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Designing a Safe Home

October 01, 1989

Of the two balcony guardrails pictured in the Sept. 17 Real Estate Section, the one Teo Van Runkle is posing on appears more penetrable and less safe.

If his mother is a licensed architect, she knows that the Uniform Building Code, the code adopted by most communities in this area, has a "6-inch sphere test" for guardrails.

According to this code, all guardrails are to be designed so that a 6-inch diameter sphere cannot pass through them. The rationale behind this test is that a guardrail (which, incidentally, must be 42 inches high), which precludes a 6-inch sphere, will also preclude the head, shoulders and body of a toddler such as Teo.

I can't put a tape measure to Teo's mom's guardrail, but by comparing it to Charlotte and Chester Owens' on the same page, I surmise that the Matthews-Van Runkle railing does not meet code, even with the extra horizontal rail.

It would be interesting to put the pictured railing to the test. Contrary to being portrayed as a new design feature sensitive to the needs of young building users, upon verification, I would notify the building department of a code violation.

I doubt that the pictured guardrail was built for one of the model homes for California Showcase '89 at Calabasas Park Estates. Wherever it was built, did Matthews submit her construction drawings to the local building department for review? Were they approved by the plan checker? Is the railing 42 inches high? Was it, in turn, signed off by the building and safety field inspector? Let's see a copy of the building permit!

Bahram Nashat's statement that, "most features in the child-safety model homes are mandatory under current building codes" is precisely my point. It is the individual who thinks he or she is above the codes--and builds non-complying structures--that makes building officials tough on the rest of us who work hard to insure our designs meet or exceed the minimum public safety standards established by the codes.

TOM BRAKEFIELD

Los Angeles

Editor's note: Architect Lise Matthews replies that the guardrails in her residence were built to code and meet the 6-inch sphere test mentioned in Tom Brakefield's letter. However, in her own experience, this did not prove restrictive enough for her child and other children. The horizontal bar was added as a deterrent. She added that the National Institute of Children's Environments has recommended a maximum 4-inch sphere test and that has been implemented in the California Showcase homes mentioned in Evelyn De Wolfe's article.

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