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Occupancy Requirements for Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems in New York City- NYC



The New York City Building Codes require the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems based on varying factors such as the height and size of the building, occupancy classifications, fire areas, occupant loads, layout of fire partitions, fire-rated construction, and the contents or hazards present in the building.


The NYC DOB has an occupancy group listing that can be found in Chapter 9 of the Building Codes manual.


The NYC DOB has the Occupancy Groups broken up into nine separate groups (and even a few sub-groups) that specify the specific restrictions in one of the world’s strictest fire safety cities. The groups are classified as follows:


Occupancy Group A: Assembly


Any building or area of a building classified as Group A must have automatic sprinklers. Subgroups A-1 through A-4 are as follows:


Group A-1: Performance arts and motion pictures

  1. Fire area above 12,000 ft2.

  2. Fire area occupant load is at least 300.

  3. Total occupant load of all Group A-1 fire areas in the same floor is at least 300.

  4. Fire area with a multi-heater complex.


Group A-2: Food and Drink Consumption

  1. Fire area above 5,000 ft2.

  2. Fire area occupant load is at least 300.

  3. Total occupant load of all Group A-1 fire areas in the same floor is at least 300.

  4. Cabarets


Group A-3: Worship, recreation, amusement, and all Assembly occupancies not classified under another subgroup

  1. Fire area above 12,000 ft2.

  2. Fire area occupant load is at least 300.

  3. Total occupant load of all Group A-1 fire areas in the same floor is at least 300. The exit discharge level is exempt.


Group A-4: Viewing indoor sports and activities, with spectator seating

  1. Fire area above 12,000 ft2.

  2. Fire area occupant load is at least 300.

  3. Total occupant load of all Group A-1 fire areas in the same floor is at least 300. The exit discharge level is exempt.


Group A-5: Viewing outdoor activities:

Automatic sprinklers are required in all the following enclosed areas:

  1. Concession concourse

  2. Concession stands

  3. Retail areas

  4. Press boxes

  5. All other accessory areas above 1,000 ft2



Occupancy Group B: Business


Automatic sprinklers are required in animal service facilities and ambulatory health care facilities. Ambulatory health care facilities must be equipped with automatic sprinklers in all fire areas when their operation meets either of the following conditions at any time:


  • At least one patient who is not capable of self-preservation and is located on a floor other than the exit discharge level.

  • Four or more patients that are not capable of self-preservation, even if they are located within the exit discharge level.


Animal service facilities must always include automatic sprinklers unless they have 24-hour personal supervision and smoke alarms.



Occupancy Group E: Educational


Automatic sprinkler requirements in educational facilities are mostly general. They are mandatory in all Group E fire areas exceeding 20,000 ft2, and all portions of educational buildings found below the exit discharge level. However, there is an exemption under the following conditions:


  • Every classroom in the building has at least one exit door at ground level.

  • The exit doors lead directly outside without going through corridors, passages, or exit enclosures.


Occupancy group F: Factory


The NYC Building Code makes sprinkler systems mandatory for occupancies in the subgroup F-1 if they meet any of the following conditions:


  • Fire area above 7,500 ft2.

  • Group F-1 areas located more than three stories high, regardless of fire area.


If any of the following conditions are met, the automatic sprinkler must cover the entire building, including the F-1 occupancy:


  • If a specific Group F-1 fire area exceeds 12,000 ft2.

  • If a specific Group F-1 fire area is located more than three stories high.

  • If a combined F-1 fire area across all floors and mezzanines is above 24,000 ft2.

  • Anywhere required by the New York State Labor Law.


There are also specific requirements in the case of woodworking operations and repair garages. Woodworking operations where there is fine combustible waste or materials must be equipped with sprinklers if the area exceeds 2,500 ft2. Repair garages are subject to the requirement if they meet any of the following:


  • At least 2 stories high, and with a repair garage in a fire area above 10,000 ft2.

  • Single-story buildings with a repair garage in a fire area above 12,000 ft2.

  • Group F-1 fire area where commercial trucks or buses are repaired, if above 5,000 ft2.

  • Buildings where vehicles are parked in the basement and there is a dedicate repair garage for them.


Occupancy Group H: High Hazard


As dangerous materials are handled in Group H, the Building Code has made sprinklers mandatory for all subgroups in this occupancy classification. Buildings that contain high-hazard occupancies must be fully covered by automatic sprinklers if Group H is the dominant use, or if there is any Group H-5 occupancy regardless of size.


Occupancy Group I: Institutional


Automatic sprinklers are also mandatory in all group I occupancies. Mixed-occupancy buildings must be fully covered by Group I as well.


Occupancy Group M: Mercantile


Mercantile occupancies must be equipped with sprinklers under either of the following conditions:


  • Fire area above 7,500 ft2.

  • Fire area of any size when it contains stairs or escalators that are not enclosed and connects at least two floors.

  • Any Group M occupancy with high-piled storage or rack storage.


Additionally, automatic sprinkler coverage is required for entire buildings that contain Group M occupancies meeting any of the following:


  • Any Group M fire area that exceeds 12,000 ft2.

  • Any Group M fire area that is located more than three stories high.

  • Combined Group M fire area across all floors and mezzanines that is above 24,000 ft2.


Occupancy Group R: Residential


For the most part, all fire areas in residential buildings must be equipped with automatic sprinklers. Exceptions include:


  • Detached one and two-family dwellings.

  • Multiple single-family dwellings, better known as townhouses.


However, the exception only applies if the building is not more than three stories high and a means of egress are built separately for each dwelling.



Occupancy Group S: Storage


There are differing requirements for storage occupancies depending on whether the area in question is S-1 or S-2 (explained below):

In Group S-1 occupancies, automatic sprinklers become mandatory when the fire area exceeds 500 ft2. Under the following conditions, the requirement expands to the entire building containing S-1 occupancies:


  • A specific Group S-1 fire area exceeds 12,000 ft2

  • The building is above 1,000 ft2 and S-1 is the dominant occupancy.

  • A specific Group S-1 fire area is located more than three stories high.

  • The Combined Group S-1 fire area across all floors and mezzanines is above 24,000 ft2.

  • There is a tire storage area that exceeds either 500 ft2.

  • In the are a 7,500 ft3 in volume.


The minimum fire area that requires automatic sprinklers in S-2 occupancies is increased to 5,000 ft2. Enclosed parking garages require automatic sprinklers regardless of area, but garages for R-3 occupancies are exempt. If the building exceeds 5,000 ft2 and the dominant occupancy classification is S-2, then automatic sprinklers are required for the entire building.


Though the occupancy requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems in New York City can seem overdone, the requirements reflect a sophisticated and adaptive approach to fire safety. The regulations take into account the diverse landscape of buildings, from historic landmarks to cutting-edge skyscrapers, and strive to create a comprehensive and effective framework. The DOB's commitment to ensuring that fire protection measures align with the specific risks posed by different occupancies showcases a dedication to the overarching goal of preserving life and property in the face of unforeseen emergencies.


As the cityscape continues to evolve and new challenges emerge, the occupancy requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems will likely undergo further refinements. It is incumbent upon stakeholders in the construction and real estate industries, as well as residents, to stay abreast of these changes, ensuring a collective effort to maintain and enhance the fire safety standards that define New York City's urban environment. Contact our engineers here at Built for a comprehensive analysis on any questions or concerns you have about automatic fire sprinkler systems and occupancy requirements on your project!


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