I once nearly fell asleep when taking an ACT Exam. It was an Saturday morning and the Reading portion of the exam was by far my weakest.
Trying to digest short stories on the "sleeping tendencies of bats in river caves" in the early morning after a (17-year old's) Friday night could put just almost anyone to sleep. Needless to say, I bottomed out on that test and I'm still not sure my mother has forgiven me for it.
Now? I love reading. I try to consume anything I can, especially on fire protection. That and I write in the wee early morning.
The irony of my 180-degree turnaround is not lost on me. I've written before about how knowledge is not just gleaned from education, and also about how we have to be adamant consumers of technical content if we want to lean and grow as fast as we can.
Despite my beginnings as an awful reader, I am now always looking for sources that can help deepen my understanding for fire protection. Here's three you may not know about that I'm excited to be following in 2018:
1. The Code Coach
If you haven't come across Aaron Johnson's writing and website, check out TheCodeCoach.com. Aaron is an author and freelance consultant who has written over four-hundred articles, white papers, and various pieces centering around fire service, fire protection practices, and life safety considerations.
Aaron has written several works, including his latest Fire Prevention Blueprint: Seven Disciplines for Building Effective Fire Prevention Organizations, a free guide The Consultative Approach to Fire Prevention Problems, Risk Assessment Guide for Aviation Facilities, and Sun Tzu and the Art of Fireground Leadership.
Aaron is a published author and speaker who posts regularly at TheCodeCoach.com
Aaron also is a regular speaker at industry conferences, is a member of the International Code Council, National Fire Protection Association, ARFF Working Group, and the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. See more about his work at Aaron's contributions to the industry at TheCodeCoach.com.
2. NFSA's TechNotes
There are so many gray areas to code, and even more people in fire protection that can read the same verbiage and interpret it different ways.
The National Fire Sprinkler Association offers an "Expert of the Day" service to members, where industry veterans provide informal interpretations on fire sprinkler codes and standards. This is a tremendous value for designers and AHJs both as an impartial party of experts that can help weigh in on issues.
While this service is worth the value of the membership alone, these Expert of the Day questions and answers are summarized monthly and distributed to members as TechNote email updates. I can't begin to state how much I've learned about fire sprinkler systems through these informal explanations.
3. NFPA 25 Inspector's Forum
Want to see what's happening in the field? If you're interested in a rowdy, photo-rich view of field installations and inspections, then this public Facebook group is for you.
The NFPA 25 Inspector's Forum has it all; the "here's today's repair" to "what were they thinking?," often with the vulgarity to go with it. I very much enjoy seeing the variety of opinions and issues that this group surfaces.
Daily posts from a group of over 2,000 field experts serves a range of questions, head-scratchers and funny posts.
These are the information outlets I'm currently excited about. What do you follow that you find helpful? Comment here.
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Occasionally I've been asked to look into storage quantities of flammable or combustible liquids.
This typically comes up in research and development facilities and laboratories, where the quantity of different liquid classifications becomes important.
Liquid fires present a different challenge than pyrolysis of solids as the shape of the fire can change quickly and the speed of ignition can be significantly faster than fire growth of solids.
Cabinets and sprinkler protection can contribute to increasing allowable storage quantities, but in order to do so, an evaluation must first be made to the different classifications for the liquids.
Many code and standard requirements depend on the classification of a Flammable or Combustible Liquid, such as storage locations, limits in quantity, limits in storage height, grouping, arrangement, whether control areas are necessary, and auxiliary requirements such as secondary containment and sprinkler densities.
Where projects are subject to the International Fire Code, Chapter 34 (2003-2009 Editions) or Chapter 57 (2012-2018 Editions) begin to address these limitations and impacts. Where NFPA 30 (Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code) is applied, the entire standard sets precedents for these limitations and impact.
This basic tool below is what I use to begin to assess and compile the classes and quantities for flammable and combustible liquids. Entering in only the Flash Point, Boiling Point, and quantity will identify and sum the totals that I can then use to assess against code and standard requirements.
(If you don't see this tool above, click here to view)
As I mentioned last week, I'm working towards a downloadable, printable software package where you can use all these tools on your own computer. It should help simplify and dramatically speed up using these tools. I hope to have this available by late May.
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A few weeks ago I received a call from a sprinkler contractor who needed to provide a water supply graph for a flow test he conducted.
I had a canned sheet I had developed for my own flow tests, but it was a basic graph that showed a curve and didn't match the traditional N^1.85 hydraulic graphs common for water supply curves. Since then I've tinkered and come up with an accurate chart that takes flow test input values, calculates total flow and draws the curve along the N^1.85 chart.
The N^1.85 chart is particularly useful for fire suppression systems because the Hazen-Williams formula is based on the relationship that pressure relates to flow to the 1.85th power.
Take a look at the N1.85 Water Supply Curve tool here and let me know what you think in the comment section below.
When the x-axis, or the hydraulic flow is then scaled to the 1.85th power, hydraulic curves become straight lines which becomes easier to graph and compare. Prior to everyone carrying a computer in their pocket, these graphs were likely much easier to use for summaries and comparisons.
The water supply information is what is provided as part of a two-hydrant flow test. The design input information would be the system demand side and can be used for quick comparisons.
Personally, I only use this setup for flow test reports and water supply comparisons. Fire sprinkler hydraulic calculation software takes care of the graphs and outputs I need after I've completed the hydraulic calculations.
On a side note, I've had several people ask about getting access to all of the tools I've created to use on their own computer with the ability to produce printable output for record keeping. Thanks again to those who asked - that concept is in the works and I'm hoping to bring about some version of all-inclusive software in the next couple months.
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Please don't take me to be an elitist.
I know what you’re thinking – yeah, right – this chump is from St. Louis and he’s not full of himself!?
It’s true I was raised in and have since circled back to St. Louis, Missouri. If you've heard of St. Louis it's probably because we're the most dangerous city in Missouri, or the Midwest, or the world or something. It's really not that bad if you don't have kids or go outside after sunset.
The other knock on St. Louis is that we're secretly wishing we were Chicago and, in terms of self-inflated ego, consider ourselves the last city on the East Coast.
Yeah that's also true.
While I am proud of our baseball team and beer production, please don't take me to be an elitist.
For instance, if you and I are talking fire protection and you use any of the following common wrong terms, I won't correct you. I don't even see a need to correct any of these terms, but I do find it interesting that several slightly incorrect phrases have been so pervasive in the fire protection industry.
Here’s my top list of misnomers in fire protection:
6. "Semi-Recessed" Sprinklers
I mentioned that I don't try and correct terms. The "semi-recessed" sprinkler is the reason I don't.
I had some very knowledgeable and technical counterparts in a prior role that were driven a little crazy with the term "semi-recessed".
A sprinkler can be concealed (only coverplate showing), can be fully-exposed pendent, or it can be recessed (deflector located closer to the ceiling as to show less).
If you consider a concealed sprinkler to be "fully-recessed," then I understand the logic that gets us to the "semi-recessed" designation.
However, some read "semi-recessed" a redundant term along the lines of "we want this partially exposed, but only partially." Putting the semi- is asking for partial of the partial.
5. Goose Necks
“Fire sprinkler return bend” is not as much fun as saying "goose neck," yet the two terms are synonymous for fire sprinkler systems. Of any of the odd or misappropriated terms in fire protection this one is the least offensive and is technically not even a misnomer.
That being said, three sticks of pipe and a couple elbows off a pipe outlet just doesn't scream goose to me...
The Goose Neck, also known as a fire sprinkler return bend.
4. Everything Is Awesome... and apparently is a Fire Wall
I enjoy working with architects. I do, and I'm not just saying that because my mortgage depends upon their continued blessing.
One mandatory requirement I'm convinced is part of the architect licensing is to call any rated separation a “Fire Wall.”
Fire Barrier, Fire Partitions, Smoke Barrier? Nope.
If it's not a rated wall that extends through the entire building and allows structural collapse on either side, it's probably not a Fire Wall and is more than likely a Fire Barrier. If it’s a separation wall in I-1 or some residential occupancies, tenant space separation, corridor walls, elevator lobbies, or egress balconies it may even only be a Fire Partition.
3. Spelling the "E" word
I never won a spelling bee as a child, but I'm confident enough I don't often run spellcheck.
My run as an ever-confident fire protection engineer ended when a peer review from another firm pointed out my incorrect spelling of "escutcheon". I'd like to pretend it was a one-off instance, but the misspelling was in a standard detail I had created and had been using for a couple years. Swing and a miss.
Es-cutch-eon: a flat piece of metal for protection or covering around a hole or void. And a tough one to spell.
2. Fully-Sprinkled Building
Your preschooler's dream: a fully-sprinkled building.
This one can be a little hard to spot, but did you notice there’s an “er” missing in this term?
When it happens I just imagine raining sprinkles through a building. Sounds tasty, but have you ever tried sprinkles plain? Not good.
1. Sprinkler Head
Lastly, this is the big one.
In the origins of fire sprinkler systems, a "sprinkler head" was a designation to the device that forced water distribution at the tip of the system.
Over 100 years later the fire sprinkler is still around, but the sprinkler has since adapted to the name "sprinkler" in lieu of "sprinkler head".
A sprinkler head.
Need evidence? It takes NFPA 13, the leading authority on fire sprinkler systems, 22 chapters before even mentioning the term "sprinkler head", and even then uses the term in talking about cabinet installation for nitrate film protection. Hardly a reining endorsement or common usage of the term.
In fact, Chapter 22 is the only chapter that even uses the term "sprinkler head". All other references are to the "sprinkler" or "fire sprinkler" throughout the entire standard.
What's the beef with using the term "sprinkler head"? Well, sprinklers don't have heads. They have frames and deflectors, but no heads. Besides, a whole lot of peeping “heads” throughout a building would just be creepy.
Hollywood already does our industry enough disservice, we don't need people thinking there's heads in the sprinklers, right?
Have you come across any of these? What are your pet peeves? Comment here.
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I just wanted to take a quick moment and thank you for the great response to this three day launch of the Sprinkler Database.
If you haven't checked it out already - the deal for the Sprinkler Database is here.
I look forward to continuing to create helpful tools to help you do exceptional work, and the launch of the database is one way that helps me keep those efforts going.
Have a great weekend and a Happy Easter, thank you!
If you coordinate upfront bid documents and are planning to have a dry sprinkler system on your project, you probably get the same question from electrical engineers as I do - how large will your compressor be?
It can be a difficult question to answer, considering there's multiple manufacturers and a handful of different options in choosing the right compressor for your project.
NFPA 13 requires that a dry system have an air supply capable of restoring normal air pressure for the system within 30 minutes (NFPA 13 2002-2010 Section 22.214.171.124.2, 2013-2016 126.96.36.199.2).
Fortunately, I've made a small update to the Sprinkler System Volume Calculator that indicates compressor sizes associated with your system volume. See the full tool here.
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Estimating Pipe Sizes for Sprinkler Systems
Occasionally when designing fire sprinkler systems I'm interested in approximately sizing a specific run of pipe early in a project.
That point of interest is often an underground service entry, a main for coordination, or even standpipes. Prior to doing a complete set of hydraulic calculations, running a quick calc using the Hazen-Williams formula can help give an order of magnitude pressure loss that is helpful with initial sizing.
Here's the calculator I use for these estimates. Don't see the tool below? See it here.
Example: Underground Service Main Sizing
Consider a new project with an Ordinary Hazard Group II fire sprinkler system.
What should the underground service size be?
A 4-inch fire main can be permitted under special circumstances (see NFPA 13 2002 Section 15.1.3, 2007-2010 23.1.3, 2013-2016 24.1.3). A 6-inch fire main is common. Is an 8-inch necessary? If the length of the service main is 10 feet, my answer can often be quite different than if the service main is 1,000 feet.
For this exercise I often run a quick calculation to judge the pressure loss in this single pipe as opposed to running calculations for a full system, to get order of magnitude pressure loss. Let's assume a long service main length of 750 feet.
NFPA 13 stipulates the Hazen-WIlliams formula be used for pipe friction loss calculations for systems other than antifreeze (NFPA 13 2002 Section 188.8.131.52, 2007-2010 184.108.40.206, 2013-2016 220.127.116.11).
The Hazen-WIlliams formula, while generally considered conservative, only requires the flow, friction loss coefficient (or C-Factor), and the actual internal diameter of the pipe.
Estimating Flow for a Sprinkler System
For an Ordinary Hazard Group II example, I can roughly estimate the flow for the system simply based on density and area (assuming the density/area calculation approach). A density of 0.20 gpm/sqft over the most remote 1,500 sqft begins to look like:
Approximate Flow = Density x Area x Overflow Rate + Hose Allowance
Approximate Flow = (0.20 gpm/sqft) x (1,500 sqft) x (1.3) + (250 gpm)
Approximate Flow = 640 gpm
Why include the Overflow Rate? Naturally a fire sprinkler system is not going to be perfectly balanced.
While my most remote sprinkler can be calculated at exactly 7 psi and it's k-factor that throws exactly 0.20 gpm/sqft, the feed to that sprinkler will have friction loss. Due to that loss, the adjacent sprinkler will experience a slightly higher pressure than 7 psi and thus will throw slightly more water. This process repeats where sprinklers closer to the riser will provide more than the stipulated density.
For order-of-magnitude estimates, I've found that a 30% overflow will be generally close to the final flow result.
The pipe thickness affects the actual internal diameter of the pipe, so I've included it here. I typically will use Schedule 40 pipe for sizes 2-inch and smaller (so that they may have threaded ends), but I've left the schedule type open to users as I know these preferences can vary.
The C-Factor relates to the friction-loss due to the surface of the interior of the pipe. NFPA 13 stipulates C-Factors for fire sprinkler systems depending upon the type of system and pipe material. These can be found in NFPA 13 2002 Table 18.104.22.168, 2007-2010 Table 22.214.171.124, 2013 Table 126.96.36.199.1, 2016 Table 188.8.131.52.1.
Note that important and impactful changes to the c-factors occurred in the 2013 edition for use of galvanized steel, which has been found to accelerate corrosion by focusing the corrosive action at specific weak points in pipe.
With only a few inputs (Flow, Pipe Thickness, C-Factor, and Length of Pipe) you'll now have a comparison of pressure loss across a handful of pipe sizes. Punch in 640 gpm, a Global C-factor of 140 for underground pipe, and a 750 foot pipe length to test this example.
If there is plenty of water at high pressure available to the site, perhaps a 48 psi drop on the service entry could be tolerable and a 4-inch main could be used where it meets other NFPA 13 requirements.
For the vast majority of projects I cover this loss (48 psi) would not be acceptable. The 6-inch service main shows a pressure loss of under 7 psi, and an 8-inch shows under 2 psi loss. Depending on the water to the site, either of these begin to look much more reasonable.
The Friction Loss Calculator
This tool is designed to give quick-comparisons of pressure loss for a run of pipe and compare it against other pipe sizes.
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I get this question all the time from architects - especially when working around apartment, hotel, senior and assisted living facilities.
"Are sprinklers required in the bathrooms?"
I don't mind the question at all, because it has a relatively straightforward answer - they're either allowed to be omitted or not. The path to determine whether an exemption applies is actually fairly complex which I'll explore today.
Note that this article covers requirements but also some helpful explanatory material pulled in from non-enforceable parts of codes and standards (such as the annex material).
Side Note: Big Launch Coming
This is week 2 of my 3 part series in creating resources for sprinkler designers, engineers, inspector's, and contractors. Stay tuned for the big product launch coming in the next few weeks. Now back to the article -
Why Allow the Omission of Sprinklers in Small Bathrooms?
Typically, since bathrooms require regular cleaning and are subject to variable humidity, surfaces can often be ceramic or non-porous. These easily washable surfaces tend to also be less combustible than other building materials.
In studies of apartment fires where sprinklers were present, for instance, bathrooms were the area of fire origin in only 1% of total fires and resulted in no civilian deaths, civilian injuries or property loss (NFPA 101 Annex Material in A.184.108.40.206 & A.220.127.116.11).
From a risk perspective, small bathrooms present a relatively low risk for fire origin and growth as compared to other areas of a building.
Also, bathrooms in buildings with dwelling units also can comprise a major potential additional cost when they are repeated within each unit. Omitting sprinklers can offer a huge cost savings to these type projects.
For some residential occupancies, there can be significant cost savings to omitting sprinklers in small bathrooms throughout a building. Due to relatively lower risk of ignition, building codes and standards permit omissions for specific applications.
Building Codes Overrule NFPA 13
Starting with the 1997 edition of NFPA 101, language was introduced into the code to override the requirements in NFPA 13 and NFPA 13R. NFPA 101 only overrides NFPA 13 for specific occupancies, which are outlined below.
The International Building Code also introduced provisions for omitting sprinklers in restrooms, beginning with the 2015 International Building Code. These sections are also reflected in the companion International Fire Codes.
If Small Bathrooms Omit Sprinklers, Is the Building Still Fully Sprinklered?
Yes; where NFPA 13 omits sprinklers the building is still sprinklered in accordance with NFPA 13 and is typically considered fully sprinklered.
Where omissions are allowed by NFPA 101, the building is also still typically considered to be protected throughout (reference NFPA 101-2015 A.18.104.22.168 or NFPA 101-2018 A.22.214.171.124, for instance).
Are Bathtub or Shower Enclosures included in the 55 sqft limitation?
Yes; they are typically considered part of the room as NFPA 13R-2002 introductory material clarifies.
If There’s Just a Toilet, is it Still a Bathroom?
Yes; annex material of NFPA 13 (2002 A.3.3.3, 2007-2018 A.3.3.2) clarifies that a toilet rooms is still considered a bathroom.
Also, two adjacent bathrooms are still considered separate rooms provided that they’re enclosed with the required level of construction.
If There’s No Door, is it a Bathroom?
Weird. This must be some kind of a HGTV renovation for hippy-people if you don’t have a door for some bathroom privacy. Oh and yes, a door is not required in order to omit sprinklers as long as the bathroom complies with the definition of a compartment (NFPA 13 2010-2016 A.126.96.36.199.1).
The Quick-Guide to Determine Permitted Bathroom Sprinkler Omissions:
Have trouble viewing? See the flow chart here.
MeyerFire.com is all about creating helpful articles, tools, and calculators for fire protection designers, engineers, review authorities, inspectors, and contractors. Don't receive these weekly resources already? Get them free here.
Last Week's Survey Results
Last week I sent a survey asking for "challenges associated with sprinkler identification and design selection."
I really appreciate the input provided, there was really helpful and great feedback: common challenges people noted in the survey included sprinkler market availability, listing and approvals, field identification, adherence with product data, price, storage limitations, pressure requirements, and spacing requirements.
Anticipation for the Big Launch
I am very excited to say that I've been developing a live resource over the past couple years to address almost exactly those challenges. Stay tuned, as more details will be available about the launch in a few weeks.
In the meantime, I'm also excited that the blog posts over next three weeks (starting with today) will feature tools designed to help streamline and speed workflow for inspectors, designers and engineers.
Part I of III: The Cloud Ceiling Calculator
This first week covers the relatively new allowances for cloud ceilings.
"Cloud" Ceilings where directly addressed in NFPA 13 beginning with the 2016 Edition
Cloud Ceilings include any ceiling installed in the same plane with horizontal openings to the structure above on all sides (NFPA 13-2016 188.8.131.52). The "cloud" is simply in reference to the appearance that the ceiling "floats".
The new provisions in NFPA 13-2016 allows sprinklers to be omitted above cloud ceilings where the gap between clouds (or clouds and walls) meets a maximum allowable dimension based on the floor-to-cloud ceiling height.
Backed by Research
What I love about this new verbiage is not just that the NFPA 13 committee addressed a specific topic that many had asked about for some time, but that the development of the rules for this section are based on a commissioned project by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.
So what is the guidance based on the research findings? Spaces above cloud ceilings do not require sprinklers where the openings have a combined total area of not more than 20 percent of the ceiling, construction feature, or plane used to determine the boundaries of the concealed space and the cloud ceiling arrangement meets Section 184.108.40.206 (NFPA 13-2016 220.127.116.11.1.3).
I've already mentioned that the opening between all cloud ceilings can't be more than 20% of the total room area, but there's a few others that also apply:
Ceiling Spacing Calculator
If these limitations can be met, sprinklers may be omitted above where the spacing below the ceiling complies with Table 18.104.22.168. The table addresses the maximum protection area based upon the research, and is a little less than intuitive.
Here's a quick calculator that takes your parameters and gathers the appropriate maximum sprinkler protection area (click the link to see the full tool, with a schematic section of the ceiling arrangement):
Enter your project parameters in the red highlighted cells to test your situation. Give it tool a try and let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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