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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 22.214.171.124, 2007-16 126.96.36.199, 2019 188.8.131.52).
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 184.108.40.206.1, 2007-16 220.127.116.11.1, 2019 18.104.22.168). 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 22.214.171.124.1, 2007-16 126.96.36.199.1, 2019 188.8.131.52)
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 2002-16 184.108.40.206.1, 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 220.127.116.11.1, 2016 18.104.22.168.1, 2019 22.214.171.124.1) 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 126.96.36.199, 2007-13 188.8.131.52, 2016 184.108.40.206, 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!
In my regular code calls I used to include a specific question on the use of clean agent systems in server rooms.
Building Owners & Sprinklers
Many building owners provide clean agent systems to extinguish fires in high-value content areas, such as server rooms, data centers, archival storage, and many other applications.
When the owners voluntarily pony-up for extra protection in these areas, they often ask whether sprinklers have to be installed in those spaces at all.
My Code Call Question
On my code calls, my question would go something like: “does your jurisdiction require sprinklers to be installed in rooms which are protected by a clean agent system?”
I would get a mixed response. Some jurisdictions considered clean agent systems to be an equivalent for sprinkler protection, others would not.
A couple years after asking this question on every applicable project I had a fire marshal shoot me straight.
“If you don’t have sprinklers in the room, you don’t have a fully-sprinklered building. Check the IBC.”
This was news to me. I was under the impression that use of clean agent systems could be used as a substitute for fire sprinklers and still be effectively “fully-sprinklered”.
Back to the Book
There is a path for this approach – the International Building Code (2018) Section 904.2 states that:
“Automatic fire-extinguishing systems (ie: clean agent) installed as an alternative to the required automatic sprinkler systems of Section 903 shall be approved by the fire code official.”
This was the foundation on which I had been asking the question.
The big kicker was the code section just a paragraph later:
“904.2.1 Restriction on using automatic sprinkler system exceptions or reductions. Automatic fire-extinguishing systems shall not be considered alternatives for the purposes of exceptions or reductions allowed for automatic sprinkler systems or by other requirements of this code.”
Outside of the lawyer-phrasing, this section simply states “no sprinklers in the room – no sprinkler reductions or exceptions for your building.”
The commentary by the International Code Council goes further, stating that while the authority has the ability to approve alternative systems in lieu of sprinklers, doing so invalidates the “fully-sprinklered” status of a building.
Why Does this Matter?
Why is this important? There is a long list of code kickbacks that sprinklers offer a building.
A couple months ago I diagramed a cheatsheet for all of the major code benefits a “fully-sprinklered” NFPA 13 fire sprinkler system offers. You can download it free here.
Code benefits include allowable building heights, building areas, number of stories, egress benefits, passive rating reductions, Draftstopping reductions, fire alarm reductions, and a handful of other benefits.
I realized after that code call that the question affected well more than just my isolated “fire sprinkler” silo. Omitting sprinklers in just one server room would have code implications throughout the complex.
Now, should building owners ask about omitting in these rooms we often look at other strategies – such as concealed sidewall sprinklers, use of dry sprinklers, drip pans, use of pre-action systems, or piping without joints and heavy-duty cages. Some of these solutions can be painless, without great cost and satisfy code as well.
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I was asked recently for a specific project how much flow the owner should anticipate coming from a building's main drain.
There's just a few factors that play into exactly how much water to expect. Is the drain serving as the main drain for a system? Is it only serving an inspector's test? Is the drain off a 1-inch pipe, or 2-inch? How much pressure is on the system?
These aren't often difficult to answer if you're familiar with the job, but each of these answers plays a role in determining how much water will come out of an open orifice.
This week I've simplified a few of these parameters to come up with a quick inspector's test and drain calculator for fire sprinkler systems.
With it, you can estimate the amount of flow that will come from an inspector's test (use the k-factor option) or from a drain (diameter option). For our international audience I have incorporated real units from the get-go this time. It's a free tool that's now live on the site, here.
Give it a spin and let me know what you think in the comments here.
Know others that might find this helpful? Send them a link or tell them to subscribe here.
Thanks & have a great week!
Over a year ago I released a Thrust Block Calculator online.
It that takes a small handful of inputs and offers sizing and dimensions according to NFPA 13. The tool has been a reasonable hit except for one repeated request from the field – the thrust block weight. Until now designers and engineers using the tool still had to convert the minimum required volume into the minimum weight based on the density of the concrete. Hand calc no longer!
Special thanks to Sinisa who offered the reminder after I asked for pet peeves or upgrade requests in last week’s post.
If you’ve never used the tool and would like to check it out, here’s the link to it. It's free and available now.
Last item for this week - I'm circling back to a call for water storage tank experts. If you're experienced in this space and would like to review a new tool I'm working on, please shoot me an email at email@example.com. Would be happy to set up beta testing.
Thanks and I hope you have a great rest of your week!
If you know someone taking the PE Exam this week, it's time to give them a hug. Maybe not an actual hug; don't be a creeper, but maybe a kind supportive attaboy wouldn't be a bad idea.
Final Call for the PE Exam
This Friday is the day for the 2019 Fire Protection PE Exam... the same exam that at least two hundred fire protection professionals have been honing in on the past few months.
This year marks the last year of the written examination. Major changes are on the horizon for the Fire Protection PE in 2020, including question style, references, and going to a computer-based environment. The biggest change may be that no longer will any resource be allowed in the exam room. There'll be plenty to cover on the 2020 exam later on.
Perhaps because of the big looming changes, we've seen a major uptick around here in the interest in the Fire Protection PE Exam. I would guess that this year will set the record for the number of examinees. That's a great thing. I'm thrilled that the fire protection industry as a whole is growing, and I hear almost weekly about how rare Fire Protection Engineers are in our industry.
What is the PE Exam?
For those who don't know, the PE Exam is the Principles and Practice of Engineering examination which is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The exam is the major milestone to getting a license to practice as a Professional Engineer in the United States. In order to take the PE Exam, examinees must typically first complete a four-year ABET accredited engineering program and a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam as well as accruing four years of experience working with a licensed engineer. Of course the requirements vary by state but that is the most common requirement.
Last Minute Exam Advice
If you have a copy of the Prep Guide you already know there's quite a bit of detail on exam advice passed down through the years included in the book.
Regardless of how many hours you've spent studying (whether two or two hundred), there will always be topics that are over-emphasized, poorly worded questions, and niche questions that seem to have no basis in any reference materials. Keep calm and exam on! Skip and come back to questions later. Some of these questions are just on trial for future exams and others will get disputed and thrown out. All you can do is your best. Don't worry about surprises you can't control but focus on what you know and give it your best effort. Best of luck, you've got this!
Updates for 2020 PE Exam
If you have sent in information on the 2019 Edition for suggestions or potential updates, thank you! With all that's happened around here this summer I haven't been as responsive to PE Exam emails as I've tried to be in the past. Please know that I go through all of these and make updates for future examinees, and I greatly appreciate your time in sending suggestions in.
New Feature on Quick-Response Remote Area Reduction
I've had a pet peeve about one of my own tools. Awhile back I created a calculator that will determine the allowable reduction in the hydraulically remote area based on the use of quick response sprinklers. It's a quick-hitter and one I use often.
Each time I use it, though, I still end up using the reduced area and punching in 1.2 times the square root of the new area in order to lay out my hydraulically remote area.
Being that I'm all about convenience (ie: laziness) and efficiency, I've now added that basic calculation in the tool as well. You can see the new feature here.
If you have similar nuances on how these tools can be improved, let me know! I'm always happy to entertain new ideas. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week!
Some big news on the MeyerFire front –
With the growth of the community here at meyerfire.com, I’ll be transitioning next week to support this venture full-time and begin my own design practice.
This is a very big and exciting step for me, and I cannot express how thankful I am to have you be a part of the community here. It is because of your support and interest that’s made this possible.
This week’s quick post is a collection of Q&As that I’ve gotten recently that I’m happy to share.
What’s different now?
Two big developments have come through in the last couple months.
You may have noticed the website sponsorships that started in September. There is a good handful of interested organizations that serve the same audience and want to support our efforts at MeyerFire. Sharing their message has helped open up time I can contribute to site resources. I'd encourage you to click sponsor's messages as I both vet and have personal connections with each sponsor organization.
The second big development is still in the works. It involves a major publication with a renowned fire sprinkler organization. I’ll be sure to relay information in time, but for now I’m excited to partner with an expert group and help bring more resources to the industry. This should be a complete volume by the middle of next year.
Will the website change?
Since July I’ve spent about 8 hours a week on the site. That includes developing content, writing for the blog, developing tools, helping Toolkit users, and supporting PE Examinees. This shift to full-time independence will open the potential to increase support for all these things. My hope is that you’ll continue to get better content and more useful tools with every new post.
So this whole website thing is a lead-magnet for your design practice?
Nope. MeyerFire.com will stay and keep the name and continue on where it is.
I’ll continue to design because it’s what I love to do and it keeps me firmly entrenched in the industry’s hot issues. While it will launch this upcoming Monday the 21st, the new website for the design side of things will be www.MeyerFPE.com. My intent is to focus in on only a few specific small-business clients and support them extremely well. It’s also not my intent to hire any employees (see last week’s I’m terrible at management article). Of course business is fluid and change is constant, but that’s my initial intent.
So How Much You Makin’ Off This-Here Website?
When I started writing regularly about two years ago, I had about twenty subscribers. I would guess half of them had my last name. If I looked I would have bet three of them were just different emails my mom used.
Since then (due to your support and sharing posts on LinkedIn & Facebook), the number of subscribers has grown dramatically. Those first few months in 2017 I was over the moon when three new people subscribed on the month. Now, somedays, there will be a dozen or so new interested professionals each day. It’s never about how many people tune in but about the impact of sharing best practices. The growth is well on the up and up and the distribution now approaches that of some of the leading fire protection organizations. You’ve made that possible and I can’t thank you enough for it.
So money - the three revenue sources, if you will, are website sponsorships, PE Exam Prep content, and the Toolkit software package. The site sponsorships have just kicked off in September and have lots of interest. The PE Prep Guide is now technically the bestselling Fire Protection PE Exam book on the market, and there are now over 200 active MeyerFire Toolkit users.
All of this combined still doesn’t make up a full-time income, but the impact that the combined effort is having has been incredibly positive. Not pursuing these in greater capacity would be something I’d otherwise live to regret.
A Few Notes
The transition to full time developer is a big step and a big transition for me and my family. It’s not without a lot of thought, nervousness, and a lot of excitement. Of course this is all really the beginning, but there are several people I’d like to thank just making it to this point.
I’d like to thank the incredible team at SSC Engineering in St. Louis. They have a supportive and sharp group and I am so fortunate to have learned under the best these past few years. If you’re ever in the market for MEP, FP, or Structural design services, I would recommend the crew wholeheartedly.
I’d like to thank some bigtime supporters and mentors for me. Far too many people to name, but those that have really stood out over the years are Mike Auld, Drew Robinson, Adam Hilton, Cindy Gier, Jeff Dunkel, Chris Cornett, Angie Grant, David Stacy, Aaron Johnson, Ed Long, and Mike Lonigro. You all rock.
I'd also like to thank YOU for being a part of this community and being an advocate for better fire protection. I’m excited about what we’re going to build together.
Earlier this summer at a conference I met up with my first supervisor out of college.
I say supervisor because he hated the term “boss” and worked hard to be a good leader.
He was super-sharp, very driven, and very focused on his long-term goals. I admire all those things about him. Sidenote: he doesn’t know this blog exists, so don’t spill the beans : )
He gave me advice when I was a few years in that I still am extremely thankful he offered.
He told me to not leave design too early.
There’s a natural career path for talented professionals that points to management. It can happen quickly and naturally. If we're not careful, the jump can go right into a role where we are no longer growing our technical depth.
A great entry-level designer is one that is eager to learn and mature.
In time, that designer will work more complex projects, collect some credentials, and serve clients & managers well.
A promotion (informal or formal) can lead to more interaction with customers and project management.
The shift happens slowly, but it's real. It can be easy to get caught up in proposals, mentoring, estimating, business development, managing people, or in a myriad of other tasks.
This is not a bad way to go. It's just not in design.
Great designers can become great project managers and great leaders of companies. The world needs great leaders.
The point my supervisor made was that if I’m not careful, the “blessing” of getting into management early in my career could lead to a shallow technical foundation.
Our value as designers and engineers is based on our ability to serve others with quality, timely help. Once someone shifts from a technical-first role and into a management-first role that technical depth is hard to maintain.
It was timely and important advice.
For some time I debated pursuing an MBA degree. I chose graduate study in fire protection engineering instead. What I began to recognize was that there is a tremendous and unique value to having a technical skillset.
I switched to a new company in 2016 and since then have dabbled in mid-level management. My role has been to grow a small team in fire protection by mentoring and teaching what I know.
I learned that I am terrible at it.
All through high school and college, it seemed that every target was pointed towards the C-Suite. Leadership organizations in particular placed the prized goal as “executive” status with a company.
I think my parents and their generation sees the “executive” concept as having the most glory. I found management to be closer to a mix of babysitting and life coaching than the glamour of Don Draper in Mad Men.
Leadership involves a lot of things that don’t come naturally to me.
I don’t particularly like rules or accepting past practices at face value. I tend to enjoy operating independently and challenging standards. I really don’t like standards. To clarify - I don't mean NFPA 13 or building codes. I love those little guys. I mean company standards. I tend to not give directions well and I’m also terrible at taking the time I should to help champion others.
These things don’t lend to great management.
What I also learned was that every hour spent managing, proposal writing, or sitting in meetings was an hour I didn’t spend learning.
After some time I made a choice.
I chose to be deliberate about staying in design.
I want to be in the weeds. I want to come across questions that stump me. I want to ask questions. I want to model systems and stocklist and do seismic calculations. I enjoy those things.
The unique value we have as fire protection designers & engineers is the technical understanding we have. We understand systems that help save lives. There’s a real and unique value in that.
If a company is looking for management material, they have options. There are six-hundred US MBA graduates for every one Fire Protection Engineer. Six hundred for every one.
When I first heard the advice, I didn’t know the value that a graduate degree in fire protection would bring to my career. I didn’t realize the wild demand that this industry would have for great designers & engineers. I also didn’t know that I’m pretty awful at managing.
My only advice I can pass forward is to always be sure you’re deliberate about the path you want to pursue.
It is a great goal if you want to pursue management.
A very close friend of mine wants to be CEO of a particular major corporation. I’m pretty sure he’s dreamed about it since he was a kid the way my sister pretend-played weddings. That’s a great and noble goal.
It’s also great if you choose to stick to design and be an expert in it.
We need leaders that can grow and share their technical understanding.
Just be deliberate about the path you take. It’s far too easy to drift and find yourself in a role where you no longer share your greatest talent with the world.
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.