Design-specifications have had a tradition and sometimes contemptuous past in the world of fire protection design.
Sometimes called “design-build spec”, “performance-specification”, “delegated design”, “deferred submittal documents”, “scope drawings”, or “design-spec”, these all mean relatively the same thing; the engineer is not providing a working submittal of how a fire suppression system should end up in the field.
Back in 2008 advocacy groups from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and National Institute for Certification of Engineering Technologies (NICET) adopted a joint position on the role of the Engineer and the Engineering Technician as they relate to fire protection systems. A summary and full-length document are here.
The position statement does a good job of identifying the relationship between engineering documents and a working shop drawing submittal. It maintains that the role of the Engineer is to support the proper protection of the public’s health and safety. A licensed Engineer is required to understand a broad sense of fire protection beyond just suppression, and also has specific state requirements for licensing and authorization.
While the position statement does a good job of identifying roles and defining the relationship between an engineer and a technician, real-world experience says that many “design-build specifications” fall short on good practice.
I’ll save my frustrations on the lack of quality engineering documents for another day (it is not a regional issue). There is a ton to explore on that topic.
I will however offer up what I like to use as a practical checklist for design-build specifications. Not all owners want to pay consultants to flush out all the details of a system. I get it. But if an owner is paying for anything at all, then the documents should address basic requirements and cost-impacting elements of design.
If a set of plans just outlines an area and says “per NFPA 13”, then someone isn’t doing it right.
This cheatsheet is a collection of the items I’m looking for when I help contractors bid jobs. It’s a shortcut to all of the items that have a design and cost-impact to a job.
If you, as a consulting engineer, address every single one of these items clearly and within code, then pat yourself on the back my friend, you are a gift.
If your documents don’t address each of these items (yes, including flow test information), consider making it a part of your regular practice. None of the items on this list are major time consumers, but by accounting for them you’ll allow better bidding from contractors and much less contention after bids are due.
Please, please: don’t loft up vague project requirements to contractors and hope for the best. Invest in being a knowledgeable and quality practitioner of this great industry. It'll more than pay itself back to you.
What are your thoughts? What type of bid documents are you used to seeing? Join the conversation and comment here.
Awhile back I researched and built a translator for various versions of NFPA 13.
It's built to quickly find where a code section has migrated between different editions of the standard. There's a free version here which connects the 2016 and the 2019 Editions of NFPA 13.
Based on feedback and the positive response to that tool, I've just finished a similar edition translator for all of the published versions of the International Building Code. It covers Chapters 1 through 11, 15 and 30. Here's a quick video of how it works:
If you're interested in giving this a try, you can get it as part of a 30-day trial for the MeyerFire Toolkit here. https://www.meyerfire.com/toolkit-trial.html.
It's been busy around here tinkering with new tools since I went on my own in October of 2019. I am not by nature a programmer, but as the son of two accountants I'm pretty sure Microsoft Excel is just in my blood.
I've gotten lots of positive feedback from users on the Toolkit and I'm happy to announce this week some major improvements aside from the new IBC translator:
1. A La Carte Tools Coming
Some users aren't designers or engineers and would only use one or two tools. I get it. In the next couple weeks I'll be breaking out individual tools and pricing them for less, separately. The first one offered this way is the Water Supply Analysis tool that will be up this week.
2. Instant Activation Codes
One of the biggest frustrations I've had on the development side is with quirky activation code servers. They drive me nuts. Over the past month I've dramatically simplified the process, so that new purchases automatically get clear activation codes exactly 2 minutes after their purchase. Clean and simple and it's working much better than before.
3. Toolkit Going to $195 in February
With over a half-dozen new tools, the price of the Toolkit is going up to $195 starting in February. If you're interested but haven't bought yet, pick up a license now and you'll lock in your $150 subscription.
4. New Licenses Are Multi-Device & Sharable with Coworkers
Lastly, based on the biggest piece of feedback I've gotten, with the $195 price-bump starting in February a single license will allow multiple installs, so that you can use on multiple devices and with members of your company.
If you have a design staff with multiple users, it only makes sense that you're able to use and share files with coworkers.
If you have a single-user license now and want to upgrade, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get the upgrade set up. Should you want to learn more about the Toolkit, you can do so here.
Hope you have a great rest of your week!
Now that I live with one hand in creating shop drawings and the other in consulting, I don't come across this question quite as often as I had. In general, people don't call unless they know they need fire protection help.
When I worked for MEP firms, I came across this question all the time. As in evaluating this on every single project.
"Does the building code require a fire sprinkler system?"
The adopted building code is the first stop in determining whether a fire sprinkler system is required or not (not standards, such as NFPA 13). In the International Building Code, this is generally Section 903.2 for fire sprinkler systems.
You'd first determine your building occupancy (from Chapter 3), then go to 903.2 to see if your facility's footprint is large enough, has enough occupants, or meets the other nuanced criteria to bring in a fire sprinkler system. I have gotten caught ignoring the special applications - in my case a windowless basement that didn't have enough openings which drove sprinkler requirements. We got sprinklers in, just later in design than I would have liked.
This cheatsheet below is a summary of the requirements among various occupancies and other drivers for fire sprinkler systems, according to the latest IBC (2018 Edition).
It is worth noting that local code adoptions, insurance requirements, or the International Fire Code can also introduce the need for fire sprinkler systems.
As you may know I'm a fan of cheatsheets, so I hope you find this helpful. If you think it'd be beneficial to also cover other IBC editions, let me know in the comments here and I can get that moving too.
Thanks & have a great week!
Oprah had an annual favorite-things list. I've always thought that would be fun to do - except I can't offer everyone a Pontiac G6.
Sorry about that. My wife says the kids need to eat.
I will however continue to make lists of my own. This one isn't necessarily a "favorite-things" but rather interesting topics and tools I plan to keep an eye on for 2020.
A Long-Awaited Computer-Based PE Exam
The Fire Protection Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam (PE Exam) will finally become computer-based in 2020. This has been discussed for many years and will bring Fire Protection in line with several other disciplines and the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE Exam).
Likely a much bigger change to the 2020 Fire Protection PE is replacement of the treasure-trove of references (over 9,000 pages) into a single exam reference guide which is being developed by SFPE. This single resource will be all that is allowed in the exam room. While the exam focus and content should be relatively consistent from past years, preparation for 2020 will be a different challenge than in years’ past.
Around here, I’ve already been contacted by numerous people seeking the publish date on both the 2020 MeyerFire PE Prep Guide and the PE Exam’s Reference Book. The 2020 MeyerFire PE Prep Guide will follow the official reference book by a month (which is rumored to debut sometime in Spring 2020). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the official reference book will be early enough to give everyone ample time (including instructors) to study and absorb it.
At least for 2020, the Fire Protection PE will only be given on a single-day (October 22, 2020). Going computer-based might someday afford year-round testing availability like the Mechanical PE Exam is starting this year. That will certainly be another interesting change when it happens.
The Fire Protection PE Exam's joining the twenty-first century with its first computer-based exam in 2020.
Viking’s New Window Sprinkler
Viking just released a new listed Specific-Application Window Sprinkler. Use of window sprinklers have long been a strenuous and often misapplied technology, but the new Viking lineup could offer additional options in this space. I'm very interested to see how the new sprinkler gets used in the market.
The brand-new window sprinkler is only the second entrant to a complex & niche application.
If you haven't checked lately, it's already in our live Sprinkler Database.
Have you seen it? I have. Nitrogen inertion is becoming more and more commonplace each year.
This year is the first I’ve seen a project specify a nitrogen-inertion system upfront with a dry-pipe sprinkler system. Finally!
As an industry I feel like we're all slowly learning and educating owners on the major cost-savings these can have, but until recently I've yet to see them specified on a project. It's good to see other consultants getting traction with owners on the topic.
Projects under the United Facilities Criteria (UFC 3-600-01) allow a hydraulic c-factor of 120 in dry systems with nitrogen included, which are now mandatory for dry systems. This is a great benefit I hope the NFPA 13 continues to consider adopting. It can be difficult enough to convey to owners the cost/benefits of avoiding corrosion in sprinkler systems with a higher upfront cost, but if we get a hydraulic kick-back for inclusion of nitrogen systems then the conversation could be made substantially easier with owners. Depending on the system size, a hydraulic benefit might help contractors to voluntarily provide nitrogen systems and save on pipe sizing throughout.
New & Better Tools for Revit
I live entirely in BIM (Building Information Modeling), so I’m always on the lookout for great Revit families, tools and workflows.
The past couple years have really ramped up the race for fire protection tools in BIM, including Victaulic’s Revit Add-In, AutoSPRINK’s RVT lineup, HydraCAD for Revit, and a few others. I’m very encouraged that there is finally interest in this space and that the developers in it seem to be doing very well.
Revit Add-In productivity-boosts have made even small projects like this home design
I completed in 2019 possible at a very reasonable time and cost.
I just started using the RVT platform in 2019 and have found major productivity boosts by doing so. If you use Revit and haven’t checked out these platforms, 2020 might be the year to check them out.
Why This Site Exists
I don't (usually) just write to entertain myself. I put together this site to help start the conversation on fire protection.
If you're relatively new around here - I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Joe. I'm no an end-all expert in the field, just a normal guy who loves being in fire protection. I worked for and learned under a couple engineering consultants before starting my own practice in 2019 where I now write, build tools and design full time.
This site is all about bringing together experts from the different corners of fire protection to discuss and share best practices. We're all about improving your workflow and your knowledge with resources and ideas - plus giving a medium for you to share your expertise to everyone's benefit.
Thank you for hangin' around and I look forward to sharing in a great 2020 with you!
This time of year is just the best.
I feel extremely fortunate to have three young kiddos at home, a supportive and all-around great family, and an extremely rewarding career in fire protection and doing what I do here at MeyerFire.com. Whether you subscribe, dabble occasionally on the forum, or just stop in to use tools here and there, THANK YOU for a really wonderful 2019.
One of the tasks of wrapping up a year is revisiting what resonated the most in 2019 of all the content here. If you just joined in this year or know someone who would benefit from this content, please consider sending a link.
I've been on a bit of a tool creation kick lately. Sorry, I just get excited sometimes.
This week I'm introducing a small portion of a much larger programming effort - this tool helps determine an adjusted fire sprinkler remote area based on the system type and density/area curves of NFPA 13. It can factor in the quick-response area reduction, sloped ceiling adjustment, double-interlock pre-action or dry increase, and high-temperature sprinkler decrease. I'll probably only have this up as a free version for a month or so before adding to it and incorporating the full tool in the Toolkit.
At the bottom of the tool you'll see a schematic remote area drawn with the parameters input. I'm using it when mocking up hydraulic calculations for estimation or when I'm first setting up a hydraulic calculation. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!
This week I'm pulling back the curtain a little bit and showing a tool that is very much still under development. It's a water-storage tank sizer that incorporates a handful of decisions that go into water storage tank sizing.
I'd like to get it in front of you this week as I'm looking for feedback on how to improve this tool. There's not a lot of great documentation on how to size water storage tanks, but there are plenty of variables that impact proper water storage tank sizing.
With that said, check out the tool here:
If you're in the water storage tank space and have tips or feedback, please email me at email@example.com or comment here. I'd be very much interested in ways to improve this one (or any tool for that matter).
On a side note, this and many other recent tools are going to be included with a major MeyerFire Toolkit update here in the next few weeks. We've been working quite a bit on improving the activation/subscription process which has been no small task. When that gets cleaned up I'll be happy to send out the major update for the Toolkit.
Hope you have a great rest of your week!
Occasionally, as part of the upfront engineering work I do, I'm asked to identify the quantity and approximate size of clean agent storage tanks. The final calculations and actual clean agent system design is to be completed by a specialist at a later time, but my role is to make sure they have room allocated specifically to them early in the design process.
As part of that effort in determining quantity and sizes of tanks, I'll estimate about how much agent the project will actually need.
For that purpose, I've built the Clean Agent Quantity Estimator. It's built on NFPA 2001 and its' own agent weight formulas for FM-200 and NOVEC-1230.
With a few parameters and assumptions you can very quickly get an estimate of the amount of clean agent your project would justify for a space. It's important to note here that these are estimates - actual agent weight will need to be fine-tuned once the pipe network has been laid out and sized.
Do you see this tool being useful for what you do? What would make it better? Feel free to comment below here with ideas or feedback.
Don't get these free tools? Subscribe here.
Thanks & have a great week!
Occasionally I come across projects where the contractor (my client) is looking to use listed anchors or attachments that are listed, but have various strengths associated with them.
NFPA 13 lists the maximum spacing for hangers, but this maximum spacing doesn't always address these alternative hanging methods. NFPA 13 addresses these by requiring that any hanger assembly be able to support five times the weight of water filled pipe, plus 250 pounds.
Based on this, I've created a calculator that reverses this process and calculates the maximum spacing for hangers depending upon the pipe size, type, and strength of a hanging element. As this is the first week out I only have I-P units (sorry international friends, I'll continue to work on this), but give it a spin here and let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Don't see the tool below? Click here.
Thanks and for those in the US have a great Thanksgiving week!
“What’s the advantage of a wet-pipe fire sprinkler system over a dry-pipe fire sprinkler system?”
If you’ve been in the industry a long time you might scoff at the question, but I’ve been asked a couple times from different non-fire protection clients.
Grab a pen real quick. Identify all the reasons why we don’t do dry systems everywhere. Seriously – see how many you come up with.
If you only said cost – you hit the big one. Dry systems are more expensive than wet. But there’s more to it than that. A lot more.
Here’s my reasoning why dry-pipe systems are more challenging than wet systems. Compare it to your list and post your thoughts below in the comment section here.
The biggest driver (as is with much in construction) for wet over dry is the cost.
Cost is impacted by
- the inclusion of a dry valve,
- air compressor (or nitrogen generator)
- potentially different pipe types
- additional labor to design and install sloped pipe
- inclusion of a remote inspector’s test
- potentially additional low-point auxiliary drains with drum drips, and
- use of dry-pendent style sprinklers in unheated areas
2. System Configuration
With wet systems, we’re able to design tree, looped, or gridded sprinkler systems. Dry systems are limited to tree or looped systems (NFPA 13 2002 184.108.40.206, 2007-16 220.127.116.11, 2019 18.104.22.168).
Gridded systems specifically can be great for bringing down branch pipe sizes by distributing the flow across mains and gridded branches. With more pathways to flow, there’s less overall friction loss from supply to sprinkler.
Looped systems can benefit from a similar premise, but looped systems don’t benefit from flow down gridded branch lines. Looped systems with long branchlines can still have larger branch pipe diameters.
Dry systems must slope to a drainable location (NFPA 13 2002 22.214.171.124.1, 2007-16 126.96.36.199.1, 2019 188.8.131.52). All dry system pipe must be sloped. For large or complex areas, these slopes can add up over time and result in big differences in pipe elevation.
I worked on a pre-engineered metal building once which was several hundred feet long. We originally planned for a dry system due to a large exposed material storage overhang at the end of the building.
The three pipe slopes that appear in NFPA 13. Non-refrigerated mains require 1/4-inch per 10 feet slope, while branches and any refrigerated locations require 1/2-inch per 10 feet slope (NFPA 13 2002 184.108.40.206.1, 2007-16 220.127.116.11.1, 2019 18.104.22.168)
The slope on the main from one end of the building to the other resulted in a difference of about 8-inches in height. Even splitting the difference and sloping to a high-point in the middle of the building was too much height difference for the building. We were trying to stay tight to structure and above wide overhead doors. The pre-engineered building had such little elevation tolerance (it was intended to house commercial trucks) that the slope on the dry mains were causing issues.
Long story short – the slope of the pipe caused enough issues that the design of the building was shortened by six feet to accommodate dry sidewall sprinkler throws and not need a dry-pipe system. Keeping the entire system wet allowed level main runs and reduced overall cost to the project. It may be the only project I ever work on where the building size was adjusted to accommodate sprinklers, but it resulted in a much more cost-effective solution.
See more about pipe slope in a prior article here.
Dry systems suffer accelerated corrosion compared to wet-pipe systems. Those who inspect or replace dry systems know that their expected lifetime can be as short as a few years to as long as about a decade.
Why do dry systems corrode faster than wet? They have more oxygen molecules introduced to the interior pipe network than wet systems do. A combination of water vapor (from originally filling the system, trapping water, or introducing moisture through air compressors) and oxygen will corrode the system.
Wet systems suffer the same, but in much smaller quantities. In wet systems oxygen is only introduced from trapped water when the system is drained and refilled, or within the fresh water to the system.
5. Pipe Types
Some specifiers differ in pipe specifications between wet and dry systems. Many do not, but some do. While galvanized pipe is no longer a standard for dry systems in the industry (and for good reason), dry systems may necessitate schedule 40 pipe to slow the progression of corrosion in the system.
Pipe wall thickness not only affects cost and time to install, but it affects hydraulics too.
Speaking of hydraulics, dry systems require a 30% increase in the remote area (NFPA 13 2002-16 22.214.171.124.1, 2019 10.2.4.2.1). The system essentially must accommodate a larger fire because a fire has the ability to be larger in size before the sprinkler system can introduce water. This 30% increase in the remote area results in significantly more water and often larger main size than a similarly designed wet system.
Additionally, NFPA 13 requires that dry-pipe systems use a Hazen Williams C-Factor of 100 in lieu of 120. While this may change in future editions of NFPA 13 when paired with nitrogen inertion (as UFC criteria has), it’s still currently only 100 (NFPA 13 2013 Table 126.96.36.199.1, 2016 188.8.131.52.1, 2019 184.108.40.206.1) for black steel. This higher friction loss can also result in larger pipe sizes.
7. Dry Pendents
Not all sprinkler types are allowed to be used in dry systems. If a pendent sprinkler is located in an area where the return bend is not kept above 40-degrees, then it must be a dry pendent (NFPA 13 2002-16 7.2.2, 2019 8.2.2).
Dry pendent sprinklers are significantly more expensive than a traditional pendent sprinkler, and introduce other manufacturer requirements (minimum shaft length, insertion into tees and not elbows).
8. Remote Inspector’s Tests & Drum Drips
Wet systems can locate inspector’s tests (included to show water flow and test the waterflow switch) just past the flow switch as a riser.
Dry systems, however, require that an inspector’s test be located at the most remote point of the system (NFPA 13 2002 220.127.116.11, 2007-13 18.104.22.168, 2016 22.214.171.124, 2019 16.14.2). This accessible valve at the most remote portion requires more pipe & coordination than a test at the riser often does.
Remote Inspector's Test (and drain shown here) come with an assortment of requirements. See a full detailing and breakout of the Inspector's Test here.
We use dry systems when we need to accommodate temperatures less than 40-degrees (F). Much of the time there isn’t a choice between a wet and dry system.
Some applications, though, could go either way. Early in design is often a great time to discuss heating options for spaces throughout a building. While the difference between 30 and 50 degree setpoints may not have major ramifications mechanically, it can have a major impact on the design of the suppression system.
What impacts have affected your projects the most? Comment below here.
If you've found this helpful, consider subscribing here and sharing with a colleague. Thanks & have a great week!
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.