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Do the stairs off my french doors need to be the width of both doors or can they be just the width of the most used side?

How big does the landing have to be at the top and bottom?

Can I just attach a guardrail to the exterior and forgo the stairs?

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    Regardless of code, why would you want a door that opens to a drop-off? – bib Nov 25 '14 at 15:47
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    R311.5.4 Landings for stairways. There shall be a floor or landing at the top and bottom of each stairway. Exception: A floor or landing is not required at the top of an interior flight of stairs, including stairs in an enclosed garage, provided a door does not swing over the stairs. {...} Every landing shall have a minimum dimension of 36 inches (914 mm) measured in the direction of travel. – Mazura Apr 11 '15 at 5:43
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If the door can be opened, it must have a landing on the outside, minimally 36"X36", but in your case, it must be the width of the doors X 36" deep from the house. You can put a guard rail in front of the inactive one, then have a smaller landing. That will look a little odd in my opinion though.

  • The model codes provide a number of exceptions. These exceptions are often applicable in ordinary circumstances. Aesthetics is not a code consideration. – ben rudgers Nov 25 '14 at 16:32
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Model building codes rarely have exemptions for less used doors. However, a myriad of model building code compliant configurations is possible provided that among other things:

  • The overall configuration of doors and stairs complies with all the requirements for landings at both doors.

  • The overall configuration complies with the requirements for guards and handrails.

Keep in mind that to be code compliant, the construction must meet all the requirements of the code, not just selected sections.

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I can't speak for specific codes but have remodeled houses in at least 15 different counties and a few countries. No inspector would ever let me have french doors opening to either a drop-off or guard rail. There is exactly no way around this. You must have a proper step off on all doors, whether they will be used or not.

If you don't want wide stairs than I suggest that you create a small landing area - at least one foot wider than the width of the doors - and then do the steps on the side you want. I know that this may not work with your surroundings but you haven't let us know the whole layout.

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