Fire Sprinkler Design and Building Code: What You Need to Know
The most effective fire prevention technique is the one that is the most tailor-made for the facility. A system that works for a 4,500 sq. ft. software company, for example, would look very different from the one designed for a 250,000 sq. ft. e-commerce warehouse. More and more companies are reimagining their physical space; major players in the tech industry are looking at older industrial buildings as a creative office alternative, and many business are consolidating diverse operations under one roof to save money.
With all of these moving pieces, it’s essential to have fire safety measures that match both the building itself and what’s inside it. Even regulations vary; codes are often being updated and fire inspectors may not always be consistent in their findings. To be safe, it’s always best to consult with a professional. But in the meantime, here are some major points to keep in mind:
Owners are ultimately responsible for fire preparedness.
Standards and their enforcers might change, but this is always true. The property owner is the responsible party when it comes to ensuring that a building is up to code. As an owner, your best bet is to be vigilant; an investment in preventative measures is often better than a large expense down the line.
Sprinklers work, and they work well.
According to the NFPA, sprinklers were deployed in 91% of fires large enough to trigger them. In 96% of those cases, they were deemed effective. And, when they didn’t work, it was most often due to human error rather than something inherently wrong with the system. In 64% of the cases when the sprinkler system did not go off, it had been manually shut down prior to the incident. (Source: NFPA)
The best systems match the buildings they protect.
In the same study, the NFPA noted that 5% of incidents of ineffective sprinklers were due to the simple fact that it was not the appropriate system for the type of structure. Each type of commercial property is made up of varying elements that can affect fire safety. Size, floor plan, occupancy, and housed materials are all critical factors to examine when considering a sprinkler system. A fire protection engineer can shed additional light on your specific requirements.
Codes and regulations are not all created equal.
Specific fire codes are largely left up to local jurisdictions. There are commonalities, of course, but the adopted legislation varies from state to state. California and Maryland are the first two states to require sprinkler systems in some newly constructed one-and two-family residences. We’ll discuss that more in detail in the next post.
The best preparation is research. Read up on local laws and recommendations, and use that as a baseline to determine what works best for you.
And as always, we are here to help. In the next posts of this series, we’ll discuss the progression of residential sprinkler policy and cover some of the debate among sprinkler advocates and critics.