I'll start by saying I'm not perfect. I've learned some things the hard way that I could have avoided, which in part spurned this whole blog. This week's topic covers one of those things learned by trial and error (but mostly error).
If you are responsible for fire protection bid plans and you expect a contractor to provide hydraulic calculations, then you should include flow test information on your plans.
"If you are responsible for fire protection bid plans and you expect a contractor to provide hydraulic calculations, then your plans should include flow test information."
NFPA 13 does just about everything but require a flow test to be completed on the preliminary plans.
Annex material, for instance, has long spelled out that preliminary plans should be submitted to the AHJ prior to the development of working plans by a contractor (A.14.1 in 2002 Edition, A.22.1 in 2007-10, A.23.1 in 2013-16, A.27.1 in 2019). These preliminary plans should include test information with date and time, conducting party, location of hydrants, and size of mains.
Water supply information is a critical part of the overall fire protection equation but it's value comes before bidding as well as after.
If it is not a requirement in 13 to have it included in preliminary plans, then why provide it when the contractor can?
Well, there are several reasons.
1. Determine Fire Pump & Water Storage Tank Prior to Bidding
Is a fire pump required for the project?
It’s an important question – the cost impact to an owner is often between $50,000 and $120,000 between the pump, controls, piping and equipment, and possible generator when a pump is required.
The only thing more expensive than a fire pump or water storage tank included on a project
is when they get added as a change order.
Is the available flow to the site low, needing a break-tank or a full water storage tank?
The cost impact to an owner here is even greater.
If a flow test is not included on preliminary plans, how is a contractor supposed to confirm that a pump or a tank are not necessary? Take the word of the engineer? Guess based on past-history?
For flat-terrain areas with little construction activity over time, anticipating the available supply might be possible. For hilly areas where I live with a wide variety of water main sizes, it can be next-to-impossible to guess an available water supply at any given location.
If you are a prudent contractor and you are to bid a job without clear water supply information, what would you do? Bid a price conservatively high to anticipate large pipe sizes with a poor water supply? That’s possible – but then you’re also far less likely to win the job. Bid a competitive price, but exclude larger pipe sizes or a fire pump/tank? That could work to win the job, but what happens when the actual flow test is run and you determine a fire pump is necessary?
I’ll tell you what happens – the owner gets a very large change order they weren’t anticipating and the general contractor, sprinkler contractor, and design team all look bad.
Part of my role is creating upfront preliminary plans for owners & architects that go out to bid, but I also work for sprinkler contractors to produce installation/shop drawings. I’m very fortunate in that I get to see both sides of the industry.
A Real-World Example
One current job that I’m working for a local sprinkler contractor on is a new-construction five-story medical office building. It’s a great building with tall floor-to-ceiling heights and a fifth-story ceiling that’s about 80 feet above ground level.
The preliminary plans call for an FM Global Hazard Category-2 shelled area (0.20 gpm over 2,500 sqft) on the top level. Once the flow test came in, even with good pressure, it wasn’t enough to support this hazard classification.
Could the hazard classification get bumped down to better align with the future tenant use? Possibly. Could a fire pump be added to the project at a significant cost, late in construction? Possibly.
Either case, this all could have been avoided had flow test information been provided on the original plans. Bidding contractors wouldn’t be eligible to claim large change orders based on unanticipated pressure, and they can flag issues before they even submit bids.
2. Reduce Potential for Major Change Orders
Too often the single cost that a building owner is concerned with is the total cost of the job at bid. They should be concerned about the total cost of the project, including change orders and including the lifecycle of the system.
What good does accepting a low bid do if it is later rife with change order cost additions? It happens all the time with poorly prepared bid plans.
Including a flow test as part of the preliminary plans removes a major potential change order opportunity as it enables the sprinkler contractor to do their own pre-bid layout and calculation should they choose to do so.
3. Removes Potential Conflict of Interest
I have encountered misreadings of pressures from a gauge in the field, test results that were incorrectly copied between documents, and flow tests that were suspicious enough to go and re-test.
I (thankfully) have never come across anyone doctoring flow test numbers.
Is it possible that a contractor could fudge flow test numbers to save on pipe sizes and improve their bottom line? It’s possible. Virtually all of the contractors I’ve come across are very proud of their installations and are in the business because they care about life safety. Have I ever seen it happen? No. Could it? Yes.
When an engineer provides the water supply information upfront, however, this potential conflict of interest evaporates.
Including flow test data (or fire pump/water storage tank information) can be a critical piece
for bidders to properly assess and bid a system.
4. It’s Not That Hard to Get
For all the information we expect contractors to produce after they win a job, could we as engineers not produce such an important (and basic) piece of information?
Some water purveyors run hydrant flow tests at no cost. Some jurisdictions will do the same.
Even when both don’t run the tests, you can do it yourself. Read and follow NFPA 291, watch some videos, pickup a flow test kit for $400-$600, and remember to open and close valves slowly. It’s not terribly hard to do.
If you aren’t interested in running the test, hire a contractor. I’ve seen tests run as cheap as $150 and as expensive as $1,200 (a 3-hour drive each way), but they are often between $350 and $550 to have completed. Local contractors are more than capable of providing this service and they can do so quickly.
One of the biggest hassles in running a test early is often the tight design schedule many projects are on, and explaining to the owner why a flow test should be done upfront when a sprinkler contractor could just to it later. This article at least helps you address the later concern.
5. It’s Fair to Bidders
Bidding contractors are often not as concerned about how much or how little you want them to do. If you want schedule 40 throughout, they’ll provide schedule 40 throughout. If you want a nitrogen system, they’re provide a nitrogen system.
What contractors are extremely concerned about is that their bid price is fairly compared to other contractors. They will not provide schedule 40 if they feel another contractor will not provide it. Same with nitrogen or any other upgrades that could otherwise greatly benefit the building owner.
Water supply information is one of those key pieces of information that allow contractors to bid on an even playing field.
6. Retain Data History
How often do you find old building design documents that don’t include shop drawings? If you’re like me, it’s all the time. An engineer’s pre-bid plans don’t often have a wealth of helpful information – but having a little water supply block is a helpful data point when comparing historical water supply points.
Since engineer’s preliminary plans often get stored and tracked with the rest of the construction documents, including the water supply information can be a helpful way to retain that information for designs and renovations in the future.
I’ll slowly now descend from my soapbox by saying again that I’m not perfect. I’ve sent far too projects out to bid without water supply information than I would like to admit, often without any legitimate excuse. As an in-house goal we now try to hunt down water supply information for every project that we expect to see a hydraulic calculation by the contractor. That’s every building addition, occupancy hazard change, and every new construction project. It’s just too important of a data point to leave out for bidders.
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In January, suppression expert Bob Upson presented a webinar on frequently asked questions concerning standpipe systems out of NFPA 14 with NFSA's online teaching platform. If you work with standpipe systems regularly, I'd highly recommend it.
One of the topics he discussed was a brief history of how both the International Building Code (IBC) and NFPA 14 (Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems) have changed over time between requiring standpipe hose connections on intermediate floor-level landings to floor-level landings.
By floor-level landings, typically you would have a hose connection 3-5 feet above the floor level immediately at the landing upon entering an exit stair.
To get to a hose connection on an intermediate-level landing, you would enter the stair and walk down a single flight of stairs to get to the next landing (typically opposite of the main floor level landing).
I was interested in exploring this code history in a little more detail - so below is a compilation of the last 20 years of the IBC and NFPA 14 and where standpipe hose connections have been required by each code edition within exit stairs.
A summary of the code history of intermediate-floor-level landings versus floor-level landing requirements for standpipe systems across both the IBC and NFPA 14. Click to enlarge.
It's important to note that while code prescribes one location (floor level or intermediate-level stair landings), every single code instance allows the opposite location to be used with approval from the Authority Having Jurisdiction.
Next week I'll break out the implications for these requirements with some visuals and things to consider when designing for floor-level landings of intermediate-level landings.
What challenges do you experience when designing for floor-level or intermediate-level landing hose connections? What advice would you offer? Comment and be part of the conversation here.
Hope your week in fire protection is going well.
Standpipes within stairs can be an important item to coordinate with the project architect, as the fix for the lack of coordination can be extremely difficult to accomplish in the field. This week I'm breaking down an enlarged floor plan detail for a standpipe hose connection within a stairwell.
Avoiding the Egress Path
The image above shows the clear span that's required to maintain clearance. How do you know the radius of this line? Just take the width of the stair, set the center of your arc to the edge of the stair, and draw your arc from one end of the stair to the other. This is an extension of the required egress of the stair to turn on the landing and move the other direction.
Is it possible and allowed to locate small parts of the hose connection within this clear span? There could be a basis for it.
In design I try to avoid any controversy by locating both the standpipe and those valve entirely outside of this egress path. Doing so may require a little extra space on the landing, but it is far better than finding out after the stair is constructed that you're short on space.
A traditional new-construction stair will likely have support for the stairwell landing incorporated into the stair enclosure, or contain a beam across the landing where the landing meets the beginning of the stairs if it's a concrete stair. These new builds don't present too much of a challenge to coordinate with structure.
However, for retrofits or stairs that do not simply jog back and forth, beware of beams that could run where you'd like to locate the standpipe connections. Core drilling a 4-inch to 10-inch hole through a concrete beam will not make you good friends with the structural engineer.
The hose connection is required to have 3-inches of clearance on all sides of the handle. (NFPA 14 2013-19 4.7.5)
It's not enough to just stick your hand and start turning the valve, we have to remember that it's the firefighter's thermally insulated and rigid gloves that must turn the hose valve while the building is literally on fire. Giving 3-inches of clearance just feels like a minimally-nice gesture to thank your local first responder.
Lastly, don't forget about the drain riser.
If the standpipe includes pressure-reducing valves, these valves require testing and it's required to have a way to connect directly to an oversized drain riser that can handle the testing. This can be done with capped outlets on the drain riser that can accept a hose connection for testing.
NFPA 14 provides guidance on sizing the drain riser in this scenario: 3-inch drain riser for 2-1/2-inch pressure reducing devices, a 2-inch riser for 1-1/2-inch pressure reducing devices, or sized large enough to handle the full flow from the largest pressure reducing device. (NFPA 14 20037.12, 2007-19 7.11.1)
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Hope your week is going very well.
This week I'd like to open a short series on standpipes. Today's article is a basic overview of some basic requirements associated with standpipes used for fire suppression.
Basic components of a standpipe for fire suppression.
Standpipes are used to support manual firefighting efforts by delivering water to hard-to-reach areas of a building. The intent of a standpipe system is to avoid having to distribute and connect hundreds of feet of hose for a single interior attack by firefighters.
Hard-to-reach areas of a building aren't confined to one direction. Buildings which are very tall (highrises) or are deep underground, or are very wide by nature could all have portions of the building which would be difficult to reach.
Applicable Codes & Standards
In the US, the International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC) are often the first stop for standpipe requirements. While the two codes mirror each other, the International Building Code requires standpipes based on:
Once it has been determined whether a standpipe system is required or not, the IBC and IFC defer to NFPA 14 to prescribe how the system is to be installed.
Class of Standpipes
Standpipes can be classified in several areas. The first is the class of standpipe, which relates directly to the hose connection type and the intended user. Based on 1-1/2 inch hose failures and the associated testing that goes along with them, 1-1/2 inch hose stations are much less common today.
I've found many situations with sprinklered buildings where hose stations have been removed as they are no longer required and are a burden for testing and maintenance. Here are the standpipe classifications, with Class I being by far the most common in the US today:
Types of Standpipe
The other defining description for standpipe is when water is delivered, and at what relative pressure. Types of standpipes include:
Components of a Vertical Standpipe
Standpipes are not always vertical standpipes, but for multi-story buildings they are the most prevalent and are the topic of discussion this week.
Standpipe Hose Connections
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When I first started in the industry I worked on a long line of high-end retail projects scattered across the United States. Six months after starting I got a question from a project manager about concealed space wood-structure sprinkler protection on a particular store in San Jose.
San Jose? I was positive I never worked on a project in San Jose.
A little digging later revealed I did in fact work on a small retail shop in San Jose. The only problem was that it looked just like the other 30 stores I had worked on in-between. Did I evaluate protection or even consider the combustible above-ceiling space? Did I discuss anything with the AHJ?
I quickly realized that if I didn't take project-specific design notes I'd have no way of revisiting my thought process when a question inevitably arose later in the project.
The Mad Man
Ever since then, and not entirely due to my undiagnosed organization issues, I've been on a mad hunt to find the best way to record project notes in the cleanest and most insanely-quick process possible.
For me it's partially about recording the design thought process, and partially about reminding myself about all the considerations that need to occur for a project.
I can't say I've tried every method for project note taking, but I have used word templates, checklists, spreadsheets, OneNote files, linked databases, access databases, and the good old pen and paper.
I have several goals when devising project notes for me and the staff I work with:
An example project design sheet (click to see full PDF)
Here's where I am now - an excel-based, single page note page where a quick "X" above a cell highlights the one below. If I know all of the information in a project, it can be filled out completely in less than 3 minutes.
It can be a helpful accompaniment for sprinkler contractor clients when we're submitting a bid, or helpful notes to accompany a QC set of drawings.
What Am I Missing?
I'm sure your checklists and cheatsheets include a wide variety of considerations. In my attempt to better this one and incorporate the whole spreadsheet, what important elements am I missing? View PDFs below, and post your comments & feedback about important things to add here.
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If you've been following the blog for awhile, you might already know about the Toolkit that has really taken off lately. This past week I've incorporated some (great) user feedback and now have a new version to present:
I've revamped the organization and it's FAR easier to navigate and use now.
With a new main menu and crisp pages the Toolkit is FAR easier to navigate. Now you can get what you need, quickly.
If you're already a subscriber to the Toolkit, use the download link below to get the latest version right now. No need for any new access codes - it just updates the Toolkit right over your current version.
A clip of the latest version of the Sprinkler Obstruction Calculator on the MeyerFire Toolkit.
What is the Toolkit, and what does it include?
The MeyerFire Toolkit is a downloadable series of excel-based tools that allow fire protection designers, engineers and code authorities to quickly calculate a myriad of regular applications. With this tool you can save time with quick but powerful tools that you can save, PDF, or print.
The Toolkit contains all of the tools you see on this website - plus the popular Fire Sprinkler Database - which is a live collection of all fire sprinklers on the market where you can sort and filter to see what products exist for your application, and then specify or design the ones that best match your design goals.
A Free 30-Day Trial, Starting Today
If you've never seen the Toolkit, or have used a trial version before and are interested in testing the new look, download the toolkit with a trial code (good through late March) here:
There's a few new additions to the Toolkit I hope to debut in the next couple weeks based on suggestions from users just like you. If you're an expert in fire flow calculations or water storage tank design and are interested in early testing, email me at email@example.com.
If you know someone who might be interested in giving the Toolkit a try, email them about downloading it today. As always, you can subscribe to these weekly articles & resources here.
This week we're covering a basic riser manifold configuration for wet-pipe fire sprinkler systems. This is not for a shotgun-style single riser, nor for a wet riser using an alarm check valve (we'll explore both of those later).
If you haven't checked it out, there are great ongoing discussions (some of which covered these topics) on the MeyerFire Daily page here.
Wet-pipe systems form the backbone of traditional fire sprinkler system design, comprising the most popular and most economical system type available. Here's the major components that go into a wet-pipe fire sprinkler assembly:
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!
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.
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First, a huge thank you to everyone who's expressed interest and purchased the Toolkit - I very much appreciate the fantastic response to the launch over the last three weeks!
It's a short post this week - I've been developing a Trapeze Hanger tool that sizes and schematically details trapeze hangers. This will likely be the first of three posts while developing this tool.
Questions for you at this point in time:
(1) What other possible standard trapeze materials do you use that could be helpful as part of this tool?
(2) What would you like to see shown in the detail?
(3) If the detail could be easily translated to AutoCAD from this calculator, could it be something helpful for your projects? If so, what would you want shown and identified?
Click here to test and comment on the Trapeze Hanger tool, thanks in advance!
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.