If you work with sprinkler systems & review layouts, you've undoubtedly encountered sprinklers near ceiling fans. Today I'm taking a look at some of the requirements for sprinklers near fans, and the basis for those requirements.
Traditional Ceiling Fans
The chief concern with a typical residential-style ceiling fan is that the fan motor housing and fan blades could form an obstruction to proper sprinkler discharge.
Motor Housing Obstruction
NFPA 13 addresses the discharge from the motor housing by the Three Times Rule, where the sprinkler must be located three-times the width of the obstruction up to 24 inches (610 mm).
Fan Blade Obstruction
In terms of obstruction from the fan blades, NFPA 13 also allows sprinklers to be placed "without regard" to the blades of ceiling fans less than 60 inches (1.5 m) in diameter as long as the plan view is at least 50 percent open (NFPA 13 2010-19 under "Obstructions to Sprinkler Discharge Pattern Development" subsections in Chapter 8).
NFPA 13R 3 and 5-foot Rules
NFPA 13R takes a more straightforward requirement for positioning of sprinklers near ceiling fans - residential pendent sprinklers must be 3-feet and residential sidewalls must be 5-feet unless another sprinkler is positioned on the adjacent side, or, the sprinkler is positioned so that the fan is not considered an obstruction (NFPA 13R 2007 22.214.171.124.3, 2010-19 6.4.6).
Residential style sprinklers are impacted by ceiling-mounted obstructions, such as lights and fans, to a greater degree than obstructions down from the ceiling since residential sprinklers throw with more high-wall wetting
NFPA 13R Research Basis
The NFPA 13R guidance was driven by fire modeling, sprinkler response tests, distribution tests, and full-scale fire tests by the National Fire Sprinkler Association and the Viking Corporation in 2005 (Valentine and Isman, Interaction of Residential Sprinklers, Ceiling Fans and Similar Obstructions). These tests indicated that the fan blades where not significant obstructions as long as the sprinkler was far enough away from the motor housing, allowing the sprinkler to control a fire on the other side of the fan in a small room.
These tests also indicated that fans on low to medium speed did not significantly impact sprinkler performance, but high speed did. Despite the effect, the fire was still controlled in small rooms. Larger rooms, due to the size, would be expected to require additional sprinklers (NFPA 13R 2007 Annex).
High Volume Low Speed Fans (HVLS)
Fans moving larger volumes of air can have a significant impact on plume development and fire sprinkler response.
In 2009, a research project sponsored by the Property Insurance Research Group (PIRG) and other industry groups, coordinated by the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) ran a series of 10 full-scale fire test and limited scale testing to evaluate the impact on sprinkler system performance.
In 2011, a second phase was conducted by Factory Mutual Research Corporation.
Recommendations from Research
Based on the tests, effective sprinkler operation was obtained when the HVLS fans did not obstruct sprinkler discharge and were shut down upon the activation of the first sprinkler.
The research also included shutdown by air-sampling type detection and use of ionization type smoke detectors, with earlier fan shutdown resulting in less commodity damage. FM Global's recommendations even extend into smoke detection devices or heat detection devices as an acceptable means to conduct the fan shutdown (provided uniformly above the fan blade area, per Data Sheet 548).
Due to size and large air movement, High Volume Low Speed Fans (such as Big Ass fans) impact sprinkler discharge as both a potential obstruction and as a large air mover
NPFA 13 Requirements for HVLS Fans
NFPA 13 defines high volume low speed fans as ceiling fans approximately 6 feet (1.8 m) to 24 feet (7.3 m) in diameter, with a rotational speed of approximately 30 to 70 revolutions per minute (NFPA 13 2013-16 Section 3.3.14).
Beginning with the 2013 Edition of NFPA 13, NFPA 13 has required four principal items concerning these large fans (NFPA 13 2013-16 Section 11.1.7 and 12.1.4 for storage):
(1) The maximum fan diameter must be 24 feet (7.3 m)
(2) HVLS fans be centered approximately between four adjacent sprinklers
(3) The vertical clearance from the fan to the nearest sprinkler deflector must be a minimum of 3 feet (0.9 m)
(4) HVLS fans must shutdown (via interlock) immediately upon receiving a waterflow signal in accordance with NFPA 72.
While NFPA 13 suggests centering the fan between four sprinklers - trying to convince an architect or mechanical engineer to shift their equipment based on the sprinkler system can be difficult to do. I've had better success designing the sprinkler locations around the fan location.
Since sprinklers are designed to be sensitive to air temperature and movement, ceiling fans can impact performance. With small ceiling fans, the biggest concern is obstructing sprinkler discharge, while for larger HVLS fans this chief concern moves towards the movement of air and impacting the response. Fortunately, research-backed recommendations have been provided to still allow effective fire sprinkler protection alongside ceiling fans.
Want more like this? Get these free weekly articles here.
Walk-in commercial coolers and freezers present a unique challenge for fire sprinkler systems. Today I'm walking through some of the common issues and tips I've encountered when protecting these units.
Challenge #1: Ice Plugs
The most common and potentially dangerous issue with fire protection in walk-in coolers and freezers is the potential for ice plugs to delay or impair entirely sprinkler discharge.
The thermal mass of water allows for high absorption of heat as compared to other materials and liquids, which is one of the reasons water works so well in suppressing fires. This same property, however, acts as a major inhibitor to activation when large ice plugs form at the sprinkler coverplate or frame.
Ice blocks can prohibit effective and responsive fire protection from gaps in a continuous thermal barrier.
Why Do Ice Plugs Form?
Any gap or compromise between the sprinkler (or pipe) and the insulative cooler/freezer lid can allow moist warm air to enter the cooler/freezer near the compromise. Once this intrusion occurs, the moist air reaches the chilled freezer temperature, the moisture condenses into water and then freezes, forming an ice block.
Those who regularly work in or survey these walk-ins no doubt notice ice plugs.
Tips for Preventing Ice Blocks
Preventing ice blocks is all about quality and lasting seals between the dry sprinkler shaft and the adjacent insulation.
In theory, if any clearance around the dry sprinkler is sufficiently insulated (such as with spray foam) and this foam stays in place for years without movement, then ice blocks couldn't occur.
However, such as is the case in many large retailers or groceries, the tops of the coolers and freezers are subject to some movement from personnel or storage on top of the units themselves. Even with very minor deflection, fixed sprinklers and pipe can shift away from the insulation, cause a gap in insulation, and form ice blocks.
Giving Ice The Boot
Some manufacturers (such as Tyco) offer rubber boots that adhere to the top of the cooler/freezer and tighten to the dry pendent sprinkler, which helps accommodate movement of the lid over time and ensures a better seal against the sprinkler shaft. While a little pricier than a foam insulation can, these can be quick to install and can offer a better seal against the cooler/freezer lid.
Rubber "boots" can simplify installation and provide a consistent seal along the top of a cooler/freezer.
Providing a boot for sealing isn't the only way to better accommodate movement. Flexible drops at the point of connection to horizontal piping, or even Victaulic's new flexibly dry sprinkler can help accommodate movement and afford flexibility to the final sprinkler location, without impairing the insulation.
Challenge #2: Dry Pendent Connections to Tees
A commonly overlooked requirement of dry pendent sprinklers is their point of connection to pipe above. Because the inlet of the runs just beyond the thread of the sprinkler's tube, we can't thread a dry pendent sprinkler directly into an elbow; instead product data requires the connection to be a tee or adapter (for CPVC connections) that have dimensions which don't contact the valve seat. It's a very often overlooked part of the dry pendent installation that's easy to miss.
Challenge #3: Refrigeration Equipment as Obstructions
Very often, the refrigeration equipment is a part of the cooler/freezer supplier's equipment package, and not indicated on mechanical HVAC plans. This poses a frequent challenge for both upfront engineering design and shop drawing, as these shop submittals showing the locations of the units aren't often compiled until very late in the construction phasing.
Without good information on the dimensions of the equipment, it's often difficult for sprinkler layouts to incorporate the equipment without being obstructed under NFPA 13. Coordinating this with the supplier, or anticipating locations with sprinklers in front and rear of the unit help mitigate this late-forming issue.
Size and placement of refrigeration equipment isn't often known until late in the design/shop drawing process, so their final installation often provides obstructions to sprinkler discharge
I know I'm not the only one to come across nuances with fire protection in these cooler and freezer units. What challenges do you come across with cooler/freezer protection, and what tips do you have? Discuss here.
Know someone who might be interested in this? Send them a link.
Don't already get these weekly articles? Signup here!
I receive feedback regularly from many users and observers - and I'm very grateful for both!
Sprinkler Database Interest & Feedback
One member recently reached out about the Sprinkler Database and said:
"I appreciate all the work you’ve done on that site. The sprinkler database has helped tremendously when looking for specialty sprinklers, specifically available storage sprinkler is odd configurations!"
It's a tool that is basic in premise but can save tons of time when you're looking to compare sprinklers, find a specific type of sprinkler, or see if a solution exists for your specific problem. Here's a quick overview
Fire Pump Database
With the interest and feedback from the Sprinkler Database, it was only a matter of time before I expanded this into other areas. You may already have seen the Backflow Database, but now we have a beta version of a Fire Pump Database.
With the fire pump database you can now search for fire pumps of various configurations, drivers, sizes, and then instantly link to CAD and Revit models, performance curves, website links, product data, and dimensions. The current beta version includes AC, Armstrong, and Aurora Fire Pumps.
All-inclusive Toolkit members can log in and use the database now.
Know a Contact for Patterson or Peerless?
If you work for or know a great contact for Patterson Fire Pumps and Peerless Fire Pumps, please let me know their contact information. I'm looking to partner with both of these companies to also help connect users to their products.
Toolkit Sale Through November 30th
Interested in getting the Toolkit and access to all of our tools? Join between now and Friday the 30th for $30 off your first year's subscription. Just use coupon code CYBER18 when you checkout here before Friday November 30th.
Lastly, if you're in the US, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!
Things are busy around here - despite the PE Prep "offseason" beginning, I've been working on improvements and construction of a handful of promising tools.
One basic but very much needed update is an improvement to the Obstruction Calculator. Now, you can enter either the horizontal distance of a sprinkler or the vertical distance of the sprinkler, and get minimum and maximum feedback based on each.
During design, many of us know the depth of the sprinkler and depth of the obstruction prior to determining where (horizontally) the sprinkler is going to be located away from an obstruction. Now the tool helps support that effort.
If you're a Toolkit user, you have immediate access to these updates and can download the latest updates on the dashboard here.
As always, thank you to those who have sent ideas and feedback! Stay tuned for next week on a new database launch for Toolkit users.
Don't get these articles by email? Subscribe for free here.
First, a big thank you to those who commented and emailed ideas and topics that contributed to the latest tool for this site - the Trapeze Calculator.
With only a few "knowns" (pipe diameter and schedule, and distances to nearest structure), you can now quickly calculate the section modulus that's required, visit options for the trapeze bar, and see these options schematically in a to-scale detail.
Have multiple pipes on a trapeze? Calculate the section modulus required for each, add the two moduli together, and simply override the Section Modulus Required value below to see your options.
Get CAD Details
Want a CAD version of the detail? Sure thing - the downloadable All-Access Toolkit allows you to save and print these calculations as PDFs, which can then be imported directly into AutoCAD and use the ALIGN function to scale it to your drawing.
Already a Toolkit user? Install the latest version from your dashboard to get the updates to this tool. No new activation code is necessary.
Don't see the tool below? Try it out here -
This site is all about finding ways to help you be the office hero with quick and helpful fire protection tools.
Get these weekly articles straight to your inbox by subscribing here.
Get Free Articles via Email:
+ Get calculators, tools, resources and articles
+ Get our PDF Flowchart for Canopy & Overhang Requirements instantly
+ No spam
+ Unsubscribe anytime
Get access to every tool, the downloadable Toolkit, Sprinkler Database, Daily Post-a-Question and more:
Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.