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Posts tagged ‘codes’

Accessible Path of…Exit…Route…?

Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

As architects talk about accessibility, three terms often get caught in a bit of a mash-up, as they did in my title: Accessible Route, Path of Travel, and Accessible Means of Egress. Here’s a brief summary to help you see the differences, followed by a more detailed explanation:

Accessible Route

This is a general term for the floor surface or exterior surface that allows someone with a wheelchair or other mobility aid to get from one accessible part of a building or site to another.

Path of Travel

This is a subset of Accessible Routes; it’s used only in California Building Code (CBC) Chapter 11B in relation to alteration projects.

Accessible Means of Egress

For this phrase, think of Egress as the focus; it’s about getting out of a building in an emergency, and may not be the route or path people use to get in.

Now let’s get into more detail:

Chapter 2 (Definitions) of the CBC describes Accessible Route as “a continuous unobstructed path connecting accessible elements and spaces of an accessible site, building or facility that can be negotiated by a person with a disability using a wheelchair, and that is also safe for and usable by persons with other disabilities. Interior accessible routes may include corridors, hallways, floors, ramps, elevators and lifts. Exterior accessible routes may include parking access aisles, curb ramps, crosswalks at vehicular ways, walks, ramps and lifts.”

An Accessible Route should not be confused with a “Circulation Path,” which is a more general term for all the paths pedestrians use to get from one place to another, which can be the same elements as the Accessible Route, but can also include elements like stairs and landings, which are not accessible elements.

The Accessible Route on your site starts at Site Arrival Points, which can be accessible parking spaces and/or passenger loading zones, public streets and sidewalks, and public transportation stops, and extend to the accessible building entrance. If you have multiple Site Arrival Points, they all need to have an Accessible Route to the entrance. If you are not otherwise providing pedestrian access (a site with only vehicular access), then you don’t have to create a separate Accessible Route.

Next, Path of Travel: This is the code terminology, but think of it as “Accessible Path of Travel” because it is specifically intended to be accessible. As stated above, this is a subset of Accessible Routes applicable to an existing site, building, or facility that’s used to approach, enter, or exit an area.

The Path of Travel extends from the area of work (alterations or addition) to the building entrance and may include Site Arrival Points (sidewalks, streets, parking, and passenger loading zones on site). Inside, the path may also include certain building elements such as toilet and bathing facilities, telephones, drinking fountains and signs serving the area of work. Next time one of your colleagues talks about the Path of Travel in a new building you’re working on together, you can gently correct them and explain that they mean Accessible Route.

An Accessible Means of Egress (Section 1007), is a subset of a general Means of Egress (MOE), Chapter 10 which consists of three components: 1)The Exit (typically a door leading outside, or in a multistory building an enclosed exit stairway), and the paths on either side of it. Those are: 2) the Exit Access (the path from anywhere in the building to the Exit), and 3) the Exit Discharge (the path from the Exit to the Public Way, generally a street or alley).

Those components might include both accessible and inaccessible elements. For example, people may enter a building through a lobby and elevators, but in an emergency, the elevators may not be usable and are not part of the general Means of Egress. In a multi-story building, the occupants have to exit using the stair. Although the stair have usability aspects to them (rise and run requirements, gripable handrails, etc.), they are not part of an Accessible Route, so an Area of Refuge may be required, except in buildings equipped with an  automatic sprinkler system.

There are situations where the Means of Egress are not accessible, such as exiting from an upper level or basement. In those cases people who can’t use stairs need to be protected from a hazard. In most cases, an automatic sprinkler system provides this. If the building does not have an automatic sprinklers system the ability to get to the safety of the stairwells or to an elevator may be required. This would be an “Area of Refuge” under section 1007.6. In this case, both the enclosed stairways and elevator may need to be provided with an Areas of Refuge, which are designated areas outside the required exit path where people can await assistance. Two-way communication is required so that people in these areas can contact rescue personnel.

Similarly, the Exit Discharge on the exterior side of the Exit may sometimes open directly to an alley with no space for a ramp, or have other conditions such as steep terrain that is not wheelchair-accessible. So the code requires either an Area of Refuge inside the building or an Exterior Area of Rescue Assistance separated by the building by at least a one-hour wall. This is often preferable to the interior Area of Refuge, as it is open-air (no potential trapped smoke) and people with disabilities awaiting assistance are more visible to emergency personnel.

Kerwin Lee, AIA

Kerwin’s Comments: Means of Egress for people with disabilities has always been a second thought in the code. Early requirements for people with disabilities was to get them into a building, with no requirements for getting them out. It has only been recently that the code recognizes elevators as not only usable by the Fire Service to access a building, but to use for evacuation and even part of a required means of egress for high-rise buildings. What is not covered in the code is having evacuation plans, especially for people with disabilities. The worst thing in an emergency is to see everyone leaving the building and potentially leaving a person with disabilities behind.

Tiny Homes: Codes

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Sparked by all of the conservation efforts, tiny homes have recently been presented in TV programs and other forms of media.  Call it a social movement – where people are choosing to downsize the space they live in. The most popular reasons for downsizing includes environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the desire for more time and freedom from the cost and effort of having a large home. One solution is to live smaller. While tiny houses are not for everyone, there are some good aspects for this approach. The typical American home is over 2,000 square feet, whereas the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet.

There are some huddles for taking this approach that need to be addressed in the rules and regulations associated with construction. Both the local zoning regulations and building codes have many elements that could prevent construction of tiny homes in our cities and/or neighborhoods. We will only look some of the building code issues associated with this movement.

First, if the tiny home is on a foundation it will be regulated by the building codes. If the tiny home is on wheels or axles, it is considered a mobile home and would be regulated under those rules. Factory built homes also fall under a different set of regulations, outside of the building code. Currently the state does not have any specific regulations addressing tiny homes, but Housing and Community Development (HCD) has issued a bulletin (Bulletin 2016-01) on what current regulations do cover. Every building in the State needs to comply with something. Here is a link to the Bulletin issued by HCD:

The current building codes, California Building Code or California Residential Code would place some limitations on tiny homes and perhaps would end up not making them so tiny. Currently the codes do address the following in some way:

  • Minimum floor areas
  • Minimum ceiling heights
  • Minimum stair geometries, including handrails and guards
  • Exit and egress windows

If one were to design and build a tiny home – how would you go about getting through the building approval process? Using the code as is today, it is possible to come up with something that is less than 400 sf and would still be comfortable. If one were to design something smaller and push the design envelope beyond the code, the best way under the current code would be to approach it with the use of Section 104.11: Alternative Materials, Design and Methods of Construction. Even using this code approach, one would have to justify why a smaller stair geometry, for example, meets the intent and provides a reasonable level of safety. One would have to do some research in finding justification through test data that a different geometry is as safe as what is in the code.

There is another approach and some light at the end of the tunnel. Proposed for the 2018 edition of the International Residential Code is a new appendix section V. This new appendix will address some of the issues in permitting tiny homes, such as ceiling heights and stair geometry. It is proposed as an appendix section, which makes it optional for the local building official to use and/or adopt. The 2018 edition of the International Codes will be available soon. To even allow this appendix to be in the code was controversial. If the standards for tiny homes are acceptable, why not apply these to all homes since the code is a minimum standard? Some building officials thought the appendix would open a can of worms for smaller/lesser standards to be used everywhere and therefore compromising the already minimum safety standards.

If we expand our use of tiny homes to tiny condos/apartments, sometimes called efficiency dwelling units, we need to address and include people with disabilities. This is another area, totally dependent on space.

Codes: Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE)

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

It has been over two years since the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley. The city reacted by creating their own ordinance to address the issues, mainly focusing on maintenance. The state has enacted their own Emergency Amendment to the code, which was enacted  at the end of January of this year for a 18-month period. The Building Standards Commission has extended the Emergency Amendment.

The requirements, which amends Part two of the Title 24 and Part ten for existing buildings, has three main points:

  1. Waterproofing documentation
  2. Ventilation of concealed spaces, and
  3. Maintenance

Details of the code requirements can be found in Bulletin 17-01, Dated February 2, 2017 from the Building Standards Commission at:

Let’s start with “Maintenance.” This responsibility falls on the local jurisdiction as to how to implement this. When the city of Berkeley looked at this, it was estimated that 6,000 letters would be sent of building owners.  Each local jurisdiction will deal with this as they see fit.

Item 2 “Ventilation” is new to the code.  The code currently does not address, require or is silent on the issue of ventilation for enclosed balconies or other types of projections.  Ventilation is generally associated with moisture with condensation related to a temperature difference between spaces.  Although the code addresses keeping moisture (weather protection) out of these areas, the basic assumption of the new section is that if there is moisture within these assembles, the ventilation will help mitigate the problem.  The addition of ventilation will also provide visual opportunity to inspect the enclosed or sealed off areas more easily.  The alternative is to provide access panels or performing destructive demolition for inspection and repairs.  So the venting in the ordinance is different from venting in the current code.

The addition of the vents may address one issue, but may also create another issue related to fire protection of the structure.  All new R-1 and R-2 structures are required to be fire resistive in design, Type A construction.  This would include projections, like decks and balconies.  These projections are considered floor or floor/roof assemblies and required to have the same fire resistance as the rest of the building.  By adding all of these vents, which is required in the ordinance to be a minimum 1/150th of the area of the space ventilated, this may compromise the fire resistance integrity of the balcony.  For an 8 x 10 foot deck, a minimum of about 77 square inches of venting is required.  This is potentially a lot of unprotected openings.

Item #1 “Documentation” has a big effect on how drawings are created. The code change requires designers to show the waterproofing associated with the types of exterior elevated elements. First of all how many designers are competent with waterproofing? One can find many details for roofing, decking and opening protections, but what happens when these elements are joined together? What happens when a door opens on to a balcony or deck? Now we have a door opening intersecting a balcony, a horizontal element. This can be a very complicated detail for waterproofing. Perhaps the code change addresses this by requiring venting and physical inspection, with the assumption of waterproofing failure. This issue could be a big responsibility and liability for the designer.

Comments from Steve Winkel, FAIA

I cannot comment in detail on what the CBSC Exterior Elevated Element  (EEE) subcommittee will recommend, as we are in the midst of developing those recommendations. But Kerwin’s comments are all spot-on. The issue of documentation is one where architects who do not consider themselves adept at specifying and detailing deck waterproofing may need to seek expert consulting advice. They also need to be very aware that these issues involve intersections of multiple systems of walls, doors, windows and decks where there are transitions between waterproofing elements, all of which can lead to failures to prevent water intrusion. The one issue Kerwin did not mention was about increased requirements in the new provisions for inspections prior to enclosing deck elements. Designers should consider inclusion of special inspection provisions for decks and balconies under the provisions of CBC Chapter 17.

More Fire Disasters

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Oakland Construction Site Fire, Alta Waverly – The most recent fire in Oakland shows the vulnerability of buildings under construction. They are easy targets for a catastrophic fire. There have been several major fires in the Bay Area associated with buildings under construction: Santana Row, 2002, San Francisco, China Basin 2014, and Emeryville 2016. All of these were wood framed construction with just the framing up. Fortunately in all of these cases, there was no loss of life. So how does one protect a structure under construction?

Chapter 33 of the California Building Code addresses safety during construction. Also, NFPA-241, which is referenced in the code, is the Standards for Safeguarding Construction, Alterations and Demolition Operations. This would include hazard awareness, ignition prevention and fire protection during construction, mainly water supply and fire department access. The most common cause of construction site fire is associated with “hot work” like welding and grinding of metal. But when it is arson, the code is silent. This becomes a security issue.

Grenfell Tower, London – It is still too early to draw any conclusions from this fire and what went wrong, but the first thing people ask is can this happen in the USA? This should not happen if the construction follows the building codes. Our code, for about the last 20 years, does not permit, or at least limits, combustible construction on or in high-rise buildings. High-rise buildings continue to be the safest type of construction we have. There are a lot of questions about whether there was an operating fire alarm and sprinkler system in the Grenfell Tower.

One of the discussion lines has been on the egress approach and whether shelter in place is appropriate. The standard for evacuation of a high-rise building associated with a fire is to alarm the floor below and two floors above. Setting off the fire alarm system for the entire building would overwhelm the egress system (enclosed stairs). It has been calculated and tested through evacuation drills that for a large high-rise it could take hours to evacuate the entire building. If and when there are high-rise fires, they are usually contained to the floor of origin by the sprinkler system. So this methodology does work. If for any reason the fire expands, the fire department will make the call to expand the evacuation if necessary.

There are many other evacuation options now used, including the use of elevators for evacuations. When the fire department deems it necessary to use the elevators for evacuation, it should be in a logical and orderly manner. Since this approach has never been tested in a true emergency to my knowledge, how it works has a lot of unanswered questions. Who get the use of elevators first? How does one know to use the elevators and how do you know when? People are not going to just wait in the elevator lobby.

When evacuation is required, the most vulnerable people are the ones with disabilities. They really have to depend on the shelter in place concept. A visually impaired person would have a tough time finding the exits alone. There is no simple answer to all of these situations. The best is knowledge of your surroundings and having a plan for self preservation. This is most important for people with disabilities.


Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

When we’re designing complex buildings, Means of Egress should be one of the first things we start with. This doesn’t sound exciting, but understanding the basic needs of how to get your building’s occupants out of various spaces and to the Public Way will create the framework for your entire design. There’s nothing worse than getting a great schematic design together, then realizing you don’t have enough exit stairs, or that another rated corridor is needed right where you wanted something else to happen.

One of the benefits of having that framework early is that you can incorporate the ideas of an Accessible Means of Egress well, per Section 1009 of the CBC. This can be a philosophically vexing issue. On the one hand, the ability to exit the building the way you came in is ideal. This is cognitively clear, and in an emergency situation, clarity is critical. But for people with disabilities in a multistory building that often means elevators and the front door.

But what if it’s an older building and that front door is the only accessible entrance and exit? Then someone with a disability might be confronted with stairwells, rated corridors, and stairs at a side or rear exit door. That can be a pretty terrible situation in the midst of a chaotic evacuation during an earthquake or fire. So what to do?

Well, if you think about exiting early on, you’ll have a fighting chance to incorporate better accessible means of egress into your design. So maybe that second exit on the side of your building, with a couple of steps, can be designed with none. Then all people can use it’s impossible to use the accessible entrance lobby. When we are providing  Areas of Refuge in stairwells (Section 1009.3), think about larger wheelchairs and the possibility of having more people in wheelchairs than the code requires. Or someone might have an attendant with them who wants to stay in that space. So make that space larger than the minimum so that that a larger electric wheelchair, or an attendant with someone in a wheelchair, isn’t in the way of the rest of the occupants going down the stairwell.

And when you do introduce an exit component such as an Area of Refuge or Exterior Area for Assisted Rescue (Section 1009.7), take particular care to make your signage extra clear, since the layperson with a disability is generally not aware of these code devices. That will make your buildings safer, more usable, and help everyone exit them in an orderly fashion when needed.

Codes: Building Code and Spell Check

Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

How many of you have attended a seminar on the ADA and/or California Building Code (CBC) Chapter 11 and have been bored out of your mind?

This is because a code-based approach to design is about as interesting as a spell check based approach to writing.

Think about it. We have code requirements for every element: floors, walls, roofs and everything in between. When you design those elements, do you feel satisfied with your work if it’s merely code compliant? Do you look to the building code for design inspiration Of course not.

I try to share the underlying principles of accessible design so that architects will be able to design experiences that engage and delight people, or are so seamless that people are free to focus on the wider beauty of your architecture.

Let’s talk about seamless entrance sequences. I am often called in to design or retrofit an existing building entrance. This is because when people are doing alteration to an existing building, CBC chapter 11B-Section 202.4 requires the following:

“When alterations or additions are made to existing buildings or facilities, an accessible path of travel to the specific area of alteration or addition shall be provided. The primary accessible path of travel shall include:

1. A primary entrance to the building or facility,

2. Toilet and bathing facilities serving the area,

3. Drinking fountains serving the area,

4. Public telephones serving the area, and

5. Signs”

So you start at the primary entrance. Very often, the architect or contractor is trying to connect the sidewalk level with the entrance level, so they turn to the tool prescribed by code: The Ramp. Then they start trying to carve the ramp into the stairs, along with the required landings and the whole thing quickly becomes ugly and expensive.

But wait…push the ramp out of your mind for just a minute, and look at the ground plane. Where is it closest in elevation to the building entrance? Can you connect those two points with a gentle walkway? Here’s an example where a level walkway through a former planting strip became an effortless entrance to the Berkeley YWCA, and because it wasn’t a ramp requiring handrails, the edge could become a much-used seat wall.

I can’t tell you how many times I have eliminated the need for ramps completely by constructing level or near level walkways between two points. I suspect that architects and contractors overlook these solutions so often because when one thinks about accessible level changes, our minds naturally go to the code-prescribed ramp.

So back up. Keep in mind that we’re finding architectural solutions to code accessibility, with architecture first – not the other way around. You’re better than spell check.


Kerwin Lee, Architect, CASp

Kerwin’s Comments – The key to using the code is not to just read the text, but to understand the  “intent” of the code. If you understand why the code wants something, you can be better in achieving what the code requires and creating a great design. Sometimes it requires bending the standard interpretation of what the code requires, but meeting the intent. Ask yourself what is the code trying to achieve here? Whether it is life safety or accessibility, it is the same. A lot of accessibility requirements are as simple as getting from point A to point B. As a design, we create the experience of getting from point A to point B. That should be no different for people with disabilities. The first thought is that the experience should be the same for all users, even if the physical aspects may be different. A child in a playground that is in a wheelchair may not be able to use every piece of play equipment, but should be able to experience what is happening. Being with other kids is a big part of the experience. This applies to all elements of the physical environment. The basic original intent of all accessibility requirements is to allow the people with disabilities to be a part of society: inclusion not exclusion.

Major Changes to the 2016 California Building Code

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
$40 AIA members and employees of chapter member firms; $60 non-members
Includes a sandwich lunch (gluten-free/vegan salad available for additional $5).
Click here to register.


Steve Winkel, FAIA, PE, CASp presents the major changes to the 2016 California Building Code in a two-hour lunchtime session. Please note this program does not qualify for California license renewal requirements, but it still extremely important!

About the Presenter

Steve joined The Preview Group in 2005 and manages the firm’s San Francisco Bay Area office. Steve has over 39 years experience as an architect, engineer, landscape architect and recently became certified as an access specialist in California. Steve is currently serving his third 4-year term as the Architect member of the California Building Standards Commission. He is also on the Board of Directors of the National Institute of Building Sciences and is chair of the FEMA/NIBS Code Resource Support Committee which reviews and comments on building code changes related to seismic safety. Steve has served as chair of the American Institute of Architects Codes and Standards Committee. He is the author, along with noted illustrator Frank Ching, of the well-received book Building Codes Illustrated for John Wiley & Sons, now in its third edition. As both an architect and civil engineer with experience in project management, code analysis and quality assurance reviews, Steve brings a unique perspective and broad knowledge base to the firm’s work.

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify significant changes made in the basic 2015 IBC that are included in the 2016 CBC.
  2. Identify California-specific changes to the 2015 IBC in the 2016 CBC.
  3. Identify changes made by California in the CBC Chapter 11A regarding access to covered multifamily housing and to CBC Chapter 11B for Public Accommodations
  4. Learn to recognize the impact of the noted changes on practice.

Silence of the Codes

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

There are many elements in a design of a building that are not addressed by the codes. Saying “the code is silent” on that issue leaves the door wide open to interpretation.  As a designer we want the flexibility of make interpretation choices that support our design. The approach some building officials take is when if it is not in the code, it isn’t permitted. Too often designers are wondering if something is not written in the code, does that mean they can do it?

Here are some issues that are not addressed by the code:

  • Skylights on a rated roof – Rated roof assemblies are silent on the issue of openings, skylights or any other penetrations, does that mean they are permitted and unrated? Because the code is silent and does not specifically address the issue, I would say yes. If the concern was fire resistance to protect yourself from you neighbor, like an exterior property line wall, then protections of openings is important, but there are no neighbors above you. The intent here of the code is protection of the roof assembly from an internal fire, therefore penetrations and or openings are not important as part of a fire resistive assembly.
  • Rated wall construction intersections with non rated construction – Exterior rated walls and their intersections with unrated interior walls and/or floors, where does the rated construction end? This is a hard one to answer. Does the wall protect you from your neighbor (fire from outside) or your neighbor from you (fire from the inside)? Unfortunately in the State of California, the Fire Marshal says from both sides, which makes answering the question harder.
  • Exit sign colors – Do they have to be red, green or anything else specific? How many times as a designer have you thought about using a different color or design for special critical design areas, like an auditorium or gallery. The key is visibility.
  • Plumbing Fixtures – There are so many unanswered questions associated with plumbing fixtures, such as locations, numbers within a facility, and so on.
  • Code Conflicts – When one code says one thing and another code either say something else or is silent.

Whether it is a general question or a specific question that needs a code interpretation or justification, the key to making any interpretation of the code is whether it meets the intent of the code. Sometime, with new technology, the intent has never been addressed in any form by the code. Photovoltaic technologies have many unaddressed code issues that issues are being created daily.

Even design or functional concepts, like “Aging in Place” creates code issues never before asked. The basic concept of aging in place is to have the ability to stay in one place, but allow for changing needs. One may start off in an independent-care facility and then progress to an assisted facility and perhaps to a full-care facility. The ability to live in one place and enjoy the comfort of familiar surroundings is a great concept. This may be simple to achieve in a private residence. One can add features to accommodate ones changing needs. When it comes to assisted and full-care facilities, it can be very expensive to have in-home care, part-time or full-time.

In a larger community of care, like Rossmore in Walnut Creek, you can find different types of care services within the community. Mixing the service types within a single building or facility, the code requires different levels of life safety. Mixing of occupancy types (R-1/multi-family, 2.1/Residential Care, 3.1/single family care, I-2/Nursing Homes and 4/Adult Day Care) can be difficult and challenging to make the facility look and feel homey without looking and feeling institutional.

It is important to identify these code issues before they go into plan review. This will avoid problems after the design is too far along.


Erick Mikiten, AIA:

These issues – I think of them as being just beyond the edges of the code – can be some of an architect’s biggest challenges. One little code uncertainty can lead to a lot of research, phone calls, (and if your “guess” isn’t right) costly changes to drawings during plan check or to the building during construction.

I like to avoid these by meeting with the building department beforehand and getting a “code interpretation” letter from them. I lay out the issue clearly, along with the option I want them to agree with. This way I avoid the expensive uncertainty and give them the opportunity to weigh in on any concern I may not have thought of. Sometimes they even come up with something more favorable than my proposal. Not only does that help my design, but it is real protection should there be a problem later, arguably showing that I’ve met or gone beyond the standard of care.

One accessibility-related example of interpretation challenges is where to put detectable warnings (truncated domes). CBC Section 11B- is titled Hazardous Vehicular Areas. But there is no definition of this in the code. Some people feel that this should only apply to streets, intersections, and roundabouts – places where cars are traveling at some speed past people. But sometimes you encounter places where the designer will wrap the entire accessible parking space in a sea of detectable warnings.

Check out this image of a CVS parking lot. Imagine being a blind person navigating with a cane and trying to make sense of where it’s safe to go in this parking lot. Hopeless.

The 2010 ADA refined the requirements to require detectable warnings only at curb ramps in the public right-of-way and on transit platform edges. This actually creates clarity for blind people who are detecting the domes with their feet or a cane; they will encounter them in more predicable places. Unfortunately, the CBC has not kept in step with this change, so architects in California are still left to interpret what locations are hazardous vehicular Areas. This is a perfect example of when you should to take your site plan to the building department early on and get an interpretation.

Ratchet Up Your Parking

The way I look at it, if we meet exactly the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California Building Code (CBC) minimums in our designs, we’re barely avoiding “breaking the law.” And with that “perfect” code-compliant design, one small mistake in the field and we’re losing money and sleep-solving problems in construction administration.

That’s why I advocate for “code plus design.” Give an extra few inches as a safety margin and you’ll be doing your client, the contractor and yourself a favor!

The code and the ADA are minimum standards based on extensive negotiations between people with disabilities and building owners associations and big developers. Guess whose agenda is better represented in the documents we’re following?

Here are three ideas for you to take to the street (well, parking lot) in your projects. They will make the lives of your users much better – with barely any impact on square footage and cost.

  1. Access Aisle Size

Here’s an easy one: CBC 11B-502.2 allows van spaces to be nine feet wide with an eight foot access aisle or 12 feet wide with a five foot access aisle. Either way, it’s 17 feet total width, but one is better than the other.Why? Because wide aisles are just too inviting for other driver and this happens:

So stick with the narrow five foot aisle, and give the remaining three feet to the van space itself.

  1. Number of Van Accessible Spaces

I recently had to use an electric wheelchair for four months and rented a van with a ramp. I was blown away to discover how many places I couldn’t deploy the ramp. Trees, bushes, signs, bike racks, and newspaper boxes made many street spaces impossible. Regular accessible stalls with five foot access aisles often wouldn’t work and I’d circle parking lots for 20 minutes until a usable van space opened up, or just give up and drive away.

In a double-loaded lot of about 55,000 SF, that’s only 108 SF of added space. I defy anyone to show me a 55,000 SF lot that I can’t squeeze another 108 SF out of. Put another way, that’s an unnoticeable 0.02% difference in most people’s experience, and a 100% better experience for people who need these spaces.

  1. Number of Accessible Spaces

Imagine you have a green car and drive into a 200-space lot, but only 12 spaces are for green cars. There are 60 spaces empty around the lot, but all the green-car spaces are taken, and you can’t park anywhere. Wouldn’t that be dopey? Completely – and that’s what it feels like to people who need the accessible spaces. But this is easy to fix…

Many of the accessibility numbers in the code were established in the 1970’s and 1980’s (with some dating back to first ANSI A117.1 of 1959), when the percentage of people over 70 was about half of what it is today…and that number is in the process of doubling between 2010 and 2030.

Add to that the fact that many people with disabilities were stuck in their homes due to lack of today’s advanced mobility aids and the lack of an accessible public environment (not to mention many people being institutionalized), and it’s quickly clear that these numbers need to be updated. It will take a long time for the glacial ADA and building code update processes to catch up.

In the meantime, it’s up to us to up the ante and create better places that reflect the reality of what the population needs. If we don’t do it, who will?


Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Kerwin’s Comments:

Designing to the code minimums or maximums can be problematic. In many cases, designing to the absolute minimum or maximum can get you into trouble. Designing a ramp that specifies the maximum slope is a sure way of failure. Building a ramp designed to the maximum (1:12) will create a ramp with portions that will exceed the maximum allowed slope, guaranteed. This will create non-code compliance and possible lawsuit. Always design for less than the maximum and allow for failure during construction. This goes for all code dimensions, for all maximum and minimums in the code.  Exterior grading is never perfect and always requires design adjustments during construction. When elements like a ramp are within a building, this does required more space and could affect the design.

Making these design decisions can be difficult regarding when to exceed the minimums/maximums, especially when your client looks at the costs. It is your job as the designer to make the right choices for the project.

Safety Only Starts with the Codes

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

The origins of building code and standards have always been reactive to major events. The first building regulations were established jointly with fire service and insurance companies in an effort to minimize losses due to major fire events.  The following is a short list of major events that have shaped our building codes:

  • City of Chicago fires of 1871 and 1874, about 250 and 20 fatalities, destroying 812 structures
  • San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, about 3,000 fatalities and 80% of the city destroyed
  • Iroquois Theater fire of 1903, 602 fatalities
  • Coconut Grove nightclub fire of 1942, 492 fatalities
  • Oakland Hills fire of 1991, 25 fatalities and 3,469 structures lost

After the recent tragic fires in Oakland (Ghost Ship and San Pablo), there has been a lot of talk on what needs to change in our codes to prevent this from happening again. The simple answer is nothing – we need to enforce the building codes we have. This is where it becomes tricky: who is responsible for enforcing the codes and to what extent? Some would say the city; I say it is all of us. We are all responsible for our own safety. We all need to be aware of possible dangerous conditions and if we are not, we should learn them.

I don’t expect the common person to know when an electrical panel is overloaded, but if the power keeps going out because something is plugged in, like a heater, that should be a sign that something is not right. I don’t expect everyone to know when a corridor or a stair enclose is rated, but know where your exits are and how to get to them. If you see a blocked exit door, know that this is not right and a potential hazard. When you see problems like these, it is good to be aware and to report it.

After 9/11 there was a lot of talk among authors of the code, and the general public, as to what code changes were needed to prevent this from happening again. Firstly, buildings are not designed to take the impact of an airplane with tens of thousands of gallons of flammable liquids. Secondly, the portion of the twin towers below the impacted floors, not cut off to grade, performed well and most of the occupants were able to exit the buildings. Even still the authors of the code did make relevant changes, which can be found in the high-rise sections.

Oakland and other cities are already looking at their inspection programs and what needs to be done. There have been cries from the community that the reason for this event was because of the housing shortage, which is a different issue and needs to be addressed in the zoning regulations. There were suggestions to reduce building code requirements to accommodate artists and allow for more housing. This would be a wrong step. Lowering the standards from what is already considered a “minimum standard” would not provide a reasonable level of safety consistent for the community.

What needs to be done is bring buildings into compliance, whether it is housing or places of assembly. This may mean zoning changes to adapt industrial uses to housing or a live/work community. The city is already working on this. Building owners will have to agree with the changes and cost necessary for a safe building for whatever the use. The city may have to establish a timetable for things to happen, but we cannot allow non-code compliance to go unnoticed. We cannot let another incident like this happen ever again. We are responsible for a safe environment.

-Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Building Code Issues: All Gender Restrooms

Kerwin Lee, AIA CASp

Kerwin Says: (with the assistance of Steve Winkle, FAIA)

I recall when I first got started in architecture, my first task was to design restrooms for a project. Perhaps your start was the same. One quickly learns what the criteria is; providing restrooms are always essential to any project.

Something new has been added to this design, at least when it comes to signage and perhaps will become a whole new way of designing restrooms. Assembly Bill 1732, passed by the assembly and signed into law by the Governor on September 29, 2016 became effective on March 1, 2017. This law requires all “single user toilet facilities” to have special signage.

The problem is there is nothing in the code, including the current CBC 2016, that addresses this to meet the law’s requirement. The only guidance at this time is found in a bulletin issued by DSA on January 19, 2017. This bulletin, BU 17-01 is available through the following link:

The bulletin, which is supplemental information to any building standards or code, only applies to DSA projects: public schools, state buildings and projects under DSA’s authority. So what are we designing to? AB 1732 is law and even without specifics on how to comply, we have an obligation to. We can use DSA’s bulletin as a guideline. The best way is to talk with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for your project on when and how to comply. The bill lacks specifics or at least clarity as to when it is required. Does this apply to all restrooms that exist or new and/or remodeled only?

According to DSA’s bulletin, they recommend that the symbol on the door be a triangle within a circle. They say that no pictogram is required and no other signage (text) is required. If you or the owner chooses to have a text sign, it should say one of the following: “ALL-GENDER RESTROOM,” “RESTROOM,” or “UNI-SEX RESTROOM,” The text with braille needs to comply with the code for all accessible signs. It is best to stay away from any other text or having any pictogram associated with the symbol or text sign. One can look through the debate online on this subject and some of the suggested signs/symbols to be used-many are politically incorrect.

Here is one of the problems you will be facing for complying with the code, “Fixture Count.” If all single user facilities are now all gender, how is it counted in tabulating the number of required fixtures for a facility or building for compliance with Chapter 29?

The biggest question is compliance with Section 2902.2: separate sex facilities. Separate sex facilities are a fairly recent standard, introduced in the mid-19th century. It was associated with having women in the work force in factories, but that is another subject of discussion. Add to this the complexity of urinals and how they are counted.

There may be an opportunity for some creative and new approaches to design for restrooms. For an A-2/restaurant with ten or less occupants, a single unisex facility would comply. For an occupant load of 25 or less, two fixtures or two single-user facilities are required. For an occupant load of 49 or less, three fixtures are required. A possible solution could be as diagramed on the right with two accessible single-user facilities and a single water closet in the third. The two lavatories would comply with the minimum required number. This design would require an Alternative Materials and Method Request (AMMR) because it does not strictly comply with the code, but may comply with the intent. Some social norms may also be changed here.

The building standards or codes do need to be adjusted to address all of these social changes. In the mean time, we all need to proceed with caution on how we address this. We also need to recognize that because there are no statewide code standards this will be in the hands of local jurisdictions and there may be different requirements/interpretations in different jurisdictions.

Drawings courtesy of the City of Oakland Building Department.