I still refer to the building rehabilitation chapter of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, as the “new Chapter 43.” It’s been in the Code since the 2006 edition; that’s something like 13 years. I guess it’s not so new anymore. Nonetheless, when I teach NFPA’s three-day 2018 Life Safety Code Essentials seminar, I sometimes encounter some confusion in the class with the concepts of change of use and change of occupancy. Here’s how it works:
Chapter 4, General, mandates any rehabilitation work on an existing building must comply with Chapter 43 (see 4.6.7). One of the rehabilitation work categories is change of use or occupancy classification. It should be noted that change of use or occupancy classification does not necessarily have to involve a physical change to the building; Chapter 43 applies whether a physical change occurs or not. To understand the difference between change of use and change of occupancy classification, refer to the special definitions in Section 43.2:
22.214.171.124.5 Change of Use. A change in the purpose or level of activity within a structure that involves a change in application of the requirements of the Code.
126.96.36.199.6 Change of Occupancy Classification. The change in the occupancy classification of a structure or portion of a structure.
The key words in the ‘change of use’ definition are, “that involves a change in application of the requirements of the Code.” An example I give is converting an office in a business occupancy into a storage room. The occupancy classification has not changed; it’s still a business occupancy because storage is permitted by 188.8.131.52.3 to be considered incidental. However, general storage areas are considered to be hazardous in business occupancies per 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11. This results in a change in the application of the requirements of the Code and is a change of use. Chapter 43 describes the requirements for change of use in 43.7.1. For this example, the creation of a hazardous area is covered by 18.104.22.168, which requires a new hazardous area to comply with the requirements applicable to the new use as though it were new construction. This means we would have to apply the requirements for new business occupancies in 22.214.171.124, which sends us back to Section 8.7. This requires either: 1) separation of the hazardous area from the remainder of the building by one-hour fire barriers and 45-minute doors, or 2) the installation of automatic sprinklers with a smoke partition separation and self-closing doors. Either way, some modification to the room and/or door is likely going to be required. Changes of use to other than hazardous areas might require compliance with the existing occupancy chapter requirements.
Change of occupancy is pretty straightforward: changing a building’s occupancy classification from one classification to a different classification. An example I give is when I worked in the fire marshal’s office in San Antonio (home of the 2019 NFPA Conference & Expo!) in the 1990s, we had several old office buildings on the Riverwalk that were bought by developers and converted into hotels. The former occupancy classification was business and the new classification was hotel and dormitory (this was back before Chapter 43 existed, so it’s a hypothetical application). To determine the requirements, the former and new occupancy classifications are assigned a relative hazard category classification in Table 43.7.3; these categories relate to the relative occupant risks for the various occupancies. In my example, both business occupancies and hotels and dormitories are assigned hazard category 3 (hotel and dormitory is a residential occupancy by definition). Where a change of occupancy creates other than an assembly occupancy, and the change occurs within the same hazard classification category or to a lesser hazard category, the building must meet the requirements of the applicable existing occupancy chapter for the occupancy created by the change, except that the requirements for automatic sprinklers, fire alarm systems, and hazardous areas must comply with the new occupancy chapter. For my office building-hotel example, the hotel would be required to comply with the requirements of Chapter 29 applicable to existing hotels and dormitories, except that automatic sprinklers, fire alarm systems, and hazardous areas would have to be provided/protected as required by Chapter 28 applicable to new hotels and dormitories. For other changes of occupancy, the requirements vary depending on the relative hazard categories.
Hopefully this will help you to better understand how the Life Safety Code applies to changes of use and occupancy classification and make your job a little easier. Join us at the NFPA C&E in San Antonio in June and check out some of those changes of occupancy for yourself!
Thanks, as always, for reading, and until next time, stay safe!
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