Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Whether or not you can legally brick up your back door depends on the local building code, including the relevant fire safety regulations. The back door is generally one of the vital exit options in a property, which means that there are several considerations that go into determining whether it can be legally bricked up.
You may legally brick up your back door if your home already has two other primary means of egress and the brick wall is up to code. If you brick up your back door without meeting these requirements, you may violate both fire safety regulations and the local building code.
There are several caveats that are at play when you consider modifying any means of egress in a house. It’s also essential to keep in mind that states and municipalities have different versions of general building codes and fire safety regulations, so what is legal in one area may not be legal elsewhere. Keep reading to know when you can and cannot legally brick up your back door.
When Can You Legally Brick Up Your Back Door?
You can legally brick up your back door when you have a front door and patio door, or similar, that can serve as the two primary means of egress. These means of egress should also comply with the residential building code and local fire safety regulations before you can brick up your back door.
States and local jurisdictions throughout the country have, in general, adopted the International Building Code and International Residential Code. Your local codes may have some differences, but the IBC and IRC serve as a good base for determining what changes you can legally make to your property.
Additionally, your local regulations will likely include many provisions of the Life Safety Code, also known as NFPA 101 of the National Fire Protection Association. The combination of these three codes means that no matter where you live, you almost certainly have to ensure that your home has two primary means of exit.
It should be noted that building codes differ depending on the size of the property. However, if you live in a one or two-family home or a house up to three stories in height, these regulations will be relevant to you.
Your House Should Have Two Primary Means of Egress
The International Building Code and International Residential Code do not necessitate at least two primary means of egress for all properties. Small homes or dwellings can have one main door serving as the only entrance and exit. Thus, your local building code may or may not mandate a back door. However, the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code necessitates at least two doors.
You may read the International Building Code Chapter 10 on means of egress. Also, Chapter 3 of the International Residential Code deals in building planning, and the R311 section of this chapter has the relevant guidelines for means of egress.
If you plan to brick up your back door, the second of the two primary means of egress must comply with the local regulations based on Chapters 1, 4, and 24 of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. In all likelihood, your front door, interior & exterior landings, and hallway, passage, or foyer are already compliant with the fire code. All you need to do is ensure that the second door complies as well.
The Essential Features of the Primary Means of Egress
If you need to bring your second means of exit up to fire code, there are some features that you must ensure it has. The essential features of a primary means of egress include:
- The two doors must be located in separate sections of your house so that one emergency does not block access through both. Additionally, the doors should swing open. Sliding doors are usually not approved as the primary means of egress, but you should check the local building and fire codes.
- The access should be at least 32 inches (81.28 cm) wide, excluding the thickness of the door leaf when fully open. Thus, you need the width to be around 36 inches (91.44 cm) between the two sides of the frame. The only exception is a room smaller than 70 sq ft (6.5 sq m). Such small rooms or living spaces may have a 28 inches (71.12 cm) wide door, excluding the thickness of the leaf.
- The door height should be at least 78 inches (198.12 cm). Standard front doors are generally not an issue. However, the door for your patio or any other primary means of egress you may plan as the substitute for your back door should also comply with this minimum height requirement.
- The outdoor and indoor landings for the primary means of egress should allow the full opening of the doors. This means that the clearing has to be as wide as the door leaf or larger so that the fire and rescue personnel do not encounter impediments during access. Additionally, the patio or second door should not have any immediate impediments inside the house.
Like the doors, there are mandates for stairs, ramps, and hallway or passage widths. This means that, unless your “new” second means of exit was already deemed up to code when you bought your home, you will have to conduct a thorough review of the area before you can work on bricking up your back door.
How To Legally Brick Up Your Back Door
In order to legally brick up your back door, you will first have to ensure that you have two compliant primary means of egress. Additionally, the new brick wall that will serve as a substitute to your back door should comply with the local insulation code or minimum standards per the US Climate Zone.
Brick has an u-factor ranging from 0.51 to 0.25, depending on type and thickness. Residential walls require an u-factor of 0.082, 0.057, or 0.048 per the US Climate Zone. This means that you will have to insulate the brick wall to comply with the local building code’s insulation standard.
In addition to accounting for the two primary entrances or exits, you should ideally also consider the availability of secondary means of egress to brick up your back door. For instance, blocking off the back door of your house may require you to install windows in that section.
Like doors, these windows should also comply with the local building code, fire safety regulations, and insulation standards. Given the many factors you will have to consider before bricking up your back door, it’s best to look for professional help before moving forward with your project.
- International Code Council: International Building Code Chapter 10 – Means of Egress
- International Code Council: International Residential Code Chapter 3 Section 311
- Bloomsburg, PA: NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code
- Combustion Research Corporation: U-Values for Common Materials
- The Wall & Ceiling Conference: US Climate Zones & Prescriptive U Factor Assemblies
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