Classifications of Occupancy

Recent changes bolster life safety

What type of public occupancy are you dealing with? You should know before you perform any electrical contracting work. The 2006 Life Safety Code has made some changes to certain building classifications, which have been brought about by recent events and a greater overall need to enhanced life safety in certain environments. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), classifications of occupancy remain an integral part of safety. The classifications follow:

Assembly:  A group of 50 or more people gather for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation or similar uses.

Educational: A place used for educational purposes through the 12th grade by six or more persons, for four or more hours per day or more than 12 hours per week.

Daycare: Four or more occupants receive care and supervision by those other than their legal guardians or relatives for less than 24 hours per day.

Healthcare: Designated as such when used for the purposes of medical or other treatment for four or more individuals. In this class, occupants are not capable of self-preservation due to age, physical limitations and mental ability or due to security measures outside of the control of the patient.

Ambulatory healthcare: A building or portion of a building that treats four or more patients simultaneously on an outpatient basis. Emergency care, those under anesthesia and those requiring urgent care generally fall under this category.

Detention and correction: One or more persons are housed in varying degrees of security and restraint and due to those security measures, the individuals are thus not capable of self-preservation.

One- and two-family dwellings: These are units where independent cooking and bathroom facilities exist. Generally, one-family refers to free-standing houses, and two-family refers to duplex homes. Any home that is not part of an apartment complex, attached row homes or townhouses falls under this category.

Lodging or rooming houses: A building not under the one or two-family dwelling category but is used for providing sleeping conditions for 16 or fewer people, either on a permanent or transient basis and without personal care services, meals and separate cooking facilities for each individual occupant.

Hotels and dormitories: A building or group of buildings, under the same management, where sleeping accommodations exist for 16 or more people, that are generally used for transients without meals provided. Dormitories are where sleeping arrangements for 16 or more people, not of the same family either in the same room or in closely connected rooms.

Apartment buildings: A building containing three or more dwelling units each with its own cooking and bathroom facilities.

Industrial: A facility where products are manufactured or where processing, mixing, packaging, finishing, decorating or repair operations are performed.

Storage: A facility where goods, merchandise, animals or vehicles are stored and sheltered.

Classified how and what changed?
“There is a ‘public access’ aspect to many of these occupancies and that aspect is part of the consideration when the committees establish the requirements for each respective occupancy,” said Gary Keith, NFPA vice president of Building and Life Safety.

Each classification has its own set of design criteria aimed at protecting the safety and well-being of the occupants. Understanding the importance of each designation is the first step in being able to comply with the life safety requirements.

The general definitions and characteristics have not changed much, but there have been recent changes that have brought attention to the Life Safety Code 101. The biggest are in terms of sprinkler requirements and mandates.

“NFPA 101 now requires all existing nursing homes to be retroactively sprinklered [new nursing homes have required sprinklers for some time now],” Keith said. “Two significant fatal nursing home fires in 2003 prompted the NFPA technical committee to make this change with support from the healthcare industry.”

Prior to this, a grandfather clause allowed facilities to opt out of certain sprinkler requirements. This mandate removes that protection and all nursing homes must meet the more stringent requirements.
“The sprinkler thresholds for nightclub venues were changed to require sprinklers in all new nightclub assembly venues in NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 and to require sprinklers in nightclub venues with more than 100 occupants in NFPA 101. The occupant load calculation was changed to two-thirds of the total occupant load for the main entrance/exit. In addition, there were new requirements added in both documents for crowd managers in both documents,” Keith said.

The NFPA and electrical contracting community will be pleased that the days of skirting by may end soon.   EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached via e-mail at


About the Author

Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas

Freelance Writer
Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas is a freelance writer who lives in central Pennsylvania.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.