Fire safety is one of the more significant concerns for owners and managers of commercial buildings. A fire in a commercial establishment could lead to serious injury or even death of employees and customers. To a lesser degree, fires could damage merchandise, destroy important records, ruin expensive equipment and electronics, and put a company out of business. Sprinkler systems are a major contribution to fire safety in offices, retail stores, warehouses, workshops, apartments and other commercial environments. The following information summarizes some important fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings and can help you understand the need for a reliable sprinkler system.
The Need for Sprinkler Systems
Fire sprinkler systems provide a critical element of safety for occupants of buildings. Sprinklers are designed to detect heat from a fire and automatically activate, providing a flow of water that is intended to slow or extinguish a fire. By the time a sprinkler system detects enough heat to activate, a fire may already be well underway. The sprinkler can provide enough early suppression to allow building occupants to safely evacuate the building before the fire spreads or gets worse. In addition, a sprinkler system can reduce the severity of a fire enough to allow firefighters easier and safer access to the affected area.
Fire Sprinkler Requirements for Commercial Buildings
One of the most widely used sets of standards covering fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings is NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. This national standard establishes the procedures and conditions for installing sprinkler systems and gives builders, owners and managers a consistent set of standards for meeting or exceeding fire safety requirements. In all cases, building managers, fire system designers and related professionals should consult with their local fire safety authority for specific guidance on designing, installing and maintaining fire sprinkler systems. A variety of local, state, or federal regulations may be in effect and must be carefully followed to meet your area’s safety requirements and building codes. Some of the more important fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings include:
Automatic fire sprinkler systems must be installed in all newly built commercial buildings with a fire area that exceeds 5,000 square feet, after any remodeling or renovation that extends the fire area beyond 5,000 square feet, or any single tenant expansion requiring a new certificate of occupancy that increases the fire area beyond 12,000 square feet. Fire sprinkler systems must be installed throughout the building and must be designed to provide the maximum amount of coverage.
Sprinkler systems must be installed in townhomes that contain more than two residential occupancy units per building.
Buildings more than 55 feet in height must have automatic sprinkler systems installed throughout the building.
Fire pumps should be installed to increase the amount of pressure in a sprinkler system when the system is fed by a non-pressurized water tank or when the municipal water system does not have sufficient pressure to provide enough water to sprinklers. Wherever possible, fire pumps should be housed in separate buildings. If pumps are located in the same building, they should be in a fire-rated room with an exterior entrance. Pump room entrances should be clearly marked to make them easier to find and access.
Water supply control valves must be accessible for easy operation. Valves located in stairways must be protected and easily accessible during a fire. Valves should be clearly identified and marked, with exterior signs showing locations of indoor valves. Valves should be marked with information indicating areas or locations covered. Self-storage facilities must have automatic sprinklers installed throughout the facility, except in one-story facilities with no indoor corridors and with a one-hour fire barrier.