NFSA concentrates on NFPA 13, NFPA 13R, NFPA 20, NFPA 25, and other fire prevention standards. Every year, it also responds to dozens of inquiries on model codes, including those provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and International Code Council (ICC), as noted below. Contractors and designers who are unfamiliar with model codes and how they apply to sprinkler work might find Jeffrey M. Hugo’s Codes for Layout Techs article in the edition of NFSM to be helpful.
- IBC, or International Building Code
- IFC, or International Fire Code
- IEBC, the International Existing Building Code
- IRC, or International Residential Code
- the Fire Code, NFPA 1
- the Life Safety Code, NFPA 101
- Building Construction and Safety Code, NFPA 5000
Questions on Codes
Since the NFSA is focused on water-based fire prevention, enquiries about accepted or model codes from NFSA members are usually about fire sprinklers. The queries frequently pertain to the standard that is cited, for example, the 2018 NFPA 1 Fire Code refers to the 2016 version of NFPA 13. Concerning a contractor’s interpretation of a code, local code officials or authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) may have questions. When an AHJ cites a code or standard violation, contractors also have questions. Regardless of who asked the question, the following are the most often asked questions about the procedure for model codes:
The disparities between the IBC and NFPA 409’s fire sprinkler and foam systems are frequently brought up when discussing airplane hangars. Section 412.3.6 of the International Building Code (IBC) relates to NFPA 409 for the fire prevention system beginning with the Southern Building Code of 1991 and continuing through the present version. However, where the fixed based operator (FBO) maintains separate facilities on the property, the IBC exempts the NFPA 409 foam requirement for Group II hangars. Fire sprinklers and foam systems are used in conjunction to safeguard Group II hangars according to NFPA 409. The present IBC exemption permits the removal of the foam system without requiring an additional NFPA 409 protective channel. Based on this exception, IBC users are not allowed to utilise fire sprinkler systems with a density of 0.17 gpm over 5,000 square feet under Section 7.2.5 of the 2016 version of NFPA 409. However, this density is used with a foam system. Regardless of the availability of an FBO maintenance facility, NFPA 409 still mandates foam for Class II hangars, and the IBC offers no direction on what the design density should be.
NFSA changed its policy The IBC General Committee received a proposal for this issue for the 2024 IBC. A minimum sprinkler density was to be applied as part of the adjustment to make up for the lack of foam protection. The IBC committee proposed that NFPA 409 establish protective standards in place of the alteration, which it did not endorse.
Occupancy, Use, Group, Hazard, and Commodity Classification
Model codes categorize buildings according to their occupancy, use, and group, however NFPA 13 categorizes space as a hazard and storage as a good. It might be challenging to discuss changes in occupancy, usage, and group in model codes. The new and existing occupancy chapters in NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 clarify and make it easy to establish new and existing building standards, while the bulk of the US employs the IBC, which refers to the IEBC and IFC for implementing new systems in existing buildings. See the article Change of Use-What Does It Mean? in the March/April 2021 issue of NFSM for further information on this topic. from Jeffrey M. Hugo. When an EOD comes across a model code and these themes, it frequently seeks to explain the requirements of the code with regard to the following:
- The utilization of construction papers and the need for permits for new and old sprinkler systems in both new and old structures.
- To group together certain structures and their sprinkler needs.
- Implementation of codes in structures with heterogeneous standards and uses.
- IFC and NFPA 1 storage protection and NFPA 13 are related.
- Sprinklers are activated by a change in occupancy, usage, or group inside an existing structure.
In each model code cycle, NFSA aggressively pursues these objectives as a top priority. The NFSA has lately supported several revisions to the model codes, some of which include the following:
- The NFSA dropped the sprinkler barrier for educational buildings from 20,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet in the 2015 version of the IBC.
- The high-piled storage specifications in Chapter 32 of the 2018 edition of the IFC were connected to NFPA 13.
- The IEBC’s 2021 revision lowers the bar for installing sprinklers in older structures.
The IEBC, IFC, NFPA 1, and NFPA 101 are examples of model codes that address existing structures. EOD queries on this topic frequently address modifications to an existing structure or method, as mentioned above. However, a sizable portion of the queries concern adapting already-built structures. Nightclubs have to be updated with fire sprinklers in accordance with the 2006 NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 as a result of the Station nightclub fire. It took the IFC until 2018 to mandate sprinkler retrofitting in pubs, eateries, and nightclubs. The differences and interpretations between the NFPA nightclub and IFC A-2 designations are frequently discussed in EOD questions.
While NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 have long required high-rise structures to be retrofitted, the IFC did not catch up until 2021 with identical requirements to convert all high-rises exceeding 120 feet (75 feet in some circumstances) with fire sprinklers. EOD queries frequently touch on standpipes, redundant water supplies, and sprinkler systems, from partial to full. Every model code cycle consistently implements the NFSA action to modify these elements. The NFSA was ultimately responsible for persuading the ICC membership to acknowledge the significance of sprinkler retrofitting for high-rise and assembly buildings. The NFSA has made many amendments to the IEBC, a model construction code for existing structures, that favor sprinkler installation. Here is an earlier article that clarifies the IEBC for users of fire sprinklers.
The World Trade Centre (WTC) and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001, led to modifications in codes and standards across various versions. For high-rises taller than 420 feet, redundant water supply and system provisions were incorporated in the IBC’s 2009 version. The disruption of the water supply to the structure and its systems was one of the main causes of the WTC disasters. Several EODs offered informal interpretations for the implementation of the redundancy aim since the 2009 IBC revisions are not clear. The soon-to-be-published 2024 version of the IBC has undergone significant adjustments as a consequence of nFSA action based on many EODs written on the 2009 – 2021 IBC editions. These modifications affected NFPA 13, NFPA 14, NFPA 20, and the IBC in order to better align language, nomenclature, and applicability to these extremely tall (above 420 ft) structures.
IBC Sprinkler Thresholds
Certain structures, including residential (multi-family), institutional (hospital, nursing), and high-hazard occupancies, are required to include fire sprinklers. The remaining occupations have fire sprinkler thresholds depending on the building’s or area’s square footage, including assembly, business, manufacturing, mercantile, and storage. This indicates that buildings of various classes may still be constructed without sprinklers. The proper application of the code to get out of a fire sprinkler system is frequently questioned by AHJs or contractors through EOD. An example of this would be an architect. Even for seasoned design experts, navigating the regulations can be challenging. As a result, the EOD programme may become a meeting point for many stakeholders to gather and discuss the problem.
The 2003 IBC multifamily residential and the 2009 IRC for single-, two-, and townhouse requirements in the IRC are two examples of obligatory sprinkler requirements that were made possible by NFSA action on fire sprinkler thresholds. Additionally, the NFSA was able to have new educational occupancy completely sprinklered in the 2018 NFPA 101 while reducing educational occupancy from 20,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet in the 2015 IBC. Sprinklers were also needed in the majority of new open parking garages by the 2021 IBC, 2024 NFPA 1, NFPA 101, and NFPA 5000.
Parking is frequently located below, below, or next to another occupant in mixed-use buildings. Construction of a platform or pedestal, fire walls, or fire barriers are all possible separation methods. The isolation of the parking garage from the nearby occupancies, system type, and standpipe applications are the most frequent concerns raised by NFSA members. For parking garage contractors and designers, NFSA intervention has resulted in a number of adjustments. The NFSA and supporters eliminated the exemption for open parking garages in the 2021 IBC and set a threshold at which sprinklers are necessary when the open parking fire area exceeds 48,000 square feet. The majority of new open parking garages will also need sprinklers by 2024, according the NFPA 1, NFPA 101, and NFPA 5000. It is important to note that the Engineering and Standards (E&S) Committee of the NFSA, which oversees standards, made substantial revisions to the 2022 edition of NFPA 13, changing the classification of parking garage hazards from Ordinary Group I to Ordinary Group II.
The EOD programme frequently discusses stairwells. Stairwells are also known as escape enclosures, and when they don’t go straight outside, the horizontal link to the outside is referred to as an exit passageway. The problem of piercing the enclosure/passageway wall/ceilings is a topic that comes up frequently in EOD queries about escape enclosures and exit passageways. The IBC allows the combined or independent standpipe and fire sprinkler riser in the enclosure/passageway to service the floor(s), but it forbids the cross main or branchlines from re-entering the enclosure/passageway as a short cut to access the other side. The location of sprinkler risers and standpipes on landings, whether together or separately, is another typical problem with EOD. The vertical pipe and associated hose connection’s ability to encroach into the circulation path is prohibited by the laws, including those that apply to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These EODs respond that if the vertical pipe (standpipe/riser) is outside this minimum width arc, the placement is often compliant. The minimum stair width, which is commonly 44 inches, arcs around landings.
Water supply-related EOD inquiries from members are generally about fire flow and fire sprinkler settings. Where the building(s) serviced are completely sprinklered, both the IFC and NFPA 1 give decreases in fire flow. Some inquiries also concern the larger neighborhood and continuing risk-reduction strategies, such as in areas where a wildland urban interface code (WUI) is in place. Questions about water supplies also include the IBC/IFC water supply flow tests, backup water supplies for structures in seismic design zones (C, D, E, and F), and redundant water supplies for extremely tall structures.
COURTESY: Jeffrey M. Hugo, CBO, Vice President of Codes, Standards, and Public Fire Protection, wrote this issue of TechNotes.