Home Design RI-MA- Building Planning Part 2


home design and building planning
home design and building planning
Author: Ed Beauchemin

This is the second part in a series on home design and building planning. When considering a construction project, a little planning goes a long way to successfully obtain the desired results. Listed are areas in construction which are sometimes confusing and can lead to code violations. As always, exceptions and additional rules apply to most building codes. ALWAYS check with the local building official or a qualified designer early in the home design and building planning phase.

Smoke detectors:

  • All bedrooms MUST have a smoke detector.
  • Areas outside of bedrooms (hallways) MUST have smoke detectors.
  • Each floor including basements (excluding crawl spaces and uninhabitable attics) MUST have a smoke detector.
  • In split level homes, a single smoke detector can be installed on the upper floor, providing no door separates the lower floor from the floor above and the lower level is less than one full story below (i.e. a raised ranch).
  • All detectors MUST be interconnected. If one sounds off they all do.
  • All detectors MUST be an approved type, installed per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Hard-wired smoke detectors MUST be equipped with battery backup systems. Providing protection in a power outage.
  • When alterations, additions or sleeping areas requiring a building permit are added to existing dwellings, the entire home MUST be equipped with smoke detectors. Detectors are not required to be hardwired- (they can be battery operated) unless your remodeling project includes the removal of wall and ceiling coverings that facilitate the installation of wiring.

Handrails & Guardrails:

Handrails are provided on stairways, while guardrails are provided on decks, porches, balconies etc…

  • Handrail heights are to be a minimum of thirty inches and a maximum of thirty eight-inches.
  • On stairways with three or more steps, handrails must be provided on at least one side.
  • When handrails are required, they MUST be continuous. Ends MUST be returned or terminate into a newel post.
  • Handrails running along side of a wall MUST have a space between the rail and the wall not less than one and one-half inch.
  • Handrails MUST not be so large that gripping with a small hand becomes difficult.
  • Porches, decks and balconies more than thirty inches above grade MUST be equipped with a guardrail of not less than thirty six inches in height.
  • Spindles on guardrails MUST be spaced so that objects four inches or more in diameter cannot pass through.


  • MUST be a minimum of thirty-six inches in width above the required handrail height.
  • The maximum riser height (step height) MUST not exceed eight and one-quarter inch.
  • The minimum tread depth (step surface) MUST not be less than nine inches.
  • The minimum headroom height MUST not be less than six-feet-eight inches (measured from the leading edge of step to the ceiling).
  • MUST be provided with an artificial light source. This includes stairway runs and landings.
  • Winding, spiral and curved stairways are permitted. However building codes for these are more complicated. Check with the local building inspector or a qualified home designer.

Remember: Home design and building planning is the  the most important step in any home building project.


Energy Geeks post signatureDesign Tip: When designing a new home or remodeling an existing home, install smoke detectors that also include carbon monoxide detection devices. The small additional cost is worth the feeling of security it provides.

Energy geeks is a Home Performance Contractor whose primary focus is sustainability and efficiency as it pertains to energy use, water consumption, indoor air quality, land use and building design.

We can be reached at 401-766-1540 or www.energygeeksinc.com