I-Need-A Exit (Big Box Stores and Egress)

Think about it – where did you last go shopping? Most likely, it was a big box store. We are generations of code and style from the Woolworth model allowing for easy views of trees, weather conditions, and cute young couples holding hands while "window shopping." Nowadays, the box store entrance sucks the unwary in with promises of “money saving ideas and products,” but where are the exits??

One popular big box store draws shoppers like kids to a candy store. Once inside, shoppers ride Jacob’s ladder to the elevated heavenly realm only to notice glassy eyed people sitting in chairs wondering how they might find the escape hatch. I have been that weary shopper, trudging through the miles of display, taking solace in the knowledge that the International Building Code has regulations that must be strictly adhered to regarding means of egress. Every bedroom display has evidence of recent use as if people have been trapped for days on end! I slog along thinking about Section 1016.3 of the IBC requirement that mercantile occupancies have a travel distance of less than 200 feet when there is no sprinkler system or 250 feet with sprinklers. Travel distance route is assumed to be the natural path void of obstruction. Yet, in this store, all I feel is obstruction.

Desperately clinging to the definition of exit access, "that portion of a means of egress system that leads from any occupied portion of a building or structure to an exit" (IBC Ch. 2), I search for an exit. I understand that the exit may not get me out of the building, but feeling like a rat in a new maze, I know there is a way out.  According to IBC, various exits qualify as “exit access travel.” For example, an exterior exit door at grade, or a door to an enclosure for an interior exit stairway, ramp or exit passageway. That coveted exit door could also lead to an exterior exit door or ramp or even lead through a horizontal exit. Of course, the measuring of exit access travel distance, for interior exit access stairways and ramps (IBC 1016.3.1) and interior exit stairways and ramps (IBC 1016.3) contains vital differences.  

Modern construction - both commercial and residential - is designed, reviewed and approved for construction in the light of established codes that focus on life safety issues. These codes are based, in most areas, on IBC with perhaps local amendments addressing local conditions and concerns. Life safety is paramount in the building industry. No matter what your ability or experience in construction - from overseeing large construction projects, property maintenance, to residential construction or remodel - these codes directly affect you. To that end, it is recommended to work closely with your local code professionals for a successful building project. Then we can be confident that while we may feel like rats in the maze of a box store, we are in fact only safely trapped in a newer marketing craze maze.