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Second Story Guard Rails

1. Purpose

To provide guidance regarding the implementation of Section 1304.204(p) that states, “Second stories on covered docks, piers, boatslips, or boathouses may be constructed as open decks with railing, but shall not be covered by a roof or enclosed with siding or screening.” Additionally, to specify the standards consistent with the meaning of “open deck with railing” and “enclosed with siding” as contained in Section 1304.204(p).

2. Scope

This guidance applies to water-use facilities subject to Section 1304.204. These include private, residential water-use facilities (individual and community facilities) and private waterfront clubs located on public land managed by TVA (fee land), subject to TVA flowage easement, or on private shoreland within the jurisdiction of Section 26a of the TVA Act.

3. Background

Most proposed plans submitted for Section 26a approval that include second story decks do not include a solid privacy rail or siding (hereafter referred to as solid guard rails or solid rails) surrounding the deck. Solid guard rails reduce air flow, increase the air temperature, and obstruct the view of the water and landscape. Solid guard rails also increase retention of leaves and other debris and hinder removal of debris from the second story deck. Occasionally, however, requests are received to use solid guard rails on second story decks. Construction of second story decks with solid guard rails cannot conflict with Section 1304.204(p), which requires the second story to be constructed as an “open deck with railing” and not “enclosed with siding.”

Although the use of a solid guard rail is not prohibited by Section 1304.204(p), enclosing the second story deck with siding is prohibited; therefore, the height of a railing on second story decks will be limited to the standard minimum building code requirements for guard rails when solid railing is requested. Solid guard rails in excess of the standard minimum height functionally enclose the second story. It is TVA’s determination that any portion of the second story deck enclosed with solid guard rails in excess of the standard minimum guard rail height is not consistent with Section 1304.204(p) and creates an enclosed second story structure. 

Standard, model building codes have been developed by the International Code Council and adopted by most municipalities throughout the United States. The International Residential Code (IRC) contains codes for residential buildings that are detached one- and two-family dwellings and multiple single family dwellings (townhouses) not more than three stories in height with a separate means of egress and their accessory structures. Codes for residences and other public and commercial buildings that do not meet the scope of the IRC are contained in the International Building Code (IBC).

Chapter 3, section R312 of the IRC requires that open-sided walking surfaces (such as stairs, porches, balconies, or landings) are constructed with guards when the deck surface is greater than 30 inches above the floor or grade. The IRC requires the guard rail to be at least 36 inches in height (distance from walking surface to the top of the rail); the IBC requires a minimum height of 42 inches.

TVA will apply the standard of the IBC for determining a maximum acceptable guard rail height on second story decks. In most circumstances, guard rails of any type should not exceed 42 inches or the minimum height required by local building codes, whichever is greater. Guard rails exceeding this height must be slatted and approved by TVA. Depending on the proposed structure, TVA may require justification for the increased guard rail height. TVA recommends open over solid railing and recommends when solid railing is used that a minimum of one side is constructed with open railing.

4. Application

When determining if proposed plans are consistent with Section 1304.204(p), staff may approve guard rails consistent with the guidance outlined below: 

  • Guard rails may be solid or slatted. 
  • Guard rails on second story decks ordinarily should not exceed a height of 42 inches or the minimum height required by local building codes, whichever is greater.
  • Second story guard rails with a height exceeding 42 inches must be slatted to avoid becoming an impermissible second story enclosure.
  • When solid guard rails are used, TVA recommends at least one side contain a slatted guard rail.