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Guard Requirements in 2009 IRC

January 31st, 2010

2 important changes have been made for requirements for guards in the 2009 edition of The International Residential Code.

Previously, a guard was required when the walking surface was 30” or more from the floor or grade below.  I remember building decks on new houses and ripping the lattice skirting at 28”.  The landscapers could place topsoil to the bottom of the lattice and slope it away from the deck.  Since the grade immediately below the deck was 28”, we were exempt from guard

Deck with Fixed Seating

requirements.  This was particularly useful when installing bench seating around the perimeter of the deck and not wanting a guard to extend above the back of the seating.

2009 IRC requires a guard when the walking surface is more than 30”  “at any point within 36” horizontally from the edge of the open side”.  Using the 2006 IRC, a guard would not be required if the grade directly below the deck was 30”.  Take that same deck where the grade slopes 1” in every foot. At a point three feet from the deck; the grade would be 33”.  Using the 2009 IRC a guard would be required.

The second important change requires the height of a guard to be 36” above any adjacent fixed seating.  If the deck requires a guard it would have to extend a minimum of 36” above the seating surface.  The concern here is with children climbing on the seat and falling over the guard.  The code language does not require a guard in instances where the deck (walking surface) is less than 30” above grade (at 36” form the face of the deck) and the seating is more than 30” above grade (as in the picture above).  Anyone who has observed small children might say that the backless seats, like those on the deck above, ARE walking surfaces for unattended children.  Just a thought for 2012.

New Guard Requirements

Also, a change in location for guard height requirements clarifies that height and openings requirements for guards do not apply for guards that are installed in non-required locations.  The 34” wrought iron rails with the 6” openings you find at the big box stores can be used if a guard is not required.

New in 2009

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