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BCC Ruling No. 00-12-744

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BUILDING CODE COMMISSION DECISION ON B.C.C. #00-12-744

IN THE MATTER OF Subsection 24 (1) of the Building Code Act, 1992.

AND IN THE MATTER OF Sentences 9.8.2.1.(1) and 9.8.3.1.(1) and Article 9.8.5.2. of Regulation 61, as amended by O. Reg. 400/91, 158/93, 160/93, 383/94, 20/95 and 395/96 (the "Ontario Building Code").

AND IN THE MATTER OF an application by Mr. Christiaan Wingelaar, President, 762429 Ontario Inc., Waterloo, Ontario for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. Jim Witmer, Chief Building Official, City of Kitchener, to determine whether the as-constructed three separate and irregular stairs provide sufficiency of compliance with Sentences 9.8.2.1.(1) and 9.8.3.1.(1) and Article 9.8.5.2. of the 1990 Ontario Building Code at 694 Glasgow Street West, Kitchener, Ontario.

APPLICANT
Mr. Christiaan Wingelaar, President
762429 Ontario Inc.
Waterloo, Ontario

RESPONDENT
Mr. James Witmer
Chief Building Official
City of Kitchener

PANEL
Mr. Kenneth Peaker, Chair-Designate
Mr. Fred Barkhouse
Mr. James Lischkoff

PLACE
Toronto, Ontario

DATE OF HEARING
March 29th, 2000

DATE OF RULING
March 29th, 2000

APPEARANCES
Mr. Christiaan Wingelaar, President
762429 Ontario Inc.
Waterloo, Ontario
The Applicant

Mr. Glen Good
Deputy Chief Building Official
City of Kitchener
Designate for the Respondent

The Respondent

RULING

1. The Applicant

Mr. Christiaan Wingelaar, President, 762429 Ontario Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, has received an order to comply under the Building Code Act, 1992 to remedy certain alleged deficiencies at 694 Glasgow Street West, Kitchener, Ontario.

2. Description of Construction

The Applicant completed construction of a new, detached Group C - residential building three years ago. The dwelling is described as two stories in building height (plus a finished basement), 600 m2 in building area and is of combustible construction.

As part of the construction, the Applicant built three sets of access to egress stairs. All of the subject stairs were custom built of solid ash. Each stair has open treads, i.e., there are no risers and all of the stairs have carpeting applied to the upper surface of the treads. The design of the stairs was not on the original plan approved by the municipal building department. The present design was a revision made during construction. (For the sake of clarity, each of the three sets of stairs will be referred to as stair A, B or C and each individual stair will be numbered commencing from the bottom.)

The main stair (referred to as stair A) is located on the ground floor in the front foyer at the centre of the house and leads to the basement. This stair, comprised of 16 risers and consisting of two curved flights separated by a nearly rectangular landing [considered stair number 6], is elliptical in shape when viewed in plan. The ten stairs [stair numbers 7 to 16] on the upper flight have straight nosings with a 35 mm (1 3/8 in) overhang and a uniform run of 270 mm (10 5/8 in) at the midpoint of the stair.

Four stairs on the lower flight [numbers 2 to 5] have forward curving nosings with a 35 mm (1 3/8 in) overhang and differing run lengths (measured at the midpoint) for each stair. The run length increases during descent, ranging from 292 mm (11 in) for the highest stair to 348 mm (13 11/16 in) for the lowest. There is a large, oval-shaped stair [number 1] at the bottom of the lower flight, however, since it has a run of approximately 930 mm (3 ft, 5/8 in) it is considered as a second landing. All stairs have an inside run of 203 mm (7 15/16 in). As well, this stair has a uniform stair rise of 189 mm (7 7/16 in) and has been provided with handrails on both sides throughout its entire length.

The second stair (stair B), located on the west side of the house, has a total of 15 risers and is a secondary stair that also leads from the main floor to the basement. This stair, starting from the top, has a straight run of seven steps [stairs 15 to 9] and then turns 450 to the right between stairs 7 and 6. Whereas the stairwell itself is comprised of straight walls with a precise 450 turn, stairs 8 through 5, however, have been designed to negotiate this change of direction in a gradual fashion.

The upper stairs [down to and including stair 9] have a run of 208 mm (8 3/16 in). Stairs 8, 7, 6, and 5 have runs at their midpoints of 212 mm (8 3/8 in), 247 mm (9 3/4 in), 305 mm (12 in) and 212 mm (8 3/8 in) respectively. (The minimum runs on the inside of the stair also vary, but with the smallest being 162 mm (6 3/8 in) they all exceed the OBC's minimum inside run requirement of 150 mm (5 7/8 in).) The run lengths for stairs 4, 3 and 2 are all 208 mm (8 3/16 in). The bottom stair is similar in design to the lowest stair in stair A, and it too has such a long run, at 1,000 mm (3 ft, 3 in), that it is considered as a landing. This stair has a uniform rise of 190 mm (7 in) and each stair has a 35 mm (1 3/8 in) nosing. There is a continuous handrail on the left side (when descending) and a second handrail on the right side, but only on the lower portion after the 450 turn.

Stair C, leading from the main floor to a room above the garage area, is located directly above stair B and as a result navigates the same 450 right turn. This stair, however, is divided into two flights and provides a landing at the turn. There are a total of 14 risers, each measured at 186 mm (7 5/16 in). The upper flight has 9 stairs [numbers 14 to 6], each with a consistent run of 212 mm (8 3/8 in). The landing [considered stair number 5] has an irregular shape and is curved on the inside and has straight walls (with the 450 turn) on the outside. It does not, however, provide the full 450 rotation throughout its turn.

The remainder of this turn, approximately 5 to 100, has been built into the remaining four stairs [4 to 1] of the lower flight, which are contained within a straight stairwell (as articulated by the handrail on the inside and the opposing wall on the outside). To achieve this turn, these stairs are similar in design to curved stairs with narrower runs on the inside. All inside runs exceed the minimum requirement of 150 mm (5 7/8 in) as set out in the OBC, and despite the difference in shape between each of these stairs, the midpoint run length is consistent at 212 mm (8 3/8 in). Stair C has a single handrail on the inside and the tread nosing is uniform at 35 mm (1 3/8 in).

The construction in dispute involves the lower flight of stair A, stairs 5, 6, 7 and 8 of stair B and the lower flight of stair C.

3. Dispute

The dispute between the Applicant and the Respondent is whether the three as-built separate and irregular stairs, specifically the lower flight of stair A, stairs 5, 6, 7 and 8 of stair B and the lower flight of stair C, provide sufficiency of compliance with Sentences 9.8.2.1.(1) and 9.8.3.1.(1) and Article 9.8.5.2. of the 1990 Ontario Building Code. The first provision stipulates that all treads and risers must have a uniform run and rise within each flight of a stair. While the riser height is uniform in all three sets of stairs, the runs, in the portion of the stairs identified, vary.

Article 9.8.5.2., the last provision, governs minimum and maximum dimensions for the run and rise of curved stairs not serving as exit stairs. According to this provision the average run for such stairs must be at least 200 mm and the minimum run at least 150 mm. Although the average stair runs are not consistent, they appear to fall within the dimensions set out in Article 9.8.5.2. As well, there seems to be no issue concerning minimum run.

In terms of the standards for risers, OBC 9.8.5.2. states that they must conform to those set out in Article 9.8.3.1. Sentence (1) of this provision limits stairs on the interior and exterior of a dwelling unit to a maximum rise of 200 mm. The riser heights are different between each of the stairs A, B and C, but, as indicated, are consistent within each stair. Based on information submitted by the Applicant (stair A - 189 mm, stair B - 190 mm, stair C - 186 mm), it appears that all risers are less than 200 mm.

Other OBC provisions have been cited by the parties as also being a matter of dispute. In the opinion of the Commission, however, these articles are not relevant. For example, Articles 9.8.5.1., which deals with curved stairs in exits, and 9.9.2.9., which requires exit or access to exit stair nosings to be at right angles to the direction of travel, are not applicable because these are not exit nor access to stairs as envisaged in the Code. All three are egress stairs. Moreover, the Commission does not consider the subject stairs as containing winders. It views the intended design of each stair as a curved stair that has been constructed in stairwells that contain straight demising walls. As a result, the provisions of the OBC relating to winders such as Article 9.8.5.3. do not apply.

At issue, therefore, is whether the irregular stair runs sufficiently comply with the OBC stair requirements for uniformity.

4. Provisions of the Ontario Building Code

Sentence 9.8.2.1.          Uniform Treads and Risers

(1) Treads and risers shall have uniform rise and run in any one flight.

Sentence 9.8.3.1.          Rise and Run of Stairs

(1) Except for stairs to areas used only as service rooms, interior stair within dwelling units and exterior stairs within dwelling units and exterior stairs serving dwelling units shall have a maximum rise of 200 mm (7 7/8 in), a minimum run of 210 mm (8 1/4 in) and a minimum tread width of 235 mm (9 1/4 in).

Article 9.8.5.2. Curved Stairs not in Exits

Except as permitted in Article 9.8.5.3., a curved stair not required as an exit shall have an average run of not less than 200 mm (77/8 in) and a minimum run of 150 mm (57/8 in) and shall have risers conforming to Article 9.8.3.1.

 

5. Applicant's Position

At the outset, the Applicant stated that the current stair design was a revision to the original approved plan. He explained that stairs A and B, both leading to the basement, had to be modified because the level of the basement floor was made lower during construction. And as a consequence of maintaining adequate headroom on the modified stair B, stair C above it also had to be changed. The net result for all three stairs was that two additional risers were added to each, yet the stair openings remained the same size. Since the stairs had to be redesigned, further revisions were made to enhance their aesthetic appeal, the Applicant stated.

The Agent for the Applicant then acknowledged that the changes to the stairs were done without consultation nor approval of the Building Department. Nevertheless, he submitted that the stairs in dispute are a high quality custom built product made by a master stair builder. He argued that despite the alterations to the approved stairs, the as-built ones "provide safe and comfortable travel in both directions and do not constitute a hazard to any user." The Agent asserted that while the stairs may not meet all the prescriptive requirements of the OBC, they certainly meet the intent of the various safety standards.

By way of general comments, the Agent noted that all of the individual steps within the three sets of stairs adhere to the minimum and maximum rise and run criteria found in the Code. And while the average run (measured at the midpoint of the stair width) is not consistent in the disputed areas, the stair runs are uniform within each flight at what he described as the "walking line". The walking line, he explained, is where a person would actually walk on the stairs and is located 305 mm (12 in) from the inside handrail. As a concept, the walking line makes more ergonomic sense than the Code's average run because users almost never walk down the middle of a stair. Providing uniformity at the walking line, he argued, makes the subject stairs safer.

Turning specifically to each set of stairs, the Agent asserted that the lower flight of stair A, with its stair runs increasing in length as one descends, incorporates another ergonomic design principle: deceleration. As he indicated, slightly longer runs during descent of a stair provides more generous step sizes that are better able to allow descending users to slow down, if necessary. The large bottom step, which is more akin to a landing, is the culmination of the decelerator principle. He added that the outward curved nosings of these stairs does not reduce its performance in terms of uniformity in the walking line and providing for deceleration.

In the case of stair B, the Agent described the lower portion as a curved stair in a stairwell with straight walls. As a result, in his view, the disputed stairs (5, 6, 7 and 8), should not be regarded as winders, nor regulated as such. He noted that as curved stairs they meet the Code's dimensional rise and run criteria. And while stairs 5, 6, 7 and 8 are not consistent with each other in terms of average run, they too are uniform at the walking line. The Applicant offered to improve the negotiability of the stair by modifying the outside handrail so that it follows the intended curve of the stair instead of the straight lines articulated by its demising walls. He also proposed to continue the inner handrail on through the upper portion to the top of the stair. With the extensive run of the bottom stair (1)/landing, the decelerator principle has been incorporated into the design of stair B as well, the Agent noted.

Regarding stair C, the Agent indicated that the walking line principle has also been employed in its design. As a result, the lower flight has a uniform run measured at 305 mm from the inside handrail. The Agent reiterated the arguments concerning the benefits of the walking line principle with respect to stair C.

In conclusion, the Agent stated that while they may not comply fully with all of the prescriptive requirements of the OBC, the finished stairs have not compromised the safety of the users. This was supported by the homeowner, who stated that in the three years since the stairs have been built they and their many guests have used them without incident. Lastly, the Applicant stated that extensive modification at this point would be very disruptive in terms of using the house and would be costly. He expressed hope that the Commission would allow the as-constructed stairs to remain.

6. Respondent's Position

The Respondent submitted that since, in his view, stair A or B and stair C "serve as a required means of egress and are considered as access to an exit, their designs must fully comply with requirements of Sections 9.8 and 9.9, respectively." He then listed the following as, in his view, the deficiencies or potential deficiencies of the subject stairs.

Assuming that stair A is a curved access to exit stair, the lower portion has steps that do not radiate from a common point, the Respondent stated. This situation, he noted, does not comply with Article 9.8.5.1. Or, if it were assumed that these stairs represent a winder, then they would violate the requirement in Article 9.8.5.3., specifically Sentence (1) that requires winders to turn 300. Moreover, as a winder, the stairs of the lower flight have elliptical shaped nosings which contravenes Article 9.9.2.9. Regardless of whether they are curved stairs or winders, their runs are irregular and do not comply with Subclause 9.8.5.1.(2)(c)(iii), he argued.

Regarding stair B (assuming for the sake of discussion that this and not Stair A is the access to exit stair), the Respondent stated that he does not believe it is a curved stair because the curving steps do not radiate from a common point, and like stair A it has a "floating reference point". Instead, he views it as having a winder, specifically at stair # 6. As a winder however, stair # 6 does not rotate 300 and therefore does not comply with OBC 9.8.5.3.(1). The requirement in Article 9.9.2.9. that the nosings of stairs be at right angles to the direction of travel is also not satisfied. As well, this stair lacks a uniform run stipulated as per Subclause 9.8.5.1.(2)(c)(iii).

As for stair C, the Respondent offered the same arguments as he did for stair B.

In summation, the Respondent stated that the stairs are well built and would be difficult to modify now. Nevertheless, he felt that he had little choice under the Code but to reject their design. Lastly, he stated that he hoped the Commission decision would clarify some of the provisions of the Building Code in dispute.

7. Commission Ruling

It is the decision of the Building Code Commission that the three separate and irregular stairs, specifically the lower flight of stair A, stairs 5, 6, 7 and 8 of stair B and the lower flight of stair C, provide sufficiency of compliance with Sentences 9.8.2.1.(1) and 9.8.3.1.(1) and Article 9.8.5.2. of the 1990 Ontario Building Code at 684 Glasgow Street West, Kitchener, Ontario on condition that:

a) A second handrail is installed in the lower flight of "stair C";

b) Signs are posted at the top and bottom of the disputed stairs ("stairs A, B and C") warning users of their irregularity; and,

c) The existence of irregular stairs in the dwelling and the requirement to maintain the above referenced warning signs as long as the stairs exist are registered on title of the subject property.

8. Reasons

a) The home has been occupied for three plus years without problems associated with the stairs and there have been no relevant insurance related claims submitted.

b) The average run is uniform at the "walking line" (305 mm from the inside handrail).

c) The stairs will be equipped with handrails on both sides of the disputed flights.

d) The stairs are provided with more than adequate lighting.
e) The required signage will provide warning to infrequent or first time users of the stairs.

Dated at Toronto this 29th, day in the month of March in the year 2000 for application number 1999-58.

_______________________________________________

Mr. Kenneth Peaker, Chair-Designate

_______________________________________________

Mr. Fred Barkhouse

_______________________________________________

Mr. James Lischkoff