Based on the feedback and response about an earlier article about Sprinkler Requirements in Bathrooms, it only makes sense to extend a roadmap for navigating requirements concerning sprinklers in closets.
For such a simple topic, this work took two weeks and will still require further exploration in the coming weeks.
The premise for determining whether a closet requires a sprinkler would intuitively be fairly easy, as the question implies a yes/no black and white answer. The development to get to where we are currently, however, is governed by experience and studies into the risk/benefit posed by providing sprinklers in closets.
Does providing a sprinkler within a closet improve building protection and aid in better life safety? Yes, in most (or perhaps even every) circumstance.
While in concept determining whether a sprinkler is required for a closet would typically be a straight-forward cut-and-dry process, the code path to determine whether it is required or not is dependent upon multiple factors.
However, there are also competing objectives for standards such as NFPA 13R (Low-Rise Residential Occupancies) and NFPA 13D (One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes), which is to create affordable systems with a life-safety objective in lieu of property protection.
Attempting to create affordable systems is not inherently a bad thing; it only creates less friction between the building owner paying for or deciding to install a sprinkler system.
Why Not All Small Closets?
Why is a 10 sqft apartment closet any different than a 10 sqft closet in a motel? They could be constructed the exact same.
The difference is in the totality of the situation: NFPA 101 and by extension NFPA 13 recognize that "inherent ignition sources and combustible fuel load" are very different for different occupancies. In general, where closets can more easily accumulate high fuel loads (longer-term living situations), the less likely a sprinkler will be allowed to be omitted.
NFPA 101 - what about the IBC?
NFPA 101 outlines specific allowances based upon occupancies to determine closet sprinkler requirements. The International Building Code does not address these same areas, rather deferring those requirements to NFPA 13, 13R, or 13D.
What if both IBC and NFPA 101 Apply?
Many healthcare applications find that the IBC is enforced by a local jurisdiction while NFPA 101 applies due to healthcare credential requirements of CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). Typically the most stringent requirement would be the guiding direction in these instances, but it would be prudent to work with code authorities to resolve these conflicts where they arise.
2016 Edition Changes
The 2016 Edition of NFPA 101 offered a handful of changes specific to closets. You'll see in the breakout below that this flowchart only applies to the 2016 Editions of NFPA 13, NFPA 13R, NFPA 13D, and NFPA 101. With so many changes between the editions, I'm planning to recreate this chart with prior editions for reference.
The chart below is a visual summary of the decisions that lead to various sections of code. Despite the simple yes/no nature of whether a sprinkler is required in a closet or not, you'll notice the complexity of the decision tree within NFPA 101. Click on the chart for an enlarged version below.
Flowchart for 2016 closet fire sprinkler requirements
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.