Change of occupancy and the life safety issues that can be created by it is an area that is not well understood by building owners and to some extent design professionals. There is a Chapter 9 in the Existing Building Code of the State of New York dealing with this topic.
The idea that there is a need to comply with the Building Code when you are not driving a single nail and that you may need professional assistance in navigating regulations or evaluating options comes as a surprise to many people. The following are examples of Change in Occupancy that may have unexpected ramifications:
- A warehouse facility or storage area in a building where there is a change in the materials being stored or the height of stacking or density of storage. This can trigger a requirement to add or upgrade fire protection sprinklers, alarm and detection systems or fire fighter access. With a warehouse that has a Certificate of Occupancy as S-1 Moderate Hazard Storage, adding shelving that is more than twelve feet high or stacking idle pallets to a height greater than six feet has a significant impact on fuel load and triggers the requirement to comply with an entire chapter of the Fire Code of New York State.
- A change to the number of people that will use or assemble in a space, particularly when the number of people is raised to 50 or greater has major implications for means of egress. A business may take a room that had four people working at desks and start using it as a meeting room for 56 people sitting in chairs. This is not “Construction”. It may just be moving furniture and changing the sign on a door. It is likely though that the door or doors to the room are no longer adequate to meet exit requirements. There are also issues of adequate ventilation for occupant comfort.
- When a portion of a building is changed from some type of auxiliary or maintenance related space to meeting the facilities primary function some level of evaluation for ADA compliance should be done. Minimum requirements include an accessible entrance, accessible route to the rest of the building, appropriate signage and at least one accessible toilet.
New York State is evaluating provisions to allow temporary changes in use for a building. These will most likely be adopted in the next edition of the Existing Building Code. They are intended to provide more flexibility in regulation of a condition that is only going to last for a month or so while still establishing base line requirements that must be met.