Do My Stairwells Need to be Pressurized?

The Myrtle Beach coastline is lined with high rise buildings. Whether a condo complex, hotel or multi-floor commercial space, all buildings with stairwells are required to meet International Building Code standards for stairwell pressurization. Stairwells, the primary means of escape during a fire, must be designed so the stairwell’s pressure is higher than that of the rest of the building. 

Why Is Stairwell Pressurization Important?

Stairwell pressurization is important because it

  • reduces the amount of smoke that will enter the fire exit stairwell
  • creates a safer escape route

Imagine this: an electrical fire in a hotel room leads to the 3rd floor of a Grand Strand high rise resort becoming engulfed in flames and clouded with smoke. As firefighters arrive on the scene, those on the 3rd floor will begin evacuating using the nearest stairwell. The heavy steel doors to the stairwell, designed to minimize smoke leakage, will open as occupants make their way down to safety.

So what happens to the smoke in the hallway when the door is opened? If the stairwell is of equal or lesser pressure than the hallway, the billowing black smoke will quickly fill the stairwell, making the safe exit for the hundreds of people on other floors more difficult. 

How Does Stairwell Pressurization Work?

In essence, stair pressurization creates a barrier to help control smoke movement in case of an emergency. 

Professionals use special tools to measure and test stairwell pressure, accommodating for air leakage. Stairwells are fitted with specialized Stairwell Pressurization Systems or Stairwell Pressurization Fans to make sure the stairwell’s pressure is greater than the interior building. The higher pressure in the stairwell “pushes” the smoke back into the lesser pressurized hallway, allowing the escape route to be free of smoke. 

Does My Building’s Stairwell Need to Be Pressurized?

Yes, not only is stairwell pressurization an important fire safety measure, but it is also the law. Cooper Mechanical Services are up-to-date on pressurization codes for IBC (International Building Code) and South Carolina. Call Cooper and let us help you get your stairwell under pressure.

Want More Information?

CED Engineering published an easy-to-read overview of stairwell pressurization systems. Check it out if you’d like to learn more.