A recent project triggered a number of problem areas and required we employ our creativity and deep knowledge of fire protection to succeed. The client wanted to renovate an existing facility that had been built in the early 1970s. This special case was made more ‘interesting’ by a number of factors:

  1. The addition increased the occupant load substantially and caused numerous life safety concerns for large assembly areas.
  2. The building included an atrium, necessitating additional features to mitigate smoke migration.
  3. The client needed to use the building while the addition was under construction. They also needed to use the addition while renovating the existing building during the second phase of the renovation.

We are often called on when architects and traditional mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering firms (MEP’s) need help navigating complex fire code requirements. Building renovations can have a significant impact on fire safety, and since fire safety systems might be affected, fire protection engineers should be involved early in the design process.

Meeting Fire Code Requirements When Renovating an Old Building

Since we were called to help plan and design, we documented a detailed life safety and egress analysis for each phase of construction and designed a unique, cost-effective plan to meet regulations. We then used our analysis and design specifications to demonstrate how the project met or exceeded the intent of the fire and building codes.

Building codes change over time. As a result, older structures do not typically adhere to the current “Black Letter” Code. Renovations could be cost prohibitive if you were to follow the new guidelines exactly, but you can use alternative approaches to design and meet the general intent of the code, as opposed to using narrowly defined guidelines.

Demonstrating Fire-Code Compliance with Authorities Having Jurisdiction

When a project needs to diverge from strict code requirements, you need to persuade the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) that the building meets the intent of the code. In many cases, AHJs sometimes require the opinion of experienced Fire Protection Engineers who can deal with special hazards and life safety concerns. We frequently see requests like these for various projects including military and VA projects, residential occupancies, warehouses, hospitals, high rises, hazardous material storage and manufacturing spaces and large assembly spaces, and we would be happy to help your renovation move forward.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.