Fire and Life Safety Requirements for Multi-Family and Commercial Buildings

Safety First Sign

Fire and life safety are very important aspects to consider when purchasing Multi-Family and Commercial property.

The ADA (American Disabilities Act) codes alone are in excess of 175 pages of very detailed requirements. Since commercial real estate inspections are general visual inspections, this short article will focus on fire and life safety from an overall general standpoint.

What is meant by fire and life safety? It has to do with sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, smoke alarms, emergency earthquake gas shut off valves, and anything to do with life safety such as the height of railings, size of stairs, the width of hallways, etc. The list is very long and the codes are very detailed and extensive.

Here are a few of the most basic rules:

  1. From any location, you should be able to see at least one lighted exit sign that has an emergency back-up battery in a commercial setting.
  2. All hallways should be at least 36” wide. All entries and exits into commercial establishments should be able to be entered without going over bumps and the entry and exit doors have to be at least 36” wide.
  3. Fire extinguishers have to be recertified every 12 months.
  4. Railings for stairs should have no open ends so purse straps don’t get caught and the portion that you grab should be no larger than 1 ½”. Stair risers (the vertical part) should vary no more than 3/8” in height to help prevent a trip hazard. The stair tread (the horizontal part you step on) should have no less than a 9” depth.
  5. Any sleeping area with security bars over the windows must have emergency opening devices with no special tool needed. Most municipalities require hard-wired smoke detectors in all sleeping areas.

Frankly, there is no way for anyone to know all aspects of fire and life safety. I have called experts in different fields and even though they can usually answer my questions, it is not uncommon for them to have to do some research and then get back to me.

My personal suggestion is to have a good overall general inspection done of the entire site by a qualified inspector who will not only address these items but will also address your electrical, plumbing, HVAC system, roofing, and the structure. Then, if you need or want to have an additional detailed inspection done by a qualified fire and life safety expert, we can give you suggestions as to where to obtain one.