The Stuff in the Hall
A closer look at objects residing in corridors
NFPA Journal, March/April 2010
A question I often hear when teaching seminars on NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, concerns the placement of stuff in corridors. Can furniture, book shelves, trophy cases, file cabinets, and other such "stuff" be placed in corridors? The answer depends on several factors.
Section 126.96.36.199.3 of NFPA 101 does prohibit placing things in the exit enclosure, which includes enclosed exit stairs and exit passageways. The language in this section is very broad. For example, it says that "An exit enclosure shall not be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with its use as an exit…" (my emphasis added). So, at least as a starting point, it is clear that we cannot put "things" in an exit stairwell or exit passageway.
However, no such exclusion is found in the code for exit access. The corridor is part of the exit access and is defined in Section 3.3.76 as "that portion of the means of egress that leads to an exit." The code allows "things" in the exit access, as that is the portion of the means of egress where we live, work, and play. Chapters 18 and 19 of the Life Safety Code, which address hospitals and nursing homes, prohibit placing "things" in the corridors of these health care occupancies.
So, in general, the code says we may put things in the corridors of buildings. But there are some restrictions. One is that the minimum clear width of the corridor be maintained. In the -2.3 section of each occupancy chapter, a minimum width for corridors is specified. For example, the minimum width of a corridor in a business occupancy serving 50 or more persons is 44 inches (112 centimeters), while the minimum corridor width in an educational occupancy is 72 inches (183 centimeters).
The above widths are minimum widths. The actual width of the corridor in a building may be wider than the minimum width to provide the required exit capacity. Obviously, "things" cannot be placed in a corridor that would reduce the width below that required for the calculated egress capacity.
There are several general requirements that would also apply to placing things in the corridor. Section 188.8.131.52 requires that egress from all parts of a building be kept free and unobstructed. Section 184.108.40.206 requires that the means of egress be continuously kept free of obstructions or impediments. Section 220.127.116.11.1 prohibits furnishings, decorations, or other objects from obstructing exits or access to the exit. Section 18.104.22.168 requires that the exit access be clearly recognizable. Hangings and draperies are not allowed to obstruct egress in accordance with Section 22.214.171.124.1. However, none of these requirements requires that we walk in a straight line. Humans typically do not walk in straight lines, so walking around "things" is not a problem as long as there is adequate width and the path is obvious.
Except for health care occupancies, which have special provisions for corridors, "things" may be placed in corridors as long as the minimum required width is main-tained, the required exit capacity is maintained, and the "things" do not present a condition that could cause an obstruction or present a greater fire hazard than is expected for that occupancy.
Chip Carson, P.E., is president of Carson Associates, Inc., a fire engineering and code consultancy. He is a former member of NFPA's Board of Directors.