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Do Hotel Room Fire Code Occupancy Limits Hurt Big Family Travel?

    photo - Hilton Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

    Are Occupancy Rates Fair?

    How many times have you searched for a big family hotel room only to be told time and time again that the room’s maximum occupancy rate is 5?

    You find rooms that look like they’ll sleep six. The room description states that the bedding is 2 queens and a sofa sleeper. Looks like a 6 sleeper room to you. How can it be that the room only sleeps 5?

    Take for example the Residence Inn in Alexandria, VA. The Residence Inn 2 bedroom suite with 2 queens and a sofa sleeper, 2 bathrooms, full kitchen, and 610 square feet has a limit of 5.

    How Hotel Room Occupancy Rates are Decided

    Who determines the occupancy rate? Is it just a way for hotels to make you book more than one room for your big family?

    Hotel occupancy rates are determined by the state fire marshal. To help us better understand how rates are determined, I asked Glenn A. Dean, CFM from the Virginia State Fire Marshal Office for some help.

    There are several factors to take into consideration when deciding a hotel room’s maximum occupancy rate. One factor is the room itself. Glenn Dean explains

    "As a baseline example, residential occupancies, such as a hotel,
    may be given or be limited to 200 square feet gross per person. If the
    suite is 1,000 square feet, then the occupant limit is 5 persons."

    So no matter how many beds you put into that 1000 square foot room, the standard occupancy rate limit will be 5.

    Glenn further explains:

    While it may seem unreasonable to limit the number of people in a
    space or room that would seem to accommodate a larger number, the
    question or focus then turns to egress capacity. Would the egress
    capacity handle all the occupants of all the rooms or spaces that have
    higher numbers of occupants?

    Ah! Square footage is not the only factor in setting the limit. So far we have only been focusing on the individual room’s limitations, we also need to take into consideration the entire hotel building.

    Occupancy Rates Reflect the Capacity of the Egress

    When you stay at a hotel, fire codes require that you have two ways to exit the building in an emergency. Your basic rectangular hotel has elevators in the middle and stair/fire escapes at each end and maybe the middle. We all know to take the stairs instead of the elevator during a fire, so let’s focus on the fire escapes.

    Stairs, which become your emergency exit in case of fire, need to be able to handle everyone leaving the hotel in a short amount of time. This is where the second factor of determining hotel room occupancy maximum rates comes in, the capacity of the egress or fire escape.

    Once we determine the number of people that can safely exit the hotel through the fire escapes, we determine how many people each floor can handle by factoring the number of floors. Continuing to work backwards working from the number of people on each floor and including the number of rooms on each floor, the fire escapes determine the number of people each room on the floor can have.

    So if a hotel has one or two big family rooms on one level, there needs to be a balance on that floor with rooms that sleep 2 or fewer rooms on that level.

    It’s about safety

    Do hotel fire code maximum occupancy limits hurt big family travel? No, the fire marshal’s occupancy limits are made to keep your big family and all hotel occupants safe.

    Which leads us to: Why don’t hotel planners/designers put more big family rooms into hotels? Which is a great question for another post.

    Remember the Residence Inn in Alexandria, VA? When I emailed the Marriott about the 5 person limit, they responded that the staff would allow 6 in the room. Sometimes rules can be bent a bit. When in doubt, call or email the staff.

    Planning your big family vacation? Don’t spend hours searching for a hotel room, hop over to our search page to find big family hotel rooms to accommodate your family.

    2 thoughts on “Do Hotel Room Fire Code Occupancy Limits Hurt Big Family Travel?”

    1. I find that most hotels don’t worry too much if you’re a person or two over the limit, as not every room on the floor will be filled to capacity, thus keeping them within the allowed number of people per floor. I think what they’re trying to avoid is entire hockey teams renting a single room and everybody sleeping on the floor.
      I agree though that it would be easier if they just put more family sized rooms in. I appreciate the listings you keep on here for the times I need to find one of those rooms.

    2. Although the references are correct, referring to 200 square feet per person as an occupant load factor, this factor is to determine the occupant load capacity to determine egress and not limit the number of people per 200 square feet. You can have a hotel that is telling you there is a limit of 4 people (4 adults) in a 200 square foot hotel room and that is okay. Again, the 200 square foot factor is to calculate the egress requirements, not determine how many people can be in a room as long as the occupancy does not affect the egress from the room to the room exit door. The other reasons for this hotel limit are more about safety and consideration of others. Is the building and floor capable of supporting an increased weight load? And, if you load a hotel room with too many people, especially children, does it become too noisy and a nuisance. Most hotel rooms are not very sound proof and whether it is noisy children or noisy adults, it becomes an issue no matter how many people are in the room. A hotel is a place to sleep/rest, in between travels or business, at least for most people. If everyone was reasonable and courteous this probably would not be an issue to ask or a subject to discuss on the internet or anywhere else.

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    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa Jorgensen is a mother to four children including twins. She recognized the necessity for a comprehensive resource of hotels that cater to big families with rooms and suites for 5, 6, 7, or 8 people in a single room while traveling with her own family. In 2008, she established SixSuitcaseTravel to compile a database of such hotels. Over time, the website has grown to include travel advice, itineraries, road trip suggestions, national park guides, and more. Theresa takes pleasure in assisting other big families in creating unforgettable travel experiences.