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The Importance of Live/Work

Because we understand how difficult redevelopment can be, we’ve spent a lot of time and brain power researching ways to make it easier. One of the best tools we’ve discovered is utilizing the Live/Work occupancy classification, which provides great project flexibility and viability, as demonstrated in our previous post on Main Street Redevelopment. Click on to read the in-depth commentary and limitations on Live/Work, and be sure to thank CNU for lobbying the ICC to create the Live/Work section of the code!




419.1 General. A live/work unit shall comply with Sections 419.1 through 419.9.

Exception: Dwelling or sleeping units that include an office that is less than 10 percent of the area of the dwell­ing unit are permitted to be classified as dwelling units with accessory occupancies in accordance with Section 508.2.

❖ These provisions allow a live/work unit that includes both living and working environments to be consid­ered a single Group R-2 dwelling unit for application of the code. Several limitations and specific require­ments are applied to both the living portion of the unit and the work portion of the unit. Prior to the adoption of these provisions, the code and the IRC did not allow residential live/work units in a form that is typi­cally desirable for community development. This con­cept has become increasingly popular allowing design and construction of a public business, with employees working within a residence, allowing the public to enter the work area of the unit to acquire service. Examples of live/work commercial functions are artist’s studios, beauty parlors, nail salons and chiropractor’s offices. It is important to note that live/ work is specifically not to apply to an in-home office. The exception to Section 419.1 is intended to address these small home offices which involve less than 10 percent of the dwelling’s floor area.

These concepts reflect an era of planning which created a community where residents could walk to all needed services such as the typical corner com­mercial store. Examples of this form of planning can be found in many older cities, as well as many “planned communities.” Live/work units began to re­emerge in the 1990s through a development style known as “Traditional Neighborhood Design” (TND). More recently, adaptive reuse in many older urban structures in city centers incorporated the same live/ work tools to provide a variety of business offerings combined with residential unit types.

Historically, building codes did not have to deal with many live/work issues because zoning codes generally precluded a mixing of uses within a neigh­borhood, much less within a building. However, recent planning trends have been adopted in many jurisdictions, encouraging mixing of commercial and residential uses, not just in neighborhoods, but also in buildings, and even within unit types, such as the live/ work unit commonly found in TND projects.

The provisions code for live/work units apply to the code criteria based on the Group R-2 provisions for construction. The occupant loads will be determined by the “function” of each space in accordance with Table 1004.1.1.

Section 419 allows mixed use within the dwelling unit or sleeping unit without classification as a mixed-occupancy condition as long as the unit meets the limits within this section. It is then to be classified as a Group R-2 occupancy. Special features that are com­mon within a dwelling unit and are likely within the live/work unit are addressed in order to clearly delin­eate the means for designing a live/work unit.

419.1.1 Limitations. The following shall apply to all live/ work areas:

  1. The live/work unit is permitted to be not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m9 in area;

  2. The nonresidential area is permitted to be not more than 50 percent of the area of each live/work unit,

  3. The nonresidential area function shall be limited to the first or main floor only of the live/work unit; and

  4. Not more than five nonresidential workers or employ­ees are allowed to occupy the nonresidential area at any one time.

*These provisions were meant to apply strictly to small businesses associated with dwelling and sleeping units. In fact the intent is that the main occupancy of the building is residential with some business activity within the building. The code limits the nonresidential aspect to a maximum of 50 percent of the area of each unit. In addition, the total area of the live/work unit is limited to 3,000 square feet (279 m2). There­fore, the total area of the work unit would be a maxi­mum of 1,500 square feet (139 m2). Since a nonresidential use is being located in a dwelling unit or sleeping unit, the nonresidential area is limited to the first or main floor. Therefore, those coming to the place of business do not need to enter the residential portion of the building. Finally, in keeping with the intent that these are small occupancies and that such occupancies could not create unnecessary life safety concerns, the number of nonresidential workers (employees) is limited to five. This limit of five is not the limit on the number of occupants that can be located within the work area, but simply the number of workers from outside the household that can be there on a regular basis. The 1,500 square-foot (139 m2) limit on area would limit the number of occupants based upon the occupant load factors.

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