Building & Life Safety: How Do I Apply the Provisions for Rehabilitation to Work at My Building?
An outdated and stained floor covering requires update and replacement, a new office tenant requests a reconfigured office space, a new commercial stove and oven is needed for a cafeteria, or a hotel guest room is converted into extra storage space. Buildings are always undergoing work to maintain their systems and features in good working conditions, and to reconfigure and upgrade their space.
So, when work is being done to a building, how does the Life Safety Code apply?
Prior to 2006, editions of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, required all modernizations, renovations, additions, and changes of occupancy, to the extent practicable, to comply with the requirements for new construction. Often, however, building rehabilitation is not undertaken because of the perception that unwanted or unwarranted upgrades will be forced on the building owner. Chapter 43, added in 2006, was written to encourage the adaptive reuse of compliant, existing structures. The former philosophy of “that which you do must meet new” is relaxed. Now, with the detailed provisions contained in Chapter 43, only those requirements necessary to achieve the intended level of life safety are mandated in lieu of requiring strict compliance with the requirements applicable to new buildings.
Chapter 43 presents provisions based on a set of concepts including the following:
- During a rehabilitation project, a building must meet the base level of life safety required by the Code chapter applicable to the existing occupancy.
- The rehabilitation work must maintain or increase the level of Code compliance.
- Rehabilitation work in existing construction elements or building features is held to a lower standard than rehabilitation work in new elements or features.
- Upgrades are typically required only in the rehabilitation work areas, not throughout the entire occupancy or building.
What if my building requires corrective actions as a result of a Code deficiency?
Let's say you are planning to renovate an entire tenant space to in your existing office building. However, it is determined that your existing office building exceeds the maximum allowable travel distance. The provisions of Chapter 43 are to be used once the existing building is brought into compliance with the appropriate occupancy chapter requirements applicable to that existing occupancy. Work done to correct a deficiency is not subject to the provisions of Chapter 43. Once your existing office building is compliant the additional planned work to the tenant space will use Chapter 43 to determine the provisions that apply to that work. Your existing office building undergoing the renovation is held, as a starting point, to the same requirements that apply to any other existing business occupancy building.
Some of the occupancy chapters have requirements that supplement those of Chapter 43 and impose the requirements for new construction on existing buildings that are being rehabilitated, including those situations in which the use is changed to increase the occupant load. For example, mercantile occupancies are further subclassified as a Class A, Class B, or Class C mercantile occupancy, based on the floor area used for sales purposes.
After determining that Chapter 43 applies to the work in my building, what determines compliance with new or existing requirements?
Establishing a level of Code compliance uses a stepped approach to mandate requirements. Minor levels of rehabilitation must meet minimal requirements; major rehabilitation projects must meet more significant requirements.
Chapter 43 defines seven categories of rehabilitation work: repair, renovation, modification, reconstruction, change of use, change of occupancy and addition. Understanding and properly defining these seven categories are a key concept of this chapter for achieving the objective of proportionality of work. That is, the more work that is proposed for the rehabilitation project, the more work that might be required by the Code in terms of upgrading existing conditions. Incorrectly defining the category/categories of work on a rehabilitation project can result in over- or under-applying critical fire and life safety requirements from the Code to your building.
Identifying the category of work being performed will then determine the extent to which the Code is applied to that work. Any building undergoing rehabilitation will comply with the requirements of the applicable existing occupancy chapter plus any additional requirements for the applicable new occupancy as called out specifically in Chapter 43.
For example, a simple repair, such as replacing a few ceiling tiles in an office that were damaged due to a water leak, would be required to use like materials and result in an installation no less conforming than it was prior to the repair (existing). Reconstruction work, such as gutting an entire floor in an existing hotel building to create hotel guest suites from individual guest rooms individual guest rooms, requires a more extensive and detailed application of Code requirements for the work being performed. Among other requirements, newly constructed elements, components, and systems are required to comply with the requirements of other Code sections applicable to new construction.
What are some other considerations when applying Chapter 43 to a rehabilitation project?
- Chapter 43, with the exception of the provisions for reconstruction, does not mandate improvements or set minimum acceptable standards for spaces that are not undergoing rehabilitation. Incidental work in other areas of the building may be required depending on the extent of the work (for example, extending a fire alarm system may require upgrades to the fire alarm panel that are outside the original rehabilitation work area but are necessary as part of the project.)
- A single work project may have more than one rehabilitation work category (for example, a reconstruction may also result in a change of occupancy)
- The provisions of Chapter 43 should not prevent the use of equivalent designs, systems or approaches if deemed acceptable by the AHJ.
- Work mandated by any accessibility, property, housing, or fire code; mandated by the existing building requirements of this Code; or mandated by any licensing rule or ordinance, are not required to conform to Chapter 43.
- Construction, alteration and demolition operations that may accompany rehabilitation projects must comply with the provisions for NFPA 241. Both new and existing occupancy chapters now contain pointers back to NFPA 241 for this work.
Interested in learning more about the specifics of rehabilitation work categories and compliance options for applying the building rehabilitation requirements in NFPA 101 to real world examples? This December we will be offering a 2-hour virtual, live training on this topic! Be on the lookout in the NFPA catalog at www.nfpa.org/catalog soon for more details and registration information.
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Thanks for reading, stay safe!