Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of State Fire Marshal Issues Fire Safety Requirements Applicable to Amusement Building Haunts & Haunted Houses
October 6, 2015 By Haunt News & Press Releases
Haunted house season is here!
During this time, people are often inspired to open and operate a “haunt” or “haunted house” in an old school building, a fairgrounds building, or even old, vacant houses. Any haunt or haunted house type of attraction created in any structure not originally designed and approved for such use, must be brought into compliance with all applicable Ohio Building Code (OBC) and Ohio Fire Code (OFC) provisions prior to opening to the public. To achieve compliance (i.e., to make the building safe for the public to enter), the property/building owner, working with both the local building and fire official, usually has to complete a “change of use” process. This process involves reviewing the newly proposed use as a haunt or haunted house and determining if the new use would qualify the structure as a “special amusement building” or would otherwise qualify the structure for a special time-limited certificate of occupancy under the building code. If the haunt or haunted house meets the definition of a “special amusement building” in accordance with the OBC and the OFC, then it must have certain life safety systems installed and properly working at all times when the public is present.
Question: Does the OFC or the OBC prohibit the creation of a haunt or haunted house within an existing structure?
Answer: The easy answer to this question is, NO. Neither the Ohio Fire Code (OFC) nor the Ohio Building Code (OBC) prohibit the creation of a haunt, haunted house or special amusement building within an existing structure. However, the OFC and OBC do require that any new use of a structure or area within a building that is different from the originally approved use of the building or area must be evaluated for a “change of use.” Specifically, the codes require that any structure or area meeting the definition of the use-group classification of “special amusement building” as defined in the OBC and OFC must satisfy certain safety requirements. As most haunts or haunted houses qualify as a “special amusement building” and often times do not have all of the safety features for such a use, many haunts or haunted houses require upgrades to their life safety systems prior to opening to the public.
The OFC addresses this exact scenario in section 102.3.3, starting with a balancing test to determine if the conversion of a space to a haunt or haunted house is more hazardous than the previous use of the building or area. Because the nature of a haunt or haunted house is to confuse, disorient, and distract its occupants in a dimly lit enclosed space, most haunts or haunted houses are more hazardous than the previously approved use of the space. Accordingly, the requirements for the special amusement use-group classification must be met. These requirements are extensive and can include the installation of a sprinkler system, fire-alarm system, special exit markings, etc.
In determining whether or not a haunt or haunted house is safe to operate in their area, the local fire code official, working with the local building official, should start with OFC sections 102.3.3 and 914.7. These two OFC sections address the bulk of the issues when converting an existing structure to a “special amusement building.” Again, because the purpose of a haunt or haunted house can be to confuse, disorient and distract, it is extremely important that all mandatory minimum safety features be provided in the facility in case an emergency of any kind occurs.
The Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of State Fire Marshal’s (SFM) Code Enforcement
Bureau (CEB) can offer assistance regarding code requirements and applicability and can provide code enforcement assistance if needed. The SFM-CEB can be contacted via mail, facsimile, phone, or on-line as follows:
State Fire Marshal – Code Enforcement Bureau
8895 E. Main Street
Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
Fax: (614) 728-5168
For assistance with the application of the Ohio Building Code, contact your local building code official or the Bureau of Building Standards at 614-644-2613.