Whether we are ready or not, fall is here in full force. A common fixture in the fall is the haunted house. Large or small, permanent or temporary, professional or amateur, haunted houses are popping up everywhere. Unfortunately, haunted houses can cause nightmares for more than just those that attend. Without the proper knowledge and understanding of the codes that apply, haunted houses can be a safety nightmare as well.
Per NFPA 1, Fire Code, a haunted house is considered a special amusement building. By definition, a special amusement building is "a building that is temporary, permanent, or mobile and contains a device or system that conveys passengers or provides a walkway along, around, or over a course in any direction as a form of amusement arranged so that the egress path is not readily apparent due to visual or audio distractions or an intentionally confounded egress path, or is not readily available due to the mode of conveyance through the building or structure." A special amusement building is an assembly occupancy regardless of occupant load.
Haunted houses use special effects, scenery, props, and audio and visual distractions that may cause egress paths to become not obvious. In haunted houses in particular, the presence of combustible materials and special scenery can also contribute to the fuel load should a fire occur. Because of this, the Code requirements are purposely strict to in hopes of avoiding a disastrous fire event.
Code provisions for special amusement buildings are found in Section 20.1.4 of NFPA 1. The Code requirements for haunted houses are summarized below:
- Haunted houses must apply the provisions for assembly occupancies in addition to the provisions of Section 20.1.4.
- Automatic sprinklers are required for all haunted houses. If the haunted house is considered moveable or portable, an approved temporary means is permitted to be used for water supply.
- Smoke detection is required throughout the haunted house where the nature it operates in reduced lighting and the actuation of any smoke detection device must sound an alarm at a constantly attended location on the premises.
- Actuation of sprinklers or any suppression systems, smoke detection system (having a cross zoning capability) must provide an increase in illumination of the means of egress and termination of other confusing visuals or sounds.
- Exit marking and floor proximity exit signs are required. Where designs are such that the egress path is not apparent, additional directional exit marking is required.
- Interior wall and ceiling finish materials must be Class A throughout.
- Per Section 10.8.1, emergency action plans are required.
Other requirements, not specific just to haunted houses or special amusement buildings may also apply:
- Permits (see Section 1.12)
- Seasonal buildings (see Section 10.12)
- Special outdoor events, fairs and carnivals (see Section 10.14)
As we move into the Hallween and haunted house season, its easy to get caught up in the fun and overlook the safety issues that may arise. Through the provisions in NFPA 1, which can assist code officials and fire departments enforce safe haunted houses, and NFPA's halloween resources for consumers, everyone can stay safe this season.