Proper sprinkler system design takes a depth of knowledge gained through years of collective experience. An experienced fire protection engineer can assess a building owner’s current and future fire protection needs and will specify the right fire sprinkler system. The final selection of a system will determine, both in the long term and short, how a building may be used or occupied.

Three years ago, we were brought in during the later stages of a project to upgrade the heating and cooling systems.  Unfortunately, the heating and cooling system project was done with no consideration to the future sprinkler upgrades and as a result, we ended up with a much more obtrusive system than we could have if some better planning had been done on the previous project.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of variations of code approved fire sprinkler protection schemes. Fire protection engineers have to specify a fire sprinkler system that takes into consideration:

  • Occupancy and hazard classification
  • Possible storage configurations
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Environmental and site conditions
  • Risk tolerance
  • Project budget
  • …and much more

While there may be only a couple right ways to design a sprinkler system, there are thousands of wrong ways.

Kenneth Isman, the vice president of engineering for the National Fire Sprinkler Assn, wrote this summary in Specifying Fire Sprinkler Systems for Consulting – Specifying Engineer Magazine :

The specifying engineer is required to be competent and knowledgeable in the design of fire sprinkler systems. Without addressing the questions asked, a sprinkler contractor cannot provide an adequate fire sprinkler system that will allow the building owner appropriate use of the building.

The specifying engineer can best serve his or her client by addressing issues related to codes and standards, design objectives/intent, hazard classifications, commodity classifications, materials, water supplies, and unsprinklered spaces. The specifying engineer should consider aspects of planning a sprinkler system that require engineering judgment to be applied.

If specifications provide the appropriate information, the sprinkler contractor will have a much easier time installing a sprinkler system that allows the building owner to use the building in the intended manner. By correctly representing the needs of the owner, the specifying engineer can add value to the process of getting a sprinkler system installed in a building and can save clients a significant amount of money during the life of the building.

For a recent project on a historical building, we were advised that a future heating and A/C system project was going to happen. Accordingly, we configured the piping in the sleeping rooms so that there would be space available for future fan coil units without having to re-work the sprinkler piping. We also brought an architect onto our team specifically to deal with interior finish issues and help us make the appropriate selection of sprinklers for their ornate parlors.

The fire protection engineers at Harrington Group take pride in listening to our clients and asking questions to gain a thorough understanding of their needs. Whether it be a state-of-the-art mission critical information technology data center, telecommunications or broadcast facility, complex manufacturing or high hazard industrial facility, or storage and distribution facility, we have the knowledge and experience to help answer complex fire protection questions and specify not only the most effective, but also the most cost-effective system(s) for the job.

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