Province seeks input on single egress stairway designs
The Province has issued a request for proposal (RFP) seeking a response from consultants with expertise in building design, engineering, and fire and life safety to better understand the potential for single egress stair (SES) designs in B.C. buildings.
“We’re leaving no stone unturned in our work to deliver more homes faster for people,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing. “This work will focus on developing an understanding of if and how this innovation can be incorporated into building and fire codes in a way that maintains and enhances safety, supports access and egress, while providing more homes for people in B.C.”
Current British Columbia Building Code (BCBC) and British Columbia Fire Code (BCFC) requirements call for at least two egress, or exit, stairwells per floor in many buildings three storeys and higher. The RFP seeks options for what would be needed to protect safety, access and egress of occupants, while achieving the benefits of single egress stair designs in buildings up to eight storeys – more flexibility for multi-bedroom apartments, more density within areas of transit-oriented development and the potential to improve energy efficiency in buildings.
“The opportunity for new multi-family residential buildings to be designed as single stair could be a game-changer for cost savings in our projects, that could directly contribute to lowering rents,” said Steven Hurst, director of real estate development at Cool Aid Society. “It could also make development feasible on smaller lots. Small lots are often the only opportunity non-profit societies have to create new housing, but most can't accommodate a multi-family building under the current regulations without needing to acquire neighbouring properties at increased expense and longer timelines.”
SES building designs can build on advancements in fire and life safety, while requiring only one exit stairwell per floor. Single egress designs promote efficiency by removing requirements for space dedicated to internal corridors and staircases, allowing for better use of space for building occupants. SES building designs are currently implemented in major cities such as Seattle and New York.
Consultants, if selected, will be required to engage with the Ministry of Housing, fire professionals, members of the accessibility community, engineers and architects, code users, technical safety specialists, and others to identify considerations and mitigation measures relating to access, egress, fire and life safety.
In fall 2023, the Province adopted the British Columbia Building and Fire Codes (BC Codes 2024) to provide people with a greater level of building safety and to make new buildings more cost-effective and efficient.
This work is part of the Province’s Homes for People action plan. Announced in spring 2023, the plan builds on historic action to deliver housing since 2017 and sets out further actions to deliver the homes people need faster, while creating more vibrant communities throughout B.C.
The RFP will be open to consultants until Feb. 21, 2024.
Nathan Pachal, mayor, City of Langley –
“This proposed change is significant in that it would make the construction of infill missing housing much easier. One of the things that Langley city council has heard from the community is the desire to have more three-bedroom units for growing families. Single egress stair designs will help deliver more affordable, small-scale three-bedroom units in our community. I’m glad to see the Province exploring the possibility.”
Bryn Davidson, co-owner, Lanefab Design/Build & Oori Architecture –
“Nobody loves long, dark hallways or windowless bedrooms, but that’s often the way we’re forced to build apartments in B.C. In most of the rest of the world, apartments can have more daylight, better cross breezes and more greenspace, and they don’t need to take up a whole block. What’s missing in B.C. is a small change to the building code to allow single stair buildings. I hope we can unlock this important design tool.”
Uytae Lee, BC Housing board commissioner, director and producer at About Here –
“I’m excited to hear that the Province is studying the potential of single-staircase buildings. The building code requirements for two exit stairwells, which were first introduced in 1941, lead to a number of constraints on ‘missing middle’ building designs, that we need now more than ever. Given all the advances we’ve made in building fire safety since then, I think it’s appropriate to assess whether that rule is still relevant now.”
To review the request for proposal, visit: https://bcbid.gov.bc.ca/page.aspx/en/bpm/process_manage_extranet/186830
To learn more about government’s new Homes for People action plan, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2023HOUS0019-000436
A map showing the location of all announced provincially funded housing projects in B.C. is available at: https://www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC
To learn about the steps the Province is taking to tackle the housing crisis and deliver affordable homes for people in British Columbia, visit: https://strongerbc.gov.bc.ca/housing/