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Code question

x-jla

I just want some reassurance that I’m understanding this correctly.   I have a large residential landscape remodel project.   On part of it there is an elevated patio (retaining walls and backfill construction) that is 4’ above the lower level.  Owner wants to do something to remove the ugly guardrail.  If I create a 3’ wide planter space between the walking surface and the drop off will that be compliant?  

 
Aug 8, 22 8:12 pm
SneakyPete

I'd suggest something that a young human can't push through. This is a nebulous code area though. 

Aug 8, 22 8:33 pm  · 
2  · 

Can you provide a sketch to illustrate. I am not sure if I understand the question asked clearly enough. I think for new construction, guard rails tend to require being 42" tall. A fixed planter can potentially function as a guardrail provide it adequately addresses the code-related issues that  guard rails address like the 4" and 6" sphere rules. I think the idea can work and seen examples of such in the past. The height of the planter box matters. An illustration might help clarify what you are seeking to achieve with the project.

I second what SneakyPete said about the code area being nebulous. This is why I can't say with certainty because most code issues relating to guardrails are covered in code matters pertaining to decks and elevated landings and am not sure this is quite the same case so the height should be sufficient to function as a guardrail.


Aug 8, 22 8:40 pm  · 
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SneakyPete

Over 30" drop
needs a guard.

Aug 8, 22 8:50 pm  · 
1  · 

Didn't say it didn't need a guard but exactly whether this is part of a deck structure connected to a building or if this is completely a separate structure and then which specific code language do we use. 

I agree that it would require a guardrail but a planter structure can be also a guard rail in function as it would or could be basically a wall but that depends on if it's something that can be moved or not. Small movable planters won't cut it. If it's fixed in place, then yeah, I believe a planter can be a guardrail but that depends on details. 

I was wanting to see a more visual idea of what the x-jla was thinking of in order to get a better idea of what the proposed idea is and what the code requirements would be.

Aug 8, 22 10:17 pm  · 
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shellarchitect

30” drop from walking surface, planter area isn’ta walking surface right?  I’d make that planter area as wide as possible tho.  5’ would be a lot better, couple rows of planting, something with thorns?

Aug 8, 22 8:59 pm  · 
3  · 
Non Sequitur

Plant vines with large spikes/thorns... what do you call those? Cactus!, Cacti?  whatever, those things.  They'll keep anyone from wondering too close to that 1220mm drop.

Aug 8, 22 9:34 pm  · 
1  · 

Devil's Club (Oplopanax Horridus) and Blackberry (especially the vine types found in Oregon coastal cascade areas.) Either would be sufficient to keep any person with any sanity of wanting to get too close to the edge.

Aug 8, 22 10:11 pm  · 
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Shhh... (in whispering voice), trying to broker a deal to rid of acres of those two horribl...WONDERFUL types of plants. :-P

Aug 8, 22 10:24 pm  · 
1  · 

I'd recommend planting some blackberry & Oplopanax Horridus in that area below.

Aug 8, 22 10:26 pm  · 
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(Joking...... unless the client is a cheap non-paying jackass)

Aug 8, 22 10:44 pm  · 
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SneakyPete

Toxicodendron diversilobum.

Aug 8, 22 10:48 pm  · 
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yeah, that too as well as poison ivy.

Aug 9, 22 12:31 am  · 
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Non Sequitur

Poison ivy is not much of an immediate deterrent tho… unless it’s mutated with lasers.

Aug 9, 22 7:20 am  · 
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Almosthip

Are those, "frickin sharks with "frickin laser beams attached to their heads?"

Aug 9, 22 12:59 pm  · 
2  · 
atelier nobody

In my neck of the woods Bouganvillea is the preferred "decorative security" barrier, but I'm not sure how well it grows everywhere else.

Aug 9, 22 4:24 pm  · 
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natematt

What if you just drop the planter 24", then you have 2x 24" drops, essentially creating intermediate artificial grade... that someone can of course still trip and fall off ... 

Aug 9, 22 2:50 am  · 
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Maybe could work. Natematt's idea seems very plausible option. Although, even a two foot drop can be unsafe and result in injury but likely less than a 4-ft. drop, obviously. 

x-jla,

If I was doing a project like this, I would consider something like that, too. Landscape design is a service I provide as well (in Oregon & Washington). Although I haven't specifically had to do a project in a landscape design project for a client, that is exactly like this. Considering my primary services is building design. 

I don't think it is outright against code to use planters as a guardrail. Attention to detail about how it addresses the functionality of a guardrail is key to this. Not all planters would meet that requirement. Some can very much so serve that function. 

x-jla, you have an idea, that in principle, could work & be code compliant but that goes into details. I can't say it will or won't be code compliant without seeing a legible sketch of what you are thinking.

Aug 9, 22 4:25 am  · 
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x-jla

I can’t modify the lower area natematt. The retaining wall butts up against a natural land easement.

Aug 9, 22 10:38 am  · 
1  · 

I can see that being a challenging scenario for multi-tier planter but might not be impossible but that can complicate things for that approach depending on how much space you have to work with.

Aug 9, 22 10:49 am  · 
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x-jla,

This thread brings up some things for you to consider and look at some examples that may apply to your case but again check with the codes that applies to project where it is located: (in case there is an amendment or important textual changes in words and code section number)

https://blog.buildllc.com/2016...

(image from the page linked. Although not an exact same case but it does bring up an idea how planter is used to meet a code requirement. You *may* need to have the planter a little taller than the patio bound the elevated patio for your project to make local officials happier to provide sufficient level of safety but just some thoughts.

Aug 9, 22 7:17 am  · 
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Yet, another thread ( https://inspectapedia.com/exterior/Retaining_Wall_Guardrails.php ) causes the issue to get a little bit complicated. If planter is only 18" above deck, it might not be enough to address child safety concern but 36" high to 42", it may. Then you have plants that can be in the planter that may make it difficult. A two or three tier planter design, borrowing from natematt's suggestion can also address issues by keeping the two tier planter to less than 30" difference in height between the step down tier. Could be an effective strategy that may even allow you to have the upper tier planter at 24" to 36"" above patio level (and can be sat on) and the planter below being potentially just 24" below and possibly a lowest tier being only 20" below. The plantrs being multi-tier can be design to trickle the water from upper tier down the tiers.

Aug 9, 22 7:45 am  · 
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x-jla

“. It basically states that guardrails are only required if the walking surface is 36 inches or closer to the edge of the open side. Using this provision thoughtfully can be especially helpful at conditions where a guardrail would produce visual clutter or get in the way of an important view. The Magnolia House example below does just this. By integrating deep planter boxes around the terrace space, the guardrails are no longer required as the depth of the vegetation acts as the barrier.”

Aug 9, 22 10:21 am  · 
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x-jla

That’s exactly what I was trying to do, and how I understood the code. It is one of those areas that can probably be interpreted in many ways by the city though…

Aug 9, 22 10:22 am  · 
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You'll at some point may need to consult with the city. The planter may need to be essentially a guard rail in height above the elevated patio and fixed in place to effectively be able to resist a 200 pound force and other provision of the code for guard rail yet doesn't have to "look" like a conventional guardrail. A multi-tier planter can also be employed to give it a multiple functionality including protective function by can also be nice in appearance and plays into your landscape designer side. I agree with Chad that in that you may need to address the functionality of a guardrail in preventing someone from falling off and falling 4 ft. There are ways to go about it as well as there are often multiple ways to interpret the code.

Aug 9, 22 10:43 am  · 
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Wood Guy

I have tried this a few times with decks and the CEO would not allow it since it's not in the building code. They have allowed wide planting areas below the deck to reduce the height, but have said that it has to look like grade (i.e., a terrace) and not a narrow planter. I'm not sure what would be different for a patio vs. a deck.

Aug 9, 22 9:29 am  · 
1  · 

You need a guard rail.  

Aug 9, 22 10:03 am  · 
1  · 
x-jla


The retaining wall is existing.   I can’t do anything below the wall because there is a natural land easement…the 3’+ planting space will be filled with so many thorny things that a rabid cat couldn’t get through.   

Aug 9, 22 10:53 am  · 
2  · 

Still will need a guardrail though if following the IRC. Your AHJ may be nicer though.

Aug 9, 22 11:21 am  · 
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x-jla

They are pretty strict in this particular city…

Aug 9, 22 11:24 am  · 
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Bummer.  Good luck! 

Aug 9, 22 12:49 pm  · 
1  · 
proto

Key thing is getting agreement from your AHJ that the thorny strip is not a "walking surface". There is also a possible conversation to be had about "landscape" or "site" not being part of the "building", but some codes do include any constructed conditions.

Aug 9, 22 3:03 pm  · 
1  · 

x-jla, you may need for the planting area have a wall that's 36 to 42" high on the side on the side facing the patio. Then you can have a bench seat along the wall at about 24-28" high. So one can sit but the walling would kind of keep the thorny plants on that side of the wall. Just a thought. The wall being maybe 6 to 8 inch thick. To minimize weight, you may use lighter weight material than say... CMU because of the retaining wall. But at 36 to 42" inches in from the retaining wall, you should be ok from impacting the concrete retaining wall. I can definitely say thorny plants alone might be a deterrent for most any sane person to go any closer. An insane person, it wouldn't matter what you do.... you can't fix that kind of insane jackass-level stupid.

Aug 9, 22 3:44 pm  · 
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Is the retaining wall existing or new proposed work?

Aug 9, 22 4:18 pm  · 
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shellarchitect

looks good to me

Aug 9, 22 11:04 am  · 
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reallynotmyname

Perhaps try an 18" or so high wall at the edge of the planter bed (next to the Ouch person) to define an edge and discourage people from walking straight out through the planter and over the 48" drop?   You could make it out of some kind of attractive material.

Aug 9, 22 12:12 pm  · 
1  · 
kalle44

Hello, I recommend you to plant grapes or a cactus, then it will not be so visible, this is the best way in my opinion

Aug 9, 22 1:06 pm  · 
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proto

you need a 36" wide horiz surface (landscape is ok) to fall on from a 30"max retaining wall height to avoid a guard (repeat terracing down as necessary; or add guard to last terrace to keep it away from the top level, if you are limited laterally)

Aug 9, 22 1:29 pm  · 
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Is that a code condition in the IRC?

Aug 9, 22 1:54 pm  · 
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proto

It's been a memo clarification in different jurisdictions i've worked in. It would need clarification wherever x-jla is, but seems eminently supportable since 36" is a common platform/corridor/landing/clr-flr-space dimension in various spots in the code.

Aug 9, 22 2:44 pm  · 
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proto

actually, it is in the code ( just checked CO, OR & CA):

R312.1.1 Where Required Guards shall be provided for those portions of open-sided walking surfaces, including stairs, ramps and landings, that are located more than 30 inches (762 mm) measured vertically to the floor or grade below at any point within 36 inches (914 mm) horizontally to the edge of the open side. Insect screening shall not be considered as a guard. [emphasis mine]

Aug 9, 22 2:50 pm  · 
3  · 

Thanks for the info!

Aug 9, 22 2:56 pm  · 
1  · 
Wood Guy

Well look at that. Right there in the IRC going back to 2015 at least.

Aug 9, 22 3:12 pm  · 
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Now, if the retaining wall is pre-existing, you may be able to leave the retaining wall alone as is. 

I would probably have a 36" to 42" tall planters/wall + bench with the it being about 4-ft. to 5-ft. from the top of the retaining wall. The planter portion being maybe 32 to 36" with bench+wall segments between a row of connected planters connected in-between with wall+bench segments. Then you have the 36"-48" strip of planting between the planters/wall+bench barrier and the retaining wall making the area there a non-walking area. 

Of course, the client budget matters and a simple wall barrier could be employed at 4 to 5 ft. from the retaining wall top and be maybe 36 to 48" tall. If money allows, I'd do upsell something niftier than just a wall if the patio area has plenty of space. If it's small, then you might have to be more space conscious because some of those ideas would consume some of the patio space.

A new retaining wall may be stricter about the guardrail and maybe demand one on top of the retaining wall.


Aug 9, 22 4:40 pm  · 
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