Emergency Exit from 2nd Floor Layout Space...Ladders or Stairs?

kleaverjr's picture

As I design the expansion of our home, and planning the layout design that will fit in the new space, I am faced with a question that could impact the layout design significantly, and that is Emergency exits.  There is the primary exit which is located close to the middle of the space, but I would like at least 2 other exit points and if I use traditional stairs, it will take up more space versus ladders.  But then I need to consider the usefullness of the emergency exit points, that is, will people be able to use the ladders???? It's rather pointless to have them, if some or several people would be able to traverse them.  Any thoughts?????

Ken Leaver, Jr.
President/CEO, Pennsylvania & Allegheny RR, circa 1953

Emergency exits and layout room safety

I think not enough forethought is devoted to this topic.  My layout has a large area that is accessed by walking completely around the back of the room, probably 50 feet at most from the stairs, and a little less from the doorway leading to the room leading outside.  I've dedicated a clear area under the benchwork to be used as an emergency exit aisle that is only about 5 feet from the stairs, and it will be marked as such.  Considering that we use several types of heat sources (glue guns, soldering irons) and flammable chemicals (MEK, alcohol, paint thinner), as well as caustic solutions (paint remover), and that we have lots of electronics and electrical wiring within and around our layouts, and that we're surrounded by flammable structures, making sure we CAN escape in an emergency should be a requisite in our planning. 

I've heard of accidents caused by hobby activities, but most house fires I've heard of were mostly faulty electric wiring, smoking in bed, or lightning strikes.  What do the rest of you think?



LKandO's picture

Must Meet Code At Least

Whatever your decision regarding egress it must at least meet national and local building code to pass inspection. A very abreviated set of standards can be found here.


All the details: www.LKOrailroad.com        Just the highlights: MRH blog

When I was a kid... no wait, I still do that. HO, 28x32, double deck, 1969, RailPro

kleaverjr's picture

I have spoken to the Building

I have spoken to the Building Inspector, and there only needs to be ONE exit, and that one will meet the local buidling codes. That is all they are concerned with.  Actually since this is storage space,, according to the building inspector, there are very little building codes that concern the stairs.  its in LIVING spaces they have many building codes. 

I can even use attic access ladders for emergency exit's which is a direction I am thinking as a compromise...it isn't an straight up/down ladder, but neither are they huge stairs.  During operating sessions, when there will be people around, the ladders will be deployed, and then returned to their "collapsed" postions in between. 

But i still would like input as to if i should use actual stairs, or if the attic access stairs, the ones made out of metal that are fairly sturdy, would be good enough to do the job.The primary entrance will be a 6' wide stairway.

Ken L.

dfandrews's picture

A look at the Codes


This issue of  where we locate our railroads, and how we modify our homes, has always been a concern of mine.  Let me remove my model railroad hobbyist hat, and put on my work hat (former building and electrical inspector; now a fire prevention engineer for a metropolitan fire dept.).

First, remember, the Codes are minimum standards.  Also, remember that the Codes have been developed over the last 80 years in response to disasters.  Each section in the Codes is a response to injury or death.  So, they're not just onerous requirements by some bureaucrat.

The building codes look at exiting (code phrase is "means of egress") relative to the activity and the number of people.  It is an evaluation of hazard level, and risk to the occupants. 

A brief summary:

Bedrooms:  1 or 2 or 3 people in the room, sleeping and not cognizant of their surroundings.  Hence, smoke alarms are required, and the emergency egress path (window or door) is required in addition to the regular path out of the bedroom door.  This is because a fire in a home with sleeping people will have time to develop (and it only takes a few minutes), and then block the normal egress path.

LKO's google code reference is a good example.  Those code references all address emergency egress from sleeping rooms.   It is assumed that the regular egress path out the door and down the hall is blocked, so the 5.7 sq.ft. opening at the window allows people an escape path, or, very often, a route for a firefighter in full gear to enter to effect rescue.    Our lesson:  if your railroad room can be used for sleeping, don't block the emergency egress window; keep it readily accessible.

Storage rooms:  The Code assumes that there is normally no one in the room, so there few code requirements.  E.G.  A door, or access opening, and only a ship's ladder instead of a stair.  Our lesson:  if it becomes a railroad room, then it's not a storage room, so provide a real egress path, especially if you are ever to invite anyone else into the room.  Provide them the means to safely escape in an emergency.  Install a full door, and a stairway instead of a ladder.  Remember that, in an emergency, people are rushing to get away from the hazard.

Attics:  Structurally, most attics are not designed to support more than the weight of one person up there for some maintenance or repair purpose.  Egress:  see "Storage rooms" above.

What about numbers of people.  The Codes all consider 10 people as a maximum on a floor above or below the main story, before an additional exit is required.  So, if you have a large railroad, that may have more than 10 operators and/or kibitzers, and it is on the second floor or the basement, provide a second exit with a stairway as the path up or down.

Electrical:  The majority of home fires are electrical in origin.  For us in a hobby of big electrical users, we need to pay attention to that fact.   This can be another major discertation, so let me just say, heat from overloads, shorts, or arcing is your enemy, so provide circuit protection, keep it neat, and seek professional help if you're not sure what''s going on.

A last, simple, safety device:  Have a 2A20BC fire extinguisher (or more) in the layout room, work bench, etc.   The "A" designation is for wood fires, "2" is a minimum size number; "B" designation is for flammable/combustible liquids, "20" is a minimum size number; and "C" is for electrical fires.  My local big box store has 3A40BC size for about $25 bucks.

Thanks for listening to my rant.  Stay safe.


Rincon Pacific Rwy, 1960.  HO scale std. gauge - interchange with SP.


Jamnest's picture

Emergency Egress and Safety Considerations

We live outside of city limits in rural NE Kansas so there are not a lot of building codes or code enforcement.  I used a contractor from Topeka who built my home/basement train room to Topeka City Codes.  I have a full in-ground basement, however the contractor installed two "daylight" windows in the basement.  The windows are easy to lift out of the frames to open the entire frame for egress.  (Also great for bringing layout construction materials to the basement.)

I have electrical outletts in the stairwells with GE emergency LED flashlights which turn on if the power goes off.  Power in the basement is protected by GFI.

House is hardwired smoke alarm system with battery backup.  CO2 detection system. ABC fire extinguisher on each floor.

I still consider my self young (age 58), however I'm not sure how well I could manage emergency egress from a ladder (large mass).  Considering most of my MRR friends are my age and some older, in different states of physical health, I believe stairs would be the best option.

I work in a hospital which has very stringent safety codes and enforcement.  The codes are most strict in areas where people sleep, or non-ambulatory.  Our clinic space is "business occupancy" with much less stringent codes.  If people are not sleeping in the train room, and are ambulatory (can move without assistance); one main egrees with a secondary window egress, fire/smoke alams, some emergency lights and a fire exstingushier should be adequate.

Layout construction would also be an issue.  The recent trend is for shelf type layouts with larger isles for improved operations, which is a plus for safety.  Tight, long and winding isles in a large layout could pose a major safety problem regardles of the egress from the room itself.


Modeling the Kansas City Southern (fall 1981 - spring 1982) HO scale


Bremner's picture

the great egress.....

model=ladder, home=stairs......it is easier to get down the stairs safer and faster on the stairs, plus, it will make it easir to bring up building materials and other train nuts.

I am an N Scaler in AZ, modeling the Southern Pacific, BEFORE the Borg

kleaverjr's picture

I am NOT speaking about the

I am NOT speaking about the main entrance into the layout space.  These would be only for going down to exit should there be an urgent need to.  The main entrance is a 6' wide stairway.  As for moving building materials, there will be a seperate freight "elevator" for that purpose. 

Though the point about how easy/difficult it would be for the more "seasoned" operators to egress to traverse even an attic stairway/ladder (the ones that have actual steps, but on a very steep incline) is a valid point. 

Ken L.

Bremner's picture

in that case....

I vote for a fireman's pole, your kids will love it ( I am 34 and would find it fun)

I am an N Scaler in AZ, modeling the Southern Pacific, BEFORE the Borg

I think you should ask your building inspector what would be

required for a "family room" or entertainment center in the attic?  The requirment for that is probably closer to what you should make for a layout room that  will be used by guest operators.

kleaverjr's picture

I spoke to the building

I spoke to the building inspector and only one entrance/exit is required for what I am doing with the space.  Only if I were going to have anyone sleeping in the space would a second exit point be required. 

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