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7 Questions to Ask When Converting an Existing Building for a New Use

common questions regarding converting an existing building for new use

The process of converting an existing building, especially when the purpose of the building is going to change, involves many moving parts. A successful project requires proper research to get an accurate idea of the cost and scope of work. Here are seven questions you should ask before converting an existing building for a new use.

1. Will the new intended use re-classify the occupancy group of the building?

Occupancy groups come with their own set of regulations and requirements. Fundamentally, these requirements aim to keep everyone inside the building safe. Changing the use of the building may require a change of occupancy, or the addition of multiple occupancies. For example, adding an underground parking structure to a hospital would require two separate occupancy groups.

2. Will the building still be compliant with property zone laws?

It’s crucial to be aware of the current property zone laws, because they might hinder the conversion process. For example, a commercial building is not allowed to be constructed within a residential area. You should be certain that zoning laws will not hinder the intended use of your new building before you commit to doing any work.

3. Are water & sewage systems sufficient for the new use of the building?

Water and sewage system requirements differ depending on the use and capacity of the building. For example, an increased number of people living or working in a building requires a stronger water, sewage, or septic system. You may also need to work out additional systems, such as the addition of emergency sprinklers, or water pressure issues.

4. Will fire protection requirements be different under the new use?

Just as the rules for property zoning and occupancy groups can change when a building is being converted, so can the fire protection requirements. Fire protection requirements can affect the materials used, insulation, emergency exits, sprinkler systems and more, so be sure to take these into account when you determine your budget.

5. Does the original building meet current building code standards?

Depending on the quality and age of the original building, upgrades might have to be done in order to bring it up to speed with current building codes. This will include testing the integrity of the structure along with its ability to support the new use. Just because a building is older doesn’t mean it can’t be converted, but keep in mind that renovating part of it might require you to bring the entire building up to current code.

6. Is handicap accessibility adequate?

The Americans with Disabilities Act lists specific guidelines for different types of buildings. If you add new features or change the intended use of your building, you may be subject to new guidelines.

7. Will wind or earthquake minimums change under new design?

Even if the physical location of your building does not change, a change in occupancy group or physical structure may warrant a change in wind or earthquake resistance minimums.

Converting a building for a different use involves many variables, and it’s important to understand which elements will change in order to allot proper time and resources to a project. Ultimately, the most important factor to consider is how the building will be used.

JBA Consulting Engineers has nearly 50 years of experience bringing buildings to life. If you’re looking for a team of experienced engineers who care about innovation, creativity, and excellence, give us a call at (702) 362-9200 today.