New “vertical opening” calculator!

How does one make a vertical opening—a hole—in a single floor, or through multiple floors, while still being in compliance with the 2024 International Building Code (IBC)? This question is quite important, since architects like making holes in buildings. Even so, a code-compliant answer is surprisingly difficult to track down, especially since the fundamental fire-safety requirement for compartmentalization precludes the use of vertical openings and requires that all horizontal floor assemblies be continuous. In other words, at least at first glance, it appears that holes are not permitted at all.

An admittedly exaggerated image of a vertical opening (hole) in a floor. Image created by Jonathan Ochshorn using PhotoShop.

Fortunately, this basic prohibition of vertical openings is modified in countless ways. Yes, code language in the 2034 IBC, found in Section 711.2.2 of the IBC, starts with the requirement for absolute continuity of fire-resistance-rated horizontal assemblies (so that a fire is more likely to be contained within its floor of origin), but a rather important exception immediately follows: “Assemblies shall be continuous without vertical openings, except as permitted by this section and Section 712.” Practically speaking, Section 712 of the IBC provides the architect with various ways to create vertical openings that, at least in theory, provide protection against the spread of fire in ways that are more-or-less equivalent to the ideal of continuity in fire-resistance-rated horizontal floor assemblies. (Nonfire-resistance-rated floor assemblies, per Section 711.3.2, have similar requirements for continuity and allow the same exceptions.)

Of course, one can always make a hole or “shaft” legal by protecting it with a “shaft enclosure”—such things are covered in Section 713 of the IBC. But to make a real hole in a floor—to visually and spatially connect two or more levels by removing a portion of a floor-ceiling assembly—one of the protection methods listed in Section 712 must, in general, be used. Continue reading my paper on vertical openings in floors. Or go directly to my new and improved vertical opening calculator!

 

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