Opening Escape Rooms: A Guide to Permits and Inspections

Recently, I wanted to write about business licenses, permits, and inspections.
This is for those who think opening escape rooms is just about finding a place, buying furniture, decorations, and puzzles.

I'm going to share key things I wish I knew before opening our first escape room in 2015. My experience comes from dealing with lots of inspections and inspectors and opening 5 locations (escape rooms, axe throwing, spin art studio) in Redmond, WA, where inspectors are very detailed but also helpful.

  1. Zoning. You can't just open Escape Rooms anywhere in your city. Your city's website has a map showing different areas and what you can do there. Make sure to check this before you choose a place. Trust me, you don't want to go through the trouble I did because I didn't check the zoning rules before signing a lease.

  2. Fire Alarm. This is a big deal in the escape room business. When you look at a place, check what kind of fire alarm system it has.

  • Heat Sensors + Strobe Lights: Adding extra sensors will cost about $1,000 each. This is what we have in 2 of our locations.
  • Strobe Lights + Sprinklers: As of the 2021 fire code, many states prefer this setup for escape rooms. Changing this system is expensive and complex. Adding extra sprinklers can cost over $2,000 each.
  • No Fire Alarm: After a fire tragedy in Poland, you can't argue that fire alarms are not needed. You might not be allowed to open without a proper fire system, which can be very costly.

Also, make sure you have enough exit signs. We put them over every exit door in our escape rooms.

  1. The City and Business License. If you're in a small town where people don't know about escape rooms, first contact the city. Ask to meet with the economic development department, explain your project, and how it will help the city's economy and tourism. Get their support and find out what you need to do next.

If you've read my book or attended my consultation, contact me for the presentation I used to convince the city to support us.

Remember, you can't run escape rooms without a city business license. The city will review your application and ask questions. We have to pass a fire inspection for every new location to get our license.

  1. Construction and Permits. Believe it or not, you need a permit for any structural changes, like new doors or walls. If you build something without a permit, you might have to stop working if inspectors find out.

To get permits, submit plans to the city, prepared by an architect. Once approved, you can start building. But, you might need to change some things later if the city asks.

You need permits for everything: walls, electrical outlets, fire alarms, etc.

  1. ADA Improvements. By law, 10% of your construction budget must improve access for people with disabilities. This could be a drinking fountain or toilet handrails, for example. Make sure new doors and walkways meet ADA standards.

  2. Inspections. You'll need inspections to finish your permits and get your business license. It's good to work well with inspectors. Show them you prioritize safety. They might overlook small mistakes, making inspections easier.

In the end, working with the city is key. Convince them of the benefits of escape rooms for the city. Their support will help a lot in opening your business.

I'm here to answer any questions