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Porte Cocheres

A porte-cochere is a French word for what was originally defined as a covered place at the entrance of a town house for a horse carriage to pull into for the purpose of picking up or dropping off passengers.  This same term is used today for covered areas in front of buildings where cars pick up or drop off passengers.  They are typically designed into hotels, apartment buildings, nursing homes, and hospitals.  When do these areas require fire sprinkler protection when the main building is covered according to NFPA 13?

Background:  Let’s start with NFPA 101, 2003 edition, Chapter 7, which is the chapter on “Means of Egress”.   The definition of “Means of Egress” is found in section 3.3.136, and reads: “A continuous and unobstructed way of travel from any point in a building or structure to a public way consisting of three separate and distinct parts: (1) the exit access, (2) the exit, and (3) the exit discharge.”  Every building has specific means of egress requirements, depending upon its use, size, construction type and occupant load.  The general concept is that there must be enough of them, and they must be arranged in a certain way, and they must provide a continuous protected path of travel to an exit discharge.  (One example of this basic premise is stated in section

The exit access is the way to get to the exit, (which is typically a door), or to the exit enclosure, (which is typically a protected stairwell).  The exit discharge is the way from the exit/exit enclosure to a public way.  The public way is defined in section 3.3.175 as “A street, alley, or other similar parcel of land essentially open to the outside air deeded, dedicated, or otherwise permanently appropriated to the public for public use and having a clear width and height of not less than 10 feet.”  It does not however define the horizontal distance.  The horizontal distance of the exit discharge could be compared to the distance required between exterior walls shown in NFPA 5000, (Building Code), Chapter 7, “Construction Types & Height & Area Requirements”, which is not easy to determine, except for private homes, which is given as 5 feet in section  For all other buildings though, we use as a rule of thumb 10 feet as a minimum horizontal distance.  This is based on the 10 feet minimum width and height limitations to classify an area as a public way.  It is also based on the 10 feet as a minimum separation distance given in section, which is the section on mimimal exposure distances.


If the porte-cochere is attached to the building, then in NFPA 13 it must also have fire sprinkler coverage both within and beneath, unless exceptions are met for those areas, such as being of exposed non-combustible/ limited combustible construction.

If the porte-cochere is not attached to the building, then NFPA 13 would not require fire sprinkler coverage, but NFPA 101 might.  Here is how we see it.  People are not considered to be safe from a burning building until they are away from the building, or in otherwords, in the public way, which is the space that you enter after leaving the exit discharge. 

If the porte-cochere is not attached to the building, and you have traveled at least 10 feet from the exit/exit enclosure before you reach the porte-cochere, and if at that point, or the point of the porte-cochere, there is at least 10 feet of width and height, then you have left the exit discharge and are in the public way, and the porte-cochere would not require fire sprinkler protection.  It is in that case within the “safe zone”, called the public way.  One other thing must also be considered.  If the construction type of the porte-cochere is less than that of the building, then it must also be at least 10 feet from any windows in the building.

Notice that a key thing to look at here is the determination if the porte-cochere is in the public way or in the area of exit discharge.   As always, please contact our office if there are any questions.


[First posted 4-4-08]