How Many Upper Level Exits?

“Doesn’t Hurt to Ask”

The code clearly states that you will need two exits from your upper apartment. Both exits must be code-compliant. This means ladder systems will only be allowed when other economical solutions have been explored. I have built apartments in a city or two that do not require two exits, but only if you have one unit. It never hurts to ask the question to your local building official. In most cases, having a back entry or exit has lots of benefits. Parking lots are often located toward the back of buildings. A deck or outside garden area that would easily accommodate a back entry is a very nice amenity. Moving in and out of an upper level apartment is also preferred from the back side or alley. Obviously, I am assuming you have an existing front staircase. The front staircase is important as most mail carriers will not deliver your mail to the back of the building. Having a second exit and access to the mailbox is convenient. I have also seen many of my tenants access their apartment from the front entrance to make a quick stop in and out.

Designing in a second exit hallway and staircase is often my most challenging task. One may need to think outside the box in order to achieve this. In the example below, the two-unit (top) building is a different owner than the (lower) studio bedroom. The problem that the two unit building had was the lower level took up the entire lot. Remember downtown buildings have zero lot line setbacks. This made a second back exit staircase very difficult or extremely expensive. To compound the problem, the lower level back wall had two separate doors going into the building with small staircases, making a ladder exit also very difficult to achieve. The neighboring owner was interested in putting in an apartment in the near future. They were willing to exchange design services and part of the cost of the deck for allowing access through their building to accommodate exiting. The local building official thought this was the best solution and permitted the project.