There are many factors to consider before you decide on a location for your child care business. When choosing your location, you’ll need to look for health and safety issues in the indoor and outdoor spaces. You will also need to check zoning and homeowner’s association covenants.

Before deciding on the location for your child care business, make sure that you can legally use the property for child care. In addition, when choosing a building or location for your child care program, evaluate the space for health and safety concerns and accessibility.

Physical space: Your child care location must have adequate indoor and outdoor space. You will also need to be able to take certain health and safety measures in order to keep children safe.

  • Review your state’s child care licensing requirements to learn how many square feet are required per child indoors and outdoors.
  • Is there enough space for each child to move freely?
  • Will you have a space for each child’s personal belongings?
  • Determine if the outdoor play space will be suitable for the ages of children you’ll care for. For Family Child Care Homes, outdoor space may be on-site or it may include nearby parks.
  • Can you maintain adequate air flow and comfortable room temperature?
  • Are you able to keep your hot water heater at no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit so that children are safe from scalding?
  • Is the physical layout arranged so that caregivers can view all areas at all times?
  • Are there viewing windows into each room occupied by children?
  • Will you have places for children to play, rest and eat? Is there room for storage of cleaning supplies, staff belongings and additional items?

Health: Look at both indoor and outdoor areas when you consider health issues.

  • Make sure older buildings contain no lead, asbestos or other toxic materials. Your community health department or child care licensing agency can refer you to experts who can take samples of paint and other materials for testing.
  • Avoid areas with high air pollution.
  • Avoid areas near gas stations where there are underground or above ground gas/oil storage tanks.

Fire prevention and safety: This is one of the most critical areas for you to consider. Contact your local fire station to learn about local fire safety rules. They also can help you during the planning phase. Child care programs should follow the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. The following is an example of important codes child care programs must consider:

  • There must be two exits out of each child activity room. One exit must lead directly to the outside.
  • There must be a fire suppression system throughout the facility.
  • Cribs should be able to fit through all exit doors.
  • In the reception area and in each activity room, you must post the maximum capacity of your center based on total square footage.

Accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Review Commonly Asked Questions About Child Care Centers and the Americans with Disabilities Act, by the Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice. This document provides information that will help you plan an accessible design.

For Family Child Care Homes

It is a good idea to seek legal advice before you decide to use your own home for child care, purchase property or sign a lease agreement. Find out whether or not you can use the property for a child care business. Ask the following questions about the place you’re considering. In order to meet state child care licensing requirements, you should be able to answer “yes” to the questions below.

  • Are there at least two exits on your ground floor that lead to the outside?
  • Are locks on bathroom or bedroom doors inaccessible to children? Can you open the lock quickly from the outside?
  • Is there a bathroom located on the floor where you’ll care for the children?
  • If you have a working fireplace or wood stove, is it safely screened and out of children’s reach?
  • Do you have a safe outdoor play space in your backyard, or is there a playground nearby that you will be allowed to use?
  • Is the surface under outdoor play equipment soft and free from dangerous objects to prevent injury?
  • Is there a fence or natural barrier around your play space?
  • If you have a swimming pool, is there a locked fence around it that meets the height required by your state?

For Child Care Centers

There are different things to consider for Child Care Centers. You may decide to build a new center, buy an existing space or purchase a franchise from a child care chain. If you buy a franchise, the parent company provides specific guidelines. Things to think about for any Child Care Center include the following:

  • Decide if you want a free-standing center or existing space within another building.
  • If you decide on existing space, find out if you need to make updates in order to meet licensing criteria.
  • Is the building in an area that is easy to get to for parents who drive? Is it near public transportation for parents who do not drive?
  • Is the center in a safe area?
  • Is there enough parking for parents and providers?
  • Are parents able to easily enter and exit the parking lot?
  • Does the center have an adequate kitchen to meet the size of the program planned?
  • Does the kitchen meet fire safety standards?
  • Is fire protection available within a short distance of your center?
  • Does the center have hand-washing and toileting areas in the rooms occupied by children?
  • Is there sufficient storage and janitorial space?
  • Does the center have space for staff to take a break and rest away from the children?
  • Does the outdoor play space have the appropriate fall zone materials to prevent injury?

Zoning Laws and Restrictive Covenants

Zoning laws and restrictive covenants may limit small businesses in your community. They can set restrictions and charge fees for permits for the businesses they do allow. Local governments pass zoning laws to make sure businesses fit in with the local community. They are used to keep most business activities out of residential areas. This is a special concern for Family Child Care Homes. If zoning laws or covenants do not allow businesses, you cannot open a business unless you get an exception. This is true even if a child care program meets all state licensing requirements. Check with the local government in your area to find out about zoning regulations. These may affect where you can locate your child care business.

To find out how to apply for a special exception or get help with your zoning questions, reach out to:

Housing developers can include restrictive covenants in deeds and homeowners’ association agreements. These restrictive covenants may limit business activity in homes in the community. Your homeowners’ association will have information on any restrictions. If you rent your property, you will need to check with the property owner or your community’s homeowners’ association about any rules.

Additional Resource

Zoning and Restrictive Covenants Prohibiting Family Child Care by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)