Fire Sprinkler Code: Coming Attractions
The revision cycle for the upcoming edition of NFPA 13 is in full swing, and from the looks of things the new edition promises to be bigger, editorially cleaner and technologically up-to-date. It’s a work in progress. If you’d like to be clued in on the particulars, a fly-on-the-wall preview is available through the NFPA’s Report on Proposals, in meticulous detail, on what’s in store for the 2010 edition.
The ROP meetings will finish with a comment closing date (deadline for new proposals) of Aug. 29 and the appeals process closing date of April 3, 2009. Nothing is finalized until 20 days following an official decision by the NFPA Standards Council on whether to adopt and issue the new standard as amended.
Thus far, the NFPA 13 amendment proposals are chock full of revised wording and clarifications, a necessity for any code-seeking exactitude.
Some of the new nomenclature contained in the current report centers on revised text that incorporates newer listed sprinkler products as well as a deletion of sections concerning components and devices that are no longer manufactured. For example, since dry-pipe valve exhausters are a thing of the past, all regulatory references to their use will soon be nonexistent in the standard.
Numerous ProposalsAt this juncture, the Technical Committee has voted down numerous proposals, one of which concerns (2007 ed.) Sec. 188.8.131.52.1, which allows for the exclusion of sprinklers in bathrooms located in dwelling units that do not exceed 55 square feet.
A submitter wished to have this rule limited to hotels, and not applied to condominiums, dormitories, fraternity houses or apartments due to the increased fuel load present in the latter - a result of “constant occupancy.” The committee rejected this proposal as “no technical data was provided supporting this change.”
In contrast, another voice desired that sprinklers not be required to be installed in pantries, clothes closets and linen closets in apartments where the area of that space is less than 12 square feet. Here, the committee felt that sprinklers should continue to be required (Sec. 184.108.40.206), citing the potential for “additional fuel loading within these residential occupancies.”
Interestingly, Sec. 220.127.116.11.1 currently states that closets smaller than 12 square feet in new apartment buildings need not be sprinklered. Obviously, this represents a conflict within the code that has yet to be resolved.
In hotels, sprinklers may still be omitted from clothes closets not exceeding 24 square feet in floor area. Any closet containing washers, water heaters and the like must be sprinklered regardless.
A detailed, lengthy proposal was reviewed that hoped to increase system size limitations for hydraulically calculated light and ordinary hazard systems from its present 52,000 square feet up to 150,000 square feet per floor. The submitter felt strongly that the cost of additional systems within a structure outweighs the benefits provided. However, the committee commented that the existing 52,000-square-foot size limits “have a long and successful history” and are less likely to be out of service during testing, maintenance, impairment and/or system modifications than the proposed larger systems.
Of course, if code requirements having a long and successful history are held in such high regard, then why review 400 proposals for change? Certainly, 52,000 square feet is an arbitrary figure. So, if a system was installed that covered 60,000 square feet, this would not be a life-safety issue, but rather a “violation of an arbitrary figure” issue.
But I, too, am not in favor of a move that would simply substitute one arbitrary figure for another. The bottom line is that “change for the sake of change” would only serve to weaken the integrity of the code itself.
Installed ComponentsNumerous NFPA 13 proposals have been accepted thus far that concern installed system components. Sec. 18.104.22.168 has been slated to require that 1/4-inch relief valves be installed on all wet pipe systems, not just ones that are gridded, in order to protect systems from over-pressurization.
Acceptance was voted in for this proposal even though “no technical data was provided supporting this change.” Those who voted against the new rule commented that there was no need for relief valves on looped and “tree” systems provided that future testing operations were conducted properly.
Another accepted proposal will alter Sec. 22.214.171.124 to allow for the installation of 212-degree sprinklers throughout buildings, and not just those rated to (ordinary) 155 degrees. The philosophy here is that since sprinkler activation time for quick-response intermediate-temperature-rated sprinklers is very similar to that of standard-response ordinary-temperature-rated sprinklers, the code should accept that (212-degree) design option in various installations where quick-response sprinklers are implemented.
In other news, Sec. 126.96.36.199.6 will require that fire department connections be situated clear of outdoor gas meters and electrical equipment, and Sec. 188.8.131.52.1 will soon read that post-indicator valves shall be installed so that the top of the post is set at an elevation between 32 inches and 40 inches above grade.
The committee also targeted certain sprinkler system accessories for updated conformance levels. Plastic cellophane bags (Sec. 184.108.40.206.2), often seen covering sprinklers in paint spray booths, will be required to be slightly thinner, possessing a thickness of 0.002 inch or less. Sec. 220.127.116.11.3.4, requiring drum-drip assemblies on dry systems for drainage where “trapped” water exceeds 5 gallons will now include verbiage allowing for “other devices listed for this service.”
This addition allows for new condensate drain components that have come onto the market that promise to drain the dry system more efficiently without tripping the system. The newer assemblies are also considerably smaller and easier to install.
Somewhere in Sec. 8.5.4, a new paragraph will disallow the use of heat collectors to assist the activation of a sprinkler. This change comes on the heels of data showing that heat collectors will delay sprinkler activation if the fire is not directly beneath the sprinkler in question. Sec. 18.104.22.168 will require that canopies, escutcheons and cover plates used to cover the annular space around a pendent sprinkler must be metallic, or listed for such use. Incorporating this change disallows the presence of any random material or homemade contraption for use as an escutcheon.
In-rack sprinklers will soon be allowed (Sec. 22.214.171.124) to have a K-factor of 11.2. And sprinklers with K-factors of 4.2 will now be permitted (Sec. 126.96.36.199) for use in preaction systems, provided that they are supplied by galvanized piping. Smaller-orifice sprinklers expel air at a slower rate, but that is a concern only if the system is dry, and not with preaction systems.
Regarding installation criteria, a revision in the works for Sec. 188.8.131.52 will require a drain/test connection for all antifreeze systems, not just those with a volume capacity exceeding 40 gallons. Although this may seem redundant considering the long-standing mandate requiring two other test valves on these systems, the change was implemented in the interests of uniformity with NFPA 25 requirements.
A new Sec. 184.108.40.206 will read that sprinklers “be installed at the top of elevator hoistways and at the bottom of the pit where machine roomless elevators utilize polyurethane-coated steel belts.” Certain manufacturers of elevator equipment now produce these combustible coated belts, and this measure passed with some opposition. One seasoned committee member simply stated that “there is insufficient combustible material to justify sprinklers at the top and bottom of elevator shafts.” Another commented that “the committee should reconsider and reject this proposal” for sprinklers “in a noncombustible concealed space.”
Finally, an accepted proposal from a fire protection manufacturers representative translates into the fact that extended-coverage sidewall sprinklers (Sec. 8.4.3) will be permitted to be installed beneath ceilings that have a pitch steeper than 2:12, provided that they are listed for such installations.
There it is: May the code be with you. Space in this column prevents me from rattling on about the hundreds of other reviewed proposals handled by the Technical Committee. The arduous process of fine-tuning the NFPA 13 standard is something that will impact future fire sprinkler installations and, I hope, not confuse too many AHJ’s struggling with the intent of code language in an ever-expanding text.
If nothing else, I’m sure that we’re all in agreement that the NFPA 13 standard needs to read as clear as possible. Please stay tuned.