12 Building Occupancy Types To Know

Building occupancy types ensure proper structural safety measures are in place for specific uses and demographics. This includes fire prevention and protection, methods of egress, and use-specific safety features, such as enhanced security. 

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Building occupancy types ensure proper structural safety measures are in place for specific uses and demographics. This includes fire prevention and protection, methods of egress, and use-specific safety features, such as enhanced security. 

The International Building Code (IBC), the most commonly used building code in the U.S., and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 identify specific occupancy categories. Each has unique features specific to the building’s use.  

The criteria for a permit for one structure may be different than for that of another structure. Properly classifying the building reduces delays in permitting and ensures that the permit application and supporting documentation are correct for that type of structure. 

12 Occupancy Classification Categories 

The NFPA 101 provides detailed descriptions of the specific requirements for each occupancy type, along with descriptions of each structure and use. 

  1. Assembly 

Assembly classifications are for buildings designed for gatherings of 50 or more people for social, religious, or civic activities or for eating and drinking, socializing, or worship. Common assembly-type buildings could include a church, an Elks Lodge, a theater, or a restaurant. 

Consideration for these types of structures includes creating large, open spaces. Assembly spaces must have a large-area rescue strategy in case of emergency. In a venue with a larger, open space, the demographic of its occupants should also be considered. The NFPA 101 indicates that different demographics have different self-preservation levels, so congestion or blocked pathways could be a concern in an emergency. 

  1. Business 

This occupancy type is for professional services or offices and is similar to a mercantile classification. It’s assigned to transactional enterprises, such as a CPA, law office, therapist, or the like. It’s also a classification assigned to conduct other types of business, such as a town hall, city hall, or another general office setting. 

The interior of these buildings will vary according to the specific nature of the business, but many may have enclosed rooms, such as patient rooms in a doctor’s office or offices for accountants. Other spaces may have an open-plan arrangement, with cubicles instead of enclosed rooms. 

  1. Educational 

Educational buildings are those used for instruction of students through 12th grade: elementary, middle, and high schools. Structural considerations may include enclosed general education classrooms as well as specialized classrooms, like a chemistry lab, food preparation, or auto body vocational courses. According to the NFPA, these spaces may contain special hazards that should be accounted for in emergency management plans. 

  1. Factory and Industrial 

These buildings include those used for processing, manufacturing, or similar industrial enterprises, like operations including finishing and processing. Food processing plants, refineries, consumer goods production, or healthcare product manufacturing, such as medications, may all operate in a factory and industrial building classification.  

Emergency management plans and safety protocols are typically tailored to the unique hazards found within each enterprise. For example, some chemical manufacturing plants may require specialized fire suppression systems and contingency plans for the leak or spread of hazardous materials or chemical fumes. 

  1. Health Care and Institutional 

The most common building in this type of classification is a hospital. Structural challenges could include X-ray or CT Scan rooms, operating theaters, and hazardous elements or materials. 

The occupant demographic typically indicates its safety measures and emergency preparedness, as many occupants may be in medically frail conditions or otherwise unable to evacuate under their own volition. The NFPA notes that many may be incapable of self-preservation. 

There is a subclass in this occupancy type, Ambulatory Health Care. It’s similar in that many structural attributes are shared with health care-designated buildings. However, Ambulatory Health Care buildings treat patients on an outpatient basis, such as an urgent-care clinic, and therefore, the occupants may be better able to evacuate independently. 

  1. High Hazard 

High-hazard building occupants may contain materials or engage in processes with a high risk of explosion or fire. This could include an oil refinery, chemical manufacturing, firearms manufacturing, or the like. Constructing or remodeling an existing building for high-hazard enterprises may require specific permits. 

  1. Mercantile 

This specifically refers to venues displaying and selling merchandise, from clothing to jewelry, hardware, tools, or a grocery store. The structures include one or multiple large, open spaces, often with high ceilings, and smaller, incidental spaces, such as management offices or storage locations. The occupant demographic may depend on the season, time of day, or time of year. 

  1. Residential 

This classification is for private dwellings, aside from individuals who are dwelling in a detention center or health care facility, like a hospital, or an RBC, like a nursing home. This is a broad classification, from single-family homes to apartment complexes or condominium units. It also includes transient dwelling buildings, such as a hotel, hostel, or dormitory.  

Although the occupants may be very familiar with egress points, emergency management could be complicated, especially for multi-family dwellings. Self-preservation and familial preservation could make an emergency evacuation unpredictable or dangerous. 

  1. Residential Board and Care (RBC) 

This is a different classification of dwelling in that the residents in these facilities require personal assistance and care. A common example may be a group home, like assisted living or a retirement home. Not every resident may be fully ambulatory, making emergency procedures challenging. 

  1.  Daycare 

The demographic of daycare buildings is often people with little sense or capability of self-preservation, and the structural attributes of these buildings may vary depending on the extent of use. For example, the physical construction of a child daycare or nursery school may be more conducive for small children to navigate. Emergency plans and considerations should include noting whether the structure is built to accommodate smaller people. 

  1.  Storage 

This classification can include a warehouse, rented private storage, or other structures with the purpose of housing products, merchandise, private belongings, commercial products, or other goods. Other storage structures include barns and parking garages. 

  1.  Mixed-Use 

Some structures are classified as mixed-use structures, so each occupant may require a different type of permit. For example, a commercial builder builds a strip mall with spaces for a restaurant, an accountant’s office, and rented storage units. The occupants of each unit will likely need different permits. 

How Is Occupancy Classification Determined? 

Understanding occupancy type also includes knowing what determines which classification a building falls into. Usually, the building designer or owner states the occupancy type, often in consultation with the local building authorities or Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). This could be the local fire department, a building department, municipal code enforcement, or another agency tasked with enforcing safety codes in a particular municipality. 

The AHJ reviews the building plans or remodel plans and specs to determine its classification. It also inspects the completed building or remodel to ensure it meets the appropriate code requirements of its intended occupant class. 

Change in building use may necessitate a new inspection or adjustments to the structure to adhere to the requirements of the new occupancy type. Furthermore, building codes are not static.  

Changes in building code requirements for a certain occupancy class may necessitate changes in the structure to remain code-complaint. Understanding occupancy type, therefore, is essential for building owners, as they should monitor code changes for their type of building. 


Expediting your building permit rests on properly classifying the building. Proper permitting – the correct type of permit for the occupant – results in fewer delays in opening and operating your enterprise.  

GreenLite Technologies is a construction permitting company specializing in permit expediting. Our professional experience ensures you get the right kind of permit for your building and occupant type and that the process has no unnecessary delays. 








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