Sometimes the best inspiration for new tools on this site come from basic frustrations with repeated tasks.
The past few weeks I’ve finally come to the point where I needed to scratch an itch – plumbing fixture counts.
What does this have to do for code & life safety? It doesn’t – other than (generally speaking) code summaries will often address plumbing fixture count minimums as part of the overall building code evaluation.
Here’s my scratched itch – a calculator that will populate minimum requirements for plumbing fixture counts based on the 2018 International Building Code & 2018 International Plumbing Code.
Now, with only four inputs you can quickly grab the minimum fixture counts from the 2018 IBC.
It’s more than likely that something already exists in the vast spans of the internet for this, but in the meantime at least I know we all can stop wringing the calculator for a few basic number crunches.
If you’re already a Toolkit user, you can download this update and use it right away on the downloads page here: www.meyerfire.com/downloads
If you’re not already a Toolkit user, why not? Join in on all the expanded tools we have by getting the Toolkit here.
Is this something you’d use? If you’d find this useful and would like to see it expanded to other editions of the IBC (or other standards), let me know by commenting here. I’d be happy to break this out for prior IBC editions if it’s something that’d be beneficial.
There’s no real way around it: I love cheatsheets.
In a design course in college we received 5x7 index cards to include any handwritten notes we wanted for an upcoming final. I wrote so much on that card with handwriting that was effectively size-4 font that it could have been displayed as a work of art.
Nearly an entire semester summarized to a 5x7 card. It was a thing of beauty.
While I no longer have a need to write so small, I still enjoy having information organized so that it is extremely easy to access.
If you haven’t seen these before, here are a couple cheatsheets I’ve created so far:
Summary of Differences of NFPA 13, 13R, and 13D
Sprinklers & Passive Fire Protection Options
Last week I covered important considerations surrounding fire department connections from a design perspective, which was a joint-effort with QRFS covering the topic.
At some point I’ll compile the best blog posts and resources into a hardcover reference book. For this week, however, here’s a cheatsheet on requirements surrounding fire department connections across NFPA 13R, NFPA 13, and NFPA 14:
Find this helpful? Consider subscribing to free resources like this here.
Have a great week!
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Why are fire department connections (FDCs) so important to a suppression system?
They are the link between initial response and supplemental help.
Despite appearances, sprinkler systems are not intended to discharge forever. Their goal is to suppress long-enough that firefighters can take over and finish the job.
Standpipe systems exist to extend the reach of the fire department in tall, wide or complex buildings. Manual standpipes depend upon pressure and flow from the fire department. What single piece of equipment is relied upon to make the transfer? The FDC.
This week's article is an overview of fire department connections from an engineer’s perspective. It is one part of a two-part series covering fire department connections. Read more from a supplier’s perspective at Quick Response Fire Supply here.
Authority Intervention Needed
Fire department connections are a unique piece of a suppression system in that they’re not just governed by the designer and code. NFPA 13 and 14 require that fire department connection type and location is coordinated with the Authority Having Jurisdiction.
Early in design, prior to bid, I’ll call the local fire marshal and coordinate each of the following big-picture elements:
Coordination Item 1: Type of Fire Department Connection
The most popular types of FDCs? Siamese (2 x 2-1/2" threaded connection) and Storz (4" or 5" with or without 30-degree elbow).
In my very unscientific study of jurisdictions I call (nearly half are local to my area), I've found the following; 73% use Siamese-type 2-1/2” fire department connections, 11% use 4” Storz connections, and the remaining 16% use 5” Storz connections.
Of these, 13% have special requirements such as Knox Locking caps, 30-degree elbows, or irregular threading.
There’s no right or wrong answer here – I just want to be sure what I’m calling for or showing on plans match what the jurisdiction uses.
Large diameter Storz-type fire department connections have become more common for their ability
to quick-connect a single hose and flow large amounts of water.
Coordination Item 2: Location of Fire Department Connection
The most obvious coordination during design is the location of the fire department connection.
My design preference, driven by installation effort and cost, is typically in the following order:
1. Wall-mounted FDC, adjacent to the sprinkler riser
2. Wall-mounted FDC, remote from the riser (such as the front of the building)
3. Freestanding FDC, downstream of a site backflow pit or hotbox
4. Freestanding FDC, connected underground into the sprinkler riser room
The first couple options are not always workable and depend on the building.
Sometimes the water supply and riser room are in the back of a building inaccessible to the fire department. This would be a bad place for an FDC.
Sometimes the front face of a building is "grand view" with large glazed curtain walls and no room to mount a fire department connection. This comes up with large offices or modern schools.
Sometimes a building-mounted FDC doesn’t make sense with major hazards; why risk firefighter safety in these cases? High-rises, for instance, require multiple FDCs due to the potential for falling glass that could injure firefighters or sever hoses. If there's potential for wall-collapse (think high-hazard warehouse wall) then a wall-mounted FDC also may not make sense. Freestanding FDCs can make a lot of sense for projects like these.
Considering most of my work is two stories or less and light commercial, it may not be surprising that roughly 85% of projects include building-mounted FDCs. The remaining 15% have necessitated freestanding FDCs.
Some jurisdictions require freestanding fire department connections, but it typically
depends on the type of building and hazard presented.
Coordination Item 3: Distance of FDC to Nearest Hydrant
As a designer it would be great if I could operate in the dark. Send me all the information I need to do a design, I do it, and everyone’s happy.
If it were that simple, though, we’d probably already have machines design and do it without downing two bags of Doritos and a half hour of facebook each day.
Back to the topic: FDC-to-hydrant distance has an impact on the tactical approach in firefighting.
Many designers & installers in our field are current or former firefighters. They could readily speak to this. I’m not one of them, but I can imagine that having to shut down a major roadway or cross a parking lot with hundreds of feet of hose quickly during an emergency is not exactly the easiest thing to accomplish.
As a result I like to ask AHJs what distance the FDC should be to the nearest hydrant.
Of my highly unscientific and locally-biases results, 41% of jurisdictions require a hydrant to be within 100 feet of the FDC or less, 47% require a hydrant to be within 150 feet, and only 16% of jurisdictions require a hydrant within 200 feet or more of the FDC.
These three elements are a part of my code calls. Next week I'll distribute my FDC Cheatsheet that outlines requirements for FDCs across NFPA 13, 13R and NFPA 14. If you haven't already subscribed, consider doing so here.
What do you look to coordinate with the AHJ? Discuss your experience here.
Want more coverage on fire department connections? See the other half of our two-part series on fire department connections here: Quick Response Fire Supply.
Since the entirety of fire sprinklers systems normally depend on heat to actuate a sprinkler – it is an important topic.
Before I ever started in shop drawing design. I prepared bid packages that specified important aspects of system design. One of the luxuries of living on the front-end (some say "theoretical") side of design was delegating the sprinkler temperature selection.
Selecting appropriate sprinkler temperatures is not difficult. That said, making an egregious error with a temperature too low could cause an inadvertent discharge. Considering how much damage this could do, there’s quite a bit of liability there.
Temperature is one of the three concepts I look to address when designing sprinkler systems in commercial kitchens.
Consideration #1: Heat
In high school I worked a few years in a kitchen. I hated it. It was stressful, always hot, and the cook line seemed to play the same six songs on repeat.
Even now when I hear The Hand that Feeds by Nine Inch Nails, my palms start to sweat. I get thrown back to that smoky, steamy kitchen and getting yelled at for bringing out entrees while the salad course wasn’t finished. Despite it being in a country club, it was awful.
Maybe I’m sensitive (if not dramatic), but when I design sprinkler systems for kitchens I’m acutely aware of how hot those spaces can be.
We want sprinklers to operate early enough in a fire when they can be effective. We also don’t want unintentional activation with a temperature too low.
NFPA 13 directs sprinklers to be ordinary or intermediate temperature unless specific heat-producing sources or hazards exist.
For commercial cooking equipment, if a sprinkler could experience ceiling temperatures over 100 degrees F (38 C), then they must at least be intermediate temperature (NFPA 13 2002-16 188.8.131.52, 2019 184.108.40.206).
I’ve never measured temperatures on the cookline but I would suspect this would be easy to achieve.
NFPA 13 also directs temperature selection to be based on nearby heat sources (in 220.127.116.11 2002-16, 18.104.22.168 2019).
NFPA 13 identifies temperature guidance for similar residential heat-producing sources. Sprinklers located 9 to 18 inches from a kitchen range, for instance, should be intermediate-temperature. Sprinklers 18 inches or more away from a kitchen range can be ordinary-temperature. Wall ovens have the same rules.
I've often located sprinklers within the center of cooklines as intermediate-temperature sprinklers. This allows a little grace from the edge of heat-producing sources. I'll then check specific appliances for anything that could cause higher temperatures and adjust accordingly.
Kitchen hoods that would otherwise form large obstructions can be excluded from sprinkler protection
when they contain a separate fire extinguishing system.
Consideration #2: Spacing Near Hoods
Exhaust hoods are required above cooking equipment that produces grease-laden vapors. NFPA 96 goes further to require that the equipment and exhaust system must also be protected.
One way to achieve this requirement is by sprinklers, but this method is rare. Pre-engineered wet chemical systems are designed specifically for cooking hazards. They are also often supplied directly with hood equipment.
If a fire extinguishing system is a part of the hood, NFPA 13 relaxes nearby sprinkler protection:
NFPA 13 22.214.171.124 (2007-2013), 126.96.36.199 (2016), 188.8.131.52 (2019) Hoods containing automatic fire-extinguishing systems are protected areas; therefore, these hoods are not considered obstructions to overhead sprinkler systems and shall not require floor coverage underneath.
NFPA 13 184.108.40.206 (2007-2013), 220.127.116.11 (2016), 18.104.22.168 (2019) Cooking equipment below hoods that contain automatic fire-extinguishing equipment is protected and shall not require protection from the overhead sprinkler system.
In regards to sprinkler spacing, the front-edge of a protect exhaust hood is essentially a solid wall.
If portions of a hood are not protected, the hood would be considered an obstruction and coverage would need to be provided below the hood.
Consideration #3: Obstructions & Conflicts
Commercial kitchens are often tightly-designed areas intended to maximize the preparer’s efficiency. End result: high-density of equipment and appliances in small areas.
This is the case along the ceiling as well. Lights, diffusers, and sprinklers become secondary and must shift to the narrow remaining ceiling. With hoods and the need for cooling comes large ductwork. These can limit the pipe layout serving sprinklers in kitchens and requires careful coordination.
It’s not always easy to tell from plans, but floor-to-ceiling storage is common.
Reflected ceiling plans often show a continuous ceiling between one cookline and its adjacent counter. However, there are often heat lamps, pot and pan storage, and a myriad of boxes and other food supplies stored above head height to the ceiling.
I try to space sprinklers in these areas directly above walking spaces that can tolerate storage in-between the cooklines.
What has been your experience with suppression systems for commercial kitchens? What challenges have you come across? Let us know here.
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About