who want to climb will use objects in their environment to do so no matter how the guard is constructed, making the culprit of falls around guard railings a little muddier.
Ladder effect terminology has stayed out of code language for nearly two decades now, but you’re sure to encounter it in articles as you shop for railing systems for stairs and walkways. As always, it’s important to check your local code requirements to make sure your preferred railing design is up to code in your area.