Summary: Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) play a crucial role in the NFSA (National Fire Sprinkler Association) community. They are responsible for making sure rules and standards are followed in the fire protection industry. NFSA receives many questions every year from AHJs about the meaning of codes and standards that directly influence the fire sprinkler industry. 

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the common questions AHJs ask the NFSA’s code officials and how they impact everyone involved.

1. What is the process of figuring out hazard and commodity classifications?

Answer: Determining the classification of items, from automobiles to Ziplock bags, is a common question at NFSA. The team aims to provide accurate technical information promptly to the fire protection community. However, answering questions about hazard or commodity classification can be challenging, especially when NFPA committees haven’t specifically addressed the issue. This classification is crucial in designing fire protection systems and is often the responsibility of a design professional.

States may require the involvement of a responsible design professional to ensure project-specific details are recognized, as generic approaches may not be adequate. Since sprinkler protection is based on building activities and storage criteria depend on the product, packaging, and pallet types, NFSA may find it challenging to give specific answers. NFSA doesn’t provide hazard or commodity classifications unless listed in NFPA 13, as this determination is the responsibility of the registered design professional. However, NFSA aims to always offer guidance.

2. How can ESFR sprinklers be used when there are conveyors in the building?

Answer: The key concept behind Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers is their focus on quickly controlling fires. To effectively control a fire, water must reach the source of the hazard. This is why NFPA 13, a set of rules for fire protection, has specific and strict requirements on how to install ESFR sprinklers when there are obstacles. Before the 2022 version of NFPA 13, there wasn’t much guidance on how to handle conveyors in warehouses or protect the space underneath them. This lack of clear instructions led to different interpretations and inconsistent rules from one community to another.

In the 2019 version of NFPA 13, sprinklers were mandated for any conveyor wider than 2 feet. The 2022 version added a new section ( specifically addressing conveyors when ESFR sprinklers are used. If there’s high-stacked storage under conveyors, sprinklers on the ceiling are needed. 

When there’s no high-stacked storage under conveyors:

  1. Quick-response standard spray sprinklers are allowed below conveyors without high-stacked storage.
  2. Ceiling-level sprinklers aren’t needed below conveyors with a horizontal profile that’s at least 70% open.
  3. Sprinklers aren’t required below conveyors up to 4 feet wide.
  4. Sprinklers aren’t required below roller conveyors if the space between rollers is equal to or greater than the roller width.
  5. Additional sprinklers aren’t needed below roller conveyors if the space below is free of high-stacked storage.

The 2022 version of NFPA 13 will be referred to in the 2024 editions of the International Building Code (IBC) and Fire Codes (IFC and NFPA 1), available in the fall. Until then, many communities may still follow the 2019 or older versions of NFPA 13. However, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) can approve and accept sections from newer editions using the equivalency criteria in Section 1.5.

3. An already existing restaurant (Group A-2) is putting in outdoor seating with a shade canopy next to their building. The building is fully equipped with sprinklers and is made of Type V construction. Do they need to add sprinklers to protect the new outdoor seating area?

Answer: NFPA 13 is all about preventing fires that might start under a part sticking out of a building and then spread inside through openings. In the 2022 version of NFPA 13, Section 9.2.3 has rules about putting sprinklers under these projecting parts. Sections and will help answer this specific question.

The IBC (International Building Code) also has a say in this matter. Specifically for this case, the fire area for a Group A-2 occupancy includes both the indoor space and the outdoor seating area. It’s crucial to know that building and fire codes often make exceptions or allow compromises for buildings that are fully equipped with sprinklers. However, these exceptions won’t apply if there are no sprinklers under the canopy area or if they are overlooked.

According to Section, you can skip sprinkler protection under the part sticking out if it’s made of noncombustible materials, limited-combustible materials, or fire-retardant treated wood (as defined in NFPA 703). The wood needs to have fire-resistant material impregnated during manufacturing. Painted or added later won’t meet NFPA 13 requirements.

Section says you can also skip sprinklers under a part made of combustible materials if the exposed finish material is noncombustible, limited-combustible, or fire-retardant treated wood (as defined in NFPA 703). This applies only if the exterior part either has sprinkled hidden spaces or certain unsprinkled concealed spaces. Examples include spaces filled with noncombustible insulation or light/ordinary hazard areas where noncombustible or limited-combustible ceilings are attached directly to the bottom of solid wood joists, creating enclosed joist spaces of 160 cubic feet or less. Also, concealed spaces over small exterior parts not bigger than 55 square feet can be excluded from sprinkler protection.

4. A new ‘mixed-use podium’ style building is being built in my area. It has commercial space on the first floor and apartments above it. Can we use NFPA 13R for both parts of the building?

Answer: The 2021 IBC (International Building Code) has the answer to this question. It says ‘there must be a 3-hour horizontal fire separation between the commercial space and the apartments in a mixed-use building.’

Condition #6 in Section 510.2 says the commercial space or the part of the building below this separation must have sprinkler protection according to NFPA 13 (Section 903.3.1.1). The apartments above the separation can use NFPA 13R, but not throughout both areas because IBC Section 510.2 #6 requires the space below the separation to be sprinklered according to NFPA 13.

5. Can we use hangers from other trades to support fire sprinkler pipes?

Answer: Yes! NFPA 13 allows hanging fire sprinkler pipes from hangers used by other trades. However, a licensed engineer must confirm it, following five conditions in NFPA 13 (2022 edition):

  1. Hangers must support five times the weight of the water-filled pipe, plus 250 lbs. at each support point.
  2. Support points must be strong enough for the entire piping system.
  3. Spacing between hangers should meet Chapter 17 values in NFPA 13.
  4. Components for hanging must be made of iron/steel.
  5. Detailed calculations must be submitted to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for approval.

6. In a regular room, there are pipes on racks. The total width of these pipes together is more than 4 feet. Should we see the group of pipes as one big obstacle? Or should we treat each pipe separately when deciding if there's an obstacle? Can you please explain the right way to understand this?

Answer: The NFSA often gets questions about how to follow the rules in NFPA 13 for obstacles. NFPA 13 doesn’t specifically talk about handling many small obstacles close to each other, like in this situation. Whether the 4-foot rule applies depends on whether there are openings between the pipes for water to go through. If there are enough openings, then the arrangement doesn’t have to follow the 4-foot rule. Since there’s no clear guidance (except for ESFR sprinklers), each situation like this needs to be looked at individually.

For unique setups like this, it’s suggested that the design professional work with the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to figure out the right coverage—above, below, or both. The main goal is to make sure that sprinklers are in the right positions to work well when they need to, according to Section 9.1.1 (3) in the 2022 edition of NFPA 13.

7. We're planning a sprinkler system for a new discount retail store, and there will be a specific room for storing Group A plastics. The landlord mentioned that we need to follow the code to protect these plastics if they're over 5 feet. How do we decide whether to design the sprinklers for a general retail setup (mercantile OH2) or for plastic storage over 5 feet?

Answer: NFPA 13, the fire protection code, has guidelines for situations like this in Section In 2016, it was in Chapter 13. For the 2019 and 2022 editions, the decision depends on the height of the storage. If it’s 12 feet or less, it’s considered low-piled or miscellaneous storage. If it’s more than 12 feet, it’s high piled storage.

It’s crucial to know that NFPA 13 doesn’t require meeting storage rules for items displayed for sale. The height of the stored products matters. If the stacked items go beyond 12 feet, the storage rules apply. This might be why the landlord is concerned about Group A plastics. But if the stored products stay at 12 feet or below, then the regular hazard designation is enough.

8. Is there a maximum ceiling height allowed in NFPA 13 where sprinklers can be skipped in non-storage areas? We have a project with an 80-foot-tall shell space, and we're unsure if sprinklers would work well at that height.

Answer: NFPA 13 doesn’t set a maximum ceiling height for fire sprinkler protection, allowing sprinklers to be installed up to 80 feet high. While successful tests have been done at 60 feet, it’s rare for fire sprinklers to be omitted in areas with high ceilings. Sometimes, local authorities permit this omission only if a thorough analysis shows that a potential fire wouldn’t generate enough heat to activate the sprinklers.

It’s important to note that building codes, like the IBC, often offer exceptions for fully sprinklered buildings. These exceptions might include reduced fire-resistant construction. However, if sprinklers are excluded from certain areas, the exceptions may not apply anymore, as the building is no longer considered fully sprinklered according to NFPA 13.

9. Does NFPA 13 specify any rules for sprinkler valves that can be controlled automatically and remotely?

Answer:  Before the 2019 version of NFPA 13, the use of control valves that could be operated remotely wasn’t specifically addressed. The older editions only required control valves to be listed and not close in less than 5 seconds. The 2019 edition added rules for automated control valves in Section 16.9.4, moved to 7.6.2 in the 2022 edition. These sections now state that listed automated water control valves with a reliable remote position indicator are allowed. They must also be capable of both manual and automatic operation on-site (Sections and

It’s crucial to note that currently, there are no criteria for listing automated control valves. None of the valves available are listed, so they don’t comply with Section

10. In a place labeled as a hazard, I discovered a sprinkler with an intermediate temperature range (175-200°F). Does NFPA 13 require ordinary temperature rated sprinklers in light hazard areas, or is it okay to use intermediate temperature ones?

Answer:  Absolutely Yes! You’re allowed to use intermediate temperature sprinklers, like the 200°F ones, in a light hazard space. According to Section of NFPA 13, 2022 edition, you can use ordinary temperature sprinklers, intermediate temperature sprinklers, or a combination of both throughout a building unless certain specified conditions apply. So, feel free to choose the sprinklers that suit your needs in a light hazard area.

Courtesy: Roland Asp, CET, TechNotes