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Walkway Defects and Changes in Elevation

by Zoe Gaik

Architectural Forensic Associate

RGA Design Forensics

Something often overlooked in the maintenance of walkways—especially sidewalks—are changes in elevation. When sidewalks and other walkways are subjected to prolonged use, the surface can change. Things like tree root growth underneath, pedestrian traffic, and settling can cause a walkway to become less planar on the surface over time. It is important to keep up with these changes and maintain the walkway in a safe condition.

Walkways in means of egress and accessible routes CAN have changes in elevation... but only of 1/4 of an inch vertical, which isn’t a lot. If the change in elevation exceeds 1/4" but not 1/2", the change needs to be beveled. If it exceeds 1/2", the change needs to be completed by a stair or ramp (NFPA, §

So, this means that 1/2" is your magic number to determine if there is a defect in elevation change on the site. Because not only does the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and the Florida Accessibility Code agree on this requirement, but the Florida Building Code also states that means of egress must be maintained in accordance with the Florida Fire Prevention Code. The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code is adopted by the Florida Fire Prevention Code. So essentially, you would be on very solid ground (pun intended) for a case like this. And this applies to both interior and exterior walkways.

Give us a call to talk about the specifics of your case at (813) 226-2220 or visit our website at for more information.


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