Do I need an Elevator?

Do I need an Elevator? – Building Codes

As an Architect, I interact with clients, engineers and contractors who have acquired bits of information about Building Codes.  Sometimes, those bits are misconceptions and regurgitated information.  The building codes can be intimidating and have no beginning or end. To learn the code, the best way is jumping in feet first.  

Upcoming Blog Posts

In the next series of blog posts, I will explore common Building Codes.    Each City has adopted a code but most in Arizona use the IBC (International Building Code).

The following blog posts are:

  1. Door swing direction.  Which way should the door swing, out of a room or in?
  2. Number of exits within a room?
  3. Door Size.  Who said “size doesn’t matter.”
  4. Exit corridor width.  How narrow can a hallway be?
  5. Clearances around a door?  Door arrangement between two doors.  
  6. Door fire ratings.  What is the rating?
  7. Exit Travel Distance  
  8. Do I need an elevator?
  9. Should my door have panic hardware? 
  10. Do I need a drinking fountain?
  11. Minimum size of a single person toilet room?
  12. Small commercial space, is one bathroom enough?

The item in bold are addressed in this post.  As an Arizona Architect, most City’s jurisdictions work with the IBC (International Building Code).   This code analysis is based upon the IBC.

Do I need an Elevator?

Most 2+ story buildings have elevators.  Every once in a while, you may come across an older building that does not have an elevator.  When is an elevator required by code?

Per the IBC, at least one accessible route ‘Elevator’ shall connect each accessible level, including mezzanines, in multilevel buildings except:

“Areas not greater than 3,000 square feet and are located above or below accessible levels.”


  1. Group M (Mercantile) occupancies containing five or more tenant spaces
  2. Levels containing offices of health care providers
  3. Passenger transportation facilities and airports

Do I need an Elevator?

Per ADA, Elevators are the most common way to provide access in multistory buildings.   Exceptions:

“Elevators are not required in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet”


  1. Shopping Center or mall
  2. Professional office of health care provider
  3. Public transit station
  4. Airport passenger terminal


Scenario 1A four-story building has 2,900 square feet per floor.  An elevator is not required because each floor is less than 3,000 square feet

Scenario 2A four-story building has 3,500 square feet on first floor and 2,500 square feet on each of the other floors.  An elevator is required.  (All of the stories must be under 3,000 square feet to quality for the exemption.)

Scenario 3A two-story building will be used as a real estate office.  There will be bathrooms on both ground floor and second floor.  Stories are less than 3,000 square feet each.  Elevator not required due to exemption.  Do the restrooms on second floor need to be ADA compliant?  Yes.  Restroom on second floor regardless of elevator exemption must be ADA compliant.   Why you may ask?  There are individuals who may walk up stair using crutches.  In addition, ADA contains accesbility features for individuals with disabilities other than those who use wheelchairs.

Definition – “Story”  – “Occupiable’ space, designed for human occupancy and equipped with one or more means of egress, light and ventilation.  Basements is an occupiable space.  Mezzanines are not stories. They are levels within stories.


Do I need an Elevator?  Elevators are not required in all buildings greater than 2 stories.  Buildings with footprints less than 3,000 square feet may qualify for an exemption.  However all other components (restrooms, counter top heights, door clearances etc.) upon the stories will need to comply with ADA requirements

Jeff Serbin

Jeff Serbin is Vice President of Serbin Studio. His responsibilities include architectural design and project management. He coordinates the work of consultants and design team members, and is involved in design from concept through construction.

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