≡ Menu

Ghouls, Chainsaws, and Creepy Codes

Understanding Basics of Haunted Houses (Special Amusement Buildings)

As the Halloween season goes into full swing in the United States its a great time to review some of the many code requirements for these special buildings.  These buildings are typically known as special amusement buildings that are inherently confusing.  This adds to the entertainment of the venue while adding challenges on meeting the fire and building codes.  The occupants of the buildings are typically not familiar with the space so extra attention to the specific provisions of the code and training of staff is critical.

There have been multiple fatal fires (Six Flags, 1984; Washington Reid School PTA haunted house 1973) which have lead to the development of codes and standards for the use.  Halloween has become a very active time of year which groups try to out do other haunted houses without an emphasis on fire and life safety.

This video shows the “cutting edge” winning the world record for longest haunted house.  The video highlights some of the challenges with fire protection in similar structures, and why the training of staff with automatic systems is critical:

Codes and Standards

There are many resources available for the inspector on the special amusement buildings.  The adopted code for the jurisdiction will provide the specific code requirements.  Here is a sample of the some of the basic code provisions for special amusement buildings:

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101, The Life Safety Code, 2009 edition provides code provisions to these specific occupancies as special amusement buildings.  The specific code sections can be found in section 12.4.7

NFPA 101 Section 12.4.7
General. Special amusement buildings, regardless of occupant load, shall meet the requirements for assembly occupancies in addition to the requirements of 12.4.7, unless the special amusement building is a multilevel play structure that is not more than 10 ft in height and has aggregate horizontal projections not exceeding 160 ft.

The International Code Council identifies special amusement buildings in two areas.  Based on the 2009 ICC code series the IBC provides provisions in section 411

IBC 411.1 General.
Special amusement buildings having an occupant load of 50 or more shall comply with the requirements for the appropriate Group A occupancy and this section. Amusement buildings having an occupant load of less than 50 shall comply with the requirements for a Group B occupancy and this section.
Exception: Amusement buildings or portions thereof that are without walls or a roof and constructed to prevent the accumulation of smoke.

When this section is applicable strict provisions are in place for an automatic fire sprinkler system, voice evacuation system, egress marking, and specific requirements for the interior finish of the space.

The International Fire Code will require an operational permit (section 105.6.2) and has requirements on sprinkler, alarm, egress and interior finish that correlate with the International Building Code


{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Nick Markowitz October 10, 2009, 7:11 am

    Unfortunately it took a couple of fires at Haunted houses in our county park system to get proper inspection done.
    Now that ICC is in effect in the state things are way different than 10 yrs ago. Things are getting better
    But still you go out into the sticks and people still do as they please and it will take a tragedy to ever change anything dam shame.

  • fred kraft January 27, 2010, 5:43 pm

    I have a problem with the amusment code as to does it applie only to haunted houses- we have a arcade/inflated slides and bounce house . going in a old grocery store-4 party rooms- does this fall under our reg codes or this amusment(haunted house code)??

  • Scott Caron October 14, 2010, 8:33 pm

    Re: The Bounce House. I think you have to compare these to the actual definition of a Special Amusement Building. Are the egresses confounded by audio or visual distractions? Does it contain a device or system to convey people around? IS there a walkway provided to take you in any specific direction? Is the egress not readily available? If you can’t meet these points, then it does not fall under a Special Amusement, therefore not a Place of Assembly.

Leave a Comment