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 (note: if you don't see the calculator below, click here):
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.
I'm excited to announce a new addition to the Toolkit that has been in development for a long time - the NFPA 13 Edition Translator.
With the major restructuring changes in the 2019 Edition of NFPA 13 - it has been difficult for me to flip straight to the content I'm used to doing. From the feedback I've heard I'm not alone on that learning curve.
As a result, a couple weeks ago I released the first version of the translator, which takes any numerical section from the 2016 or 2019 edition, and returns the matching section from the opposite edition.
Full Tool Now Available
This full version is quite the powerhouse. With over 130 hours of research included, it can now take any numerical section from any edition of NFPA 13 from 1999 through the 2019 edition, and returns the matching section throughout it's history.
A quick search on the edition translator shows the history of the section and where it appears.
Why could this be helpful? If you work across multiple jurisdictions or your local jurisdiction just updated to a new edition of NFPA 13, the shift in organization can be frustrating.
If you use the free versions of NFPA 13 that are supported by NFPA, then this tool could help you quickly navigate equivalent sections.
Probably the most common use I have is finding the back-history of where a section first appeared and where to look for it in past editions. This comes up occasionally for projects when there's disagreement about a particular section of code and searching for the back-history and any clarifications in future editions is very helpful.
If you're a Toolkit subscriber, you can download the latest version of the Toolkit, including this edition translator, here.
I've made it easier to download updates for Toolkit users. You can access the latest version and quickly download it at www.meyerfire.com/download. No sign in required.
Find this interesting? Consider sending to a friend or colleague who might find it helpful.
Following the interest and popularity of the ceiling-mounted obstructions tool, I've been working on some new tools that cover other obstruction situations which we often encounter. This week's post is a quick demo of the progress for one of these obstruction situations, which is the soffit against a wall condition.
One way NFPA 13 addresses soffits is by shifting a sprinkler away from the wall, which allows water from the sprinkler to throw below the soffit. With only two input values this tool will quickly determine the horizontal distance a sprinkler needs to be located away from a soffit in order to meet NFPA 13 Figure 22.214.171.124.2(b) (2016 Edition).
Give this demo tool a quick try and comment below with any concepts you'd like to see added to this tool or the site. Thanks in advance!
When I was six years old, I came home from school unexpectedly excited one day.
I ran up our driveway, pushed wide the door and yelled to my mom.
“You won’t believe it! There’s this place at school where you can go through shelves and shelves of books and pick out anyone you want –
and it’s free! They call it a library.”
It wasn’t one of my mom’s proudest parenting moments, but in our house, we never pretended to be great readers… or apparently even pretended to introduce kids to a library.
I guess I’ll just come out and say it… Both of my parents are accountants.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, the accountants are where my well-rounded sense of humor comes from.
But there’s another big benefit to having parents as accountants –
and it’s having a love for spreadsheets.
I’m not sure if little excel formulas naturally run through my veins or whether it was every family calendar my parents ever created, but one way or another I thoroughly appreciate the power a spreadsheet has.
Even if your parents are not both CPAs, there’s a place for Microsoft Excel in your engineering life.
Excel isn't just made for your uncle accountant anymore - there's potential any engineer can love.
For one, Microsoft Excel is not called
the “Swiss Army Knife of Software” for naught. Excel is a blank canvas for any calculation you need to make. You can quickly create and repeat repetitive calculations to speed up and organize your workflow. You can complete reports, forms, create charts, tables, organize content, or use any of a myriad of highly powerful tools.
Here are a few of my most often used formulas:
That’s pretty much all of my secret sauce. About 95% of the tools created combine those formulas alongside mathematical operators (like max(), min(), sin(), sqrt(), etc.).
One of the best parts about using Excel is that you may already have access to it. If your company has a Microsoft Office suite (or what’s now their subscription model with Office 365), you already have access to these tools.
Creating helpful resources is what we’re all about, and Excel is the epitome of giving you, the rockstar designer or engineer, the ability to create and flourish with the tools you need.
You didn’t get into the industry to do poor, sloppy work. You came here to help save lives. We shouldn’t have to wait for programmers to create the daily tools we need to do great work. Excel is one way you can organize and validate the great work you do.
There came a point near the end of my undergraduate work and at the beginning of graduate school where I realized I needed to create a clean, organized method to show details within calculations. The method I slowly developed needed a single logic path, had to be easy to follow, would thoroughly explain the process, and had to allow the easy repetition of the work.
What’s resulted is the standard format that’s used in the PE Prep Guide and on many of the tools you’ll see around this site. Concepts are researched, painstakingly created, tested, refined, tested, refined, beta tested, and refined more.
Standard formatting for MeyerFire tools - note the equations and worked examples with references cited.
If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you already know the blog, daily forum, and even the PE prep materials are all created to help foster discussion that leads to shared expertise and knowledge.
Outside of a few major players and organizations, the fire protection industry is comprised of thousands of thousands of small outfits that welcome this shared expertise. Our industry thrives on the contributions from a wide spread of individual parties.
Don’t let me or anyone else douse your enthusiasm to create resources that improve your ability to impact the industry.
Keep on keepin’ on.
Oh and remember to take your kids to the library.
Looking for an opportunity to turn a basic concept into a controversial one on a project? Great! This week I'm exploring the quick-response remote area reduction that's provided in NFPA 13.
Suppress Early, Suppress Less
The concept behind reducing the calculated hydraulically remote area in a fire sprinkler system is entirely based on fighting a smaller fire earlier in the development of the fire.
There's a handful of factors that contribute to the timing of sprinkler response (a good future discussion), which include the thermal sensitivity, sprinkler temperature rating, distance of sprinklers relative to the ceiling, sprinkler spacing, ceiling height, and dynamics of the fire itself.
The reduction in the hydraulically remote area is based upon comparative tests of quick-response against standard-response spray sprinklers. According to the NFPA 13 handbook, the tests demonstrated that the earlier the water is applied to the fire, the smaller the fire and ultimately the less number of sprinklers needed to activate.
Not Universally Accepted
While the remote area reduction has been included in NFPA 13 for years, it's not universally accepted. Many engineer specifications don't allow the reduction, and design standards for major organizations such as the Department of Defense (UFC 3-600-01) don't permit it either.
Why not accept the remote area reduction, if NFPA 13 includes it? Like other elements in hydraulic design for fire sprinkler systems, not using the remote area reduction provides an additional safety factor to the system.
Additionally, since the quantity of sprinklers relates to the quantity of water flowing in the system, main sizes are directly impacted by using or not using the quick response area reduction. Building owners may opt to not want to reduce the remote area to preserve reasonable (larger) main sizes and give themselves flexibility on building modifications and sprinkler system changes in the future.
Quick-Response Area Reduction Calculator
This quick calculator is in part a checklist of prerequisites to reduce the remote area on a fire sprinkler system, in part a method of showing your work, and in part a quick calculator on determining your final remote area size. Don't see it below? Give it a try here.
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A little earlier than this time last year I wrote an article covering how NFPA 13 addresses sprinkler protection underneath canopies, overhangs, and exterior projections on buildings. It ended up as one of my favorites and I've had good feedback on it as well.
With the big changes in re-organization to the 2019 Edition of NFPA 13, it is only appropriate to make a few updates to the flowchart and get it in your hands so you can do what you do best.
Here's a link to the original article in full. If you haven't read it, it might be worth a few minutes here:
Sprinkler protection for canopies & overhangs are an important part of the overall protection scheme for a building.
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I've heard from a handful of people to be sure to explore topics other than just fire suppression. I agree! There will be plenty more to come.
It only seems appropriate after discussing the fire suppression cheatsheet and the code call cheatsheet in the last few weeks to also compile the latest cheatsheet I have for fire alarm design.
Here's a blank cheatsheet and an example:
If you're already using the Toolkit this is now available for download with today's update. Just log in here to get it.
Along with having all of your design decisions documented for a project (or flagging the open items still left to figure out), perhaps the most important piece is how quickly you're now able to record your notes.
If you don't see the video recording below, click here for a YouTube video of how quick notes can be recorded.
MeyerFire was created to help you shine in fire protection. Know someone who might be interested in these tools or articles? Email a friend with a link today. Thanks for being a part of the effort towards better fire protection!
Unless you're tuned in as an AHJ yourself, you've likely made a few "code calls" to a code authority and asked a litany of questions to make sure your project's design meets the local requirements.
I'm not even sure if the term "code call" is a common term, but I've heard it enough that I suspect you already know what I'm talking about regardless of where you call home.
I enjoy this process now, but I didn't always. Fresh out of school I'm pretty sure I was visibly shaking the time I first made a code call. I was sure that within seconds my cover would be blown and it would be all too obvious that I had no idea what I was talking about. Despite my awkwardness (I make a good engineer, right??) nothing went sour and since then I've slowly learned and repeated many many times.
There was even one of my favorite code calls that I made about an elementary school to coordinate local fire alarm requirements. It was only right after the call late on a Friday afternoon that I found out that the fire marshal I just spoke with was hired onto our team and was starting the following Monday. They say fire protection is a small world, right? He turned out to be one of the most knowledgeable people I know and one of my favorite people to work alongside.
The Joys & Pains of Code Calls
Code calls also come in many different flavors.
Sometimes I'm just shocked by how friendly and helpful code authorities are. I once made a call at 15 minutes till 5pm on a Friday to a small town in Arkansas, thinking I would just leave a voicemail. After my questions, I asked if the department conducted flow tests, and while he said they did, he apologized that because of a prior commitment he couldn't do it then but would be happy to do it first thing Monday morning. I almost fell out of my chair. Very helpful and caring people in this field.
On the contrary, sometimes the hardest part about a code call is just finding the right person to speak with who is actually responsible for plan review of fire protection systems and getting a few minutes of their time. Not to pick on New York City because I love the people there and speak with a handful of you regularly, but if you're trying to get a hold of someone to verify or coordinate a few particulars of your system... well... good luck! Maybe it's because they knew I can't stand the Yankees.
I also sometimes get AHJs who simply say all they do is 'per code' and they aren't interested in talking specifics. The whole point of the call is filling in the gaps where a code or standard does not direct but rather defers decisions to the AHJ.
Want a siamese fire department connection with national thread, or a Storz-type? Either way is code compliant. As an engineer I can make either way work.
Is a wall-mounted FDC permissible, or does it need to be freestanding? Either location is compliant, but NFPA 13 says the location needs to be coordinated with the AHJ.
What I've gathered and refined over hundreds of code calls is my cheatsheet I currently use today. Just like the design cheatsheet, if you're using the Toolkit you can quickly highlight categories for your record keeping.
What's even better about this tool, though, is that you can quickly fill in the content (while on the call) and then right after save as a PDF and email to the AHJ themselves. Want them to have a record of the call and a quick way to verify your notes? Great! You now have a logged code call and the AHJ has an opportunity to review your notes.
The process of calling, taking notes, and composing the email used to take close to an hour total. This tool alone brings that total time to about 15-20 minutes. That's three-quarters of an hour you could save on every job you make the call!
A Radical Big-Picture Concept
One of my longer big-picture ideas to help the industry is to beta test and, if successful, open up a larger code-call database. I envision this as a database that brings designers and code authorities together to make local requirements clear and help jurisdictions get installations that reflect their preferences and mandates.
Want to know what hydraulic safety factor is required for sprinkler systems in Springfield, Illinois? Great - a quick query in the database reveals that and a clean list of other local requirements.
Want to know what type and location for FDC's that Tucson, Arizona requires? Great, we'd have that too.
This would clearly have a huge value for designers and engineers - but what I'm really curious about is how to incentivize code authorities to take the survey or help us populate the database. If you're an AHJ, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment below about whether you'd be open to the idea of making your local requirements public in a database.
I would have to think that AHJ input would only help local authorities get installations that match their needs - but I also know that getting action out of anyone is only possible with mutual benefit and sometimes incentives.
Just like the Design Cheatsheet posted a couple weeks ago, this form is integrated into the updated version of the MeyerFire Toolkit ready for download today. Below is a blank and filled-in template.
If you're already a Toolkit user, you can download the code call cheatsheet today by logging in here. If you're not using the Toolkit, you might consider joining in on what's quickly becoming what some consider the best tool for fire sprinkler design under $200. See more about it here.
The Questions on My List
The current code call checklist I use today has had items added and scratched over years of finding out what's important and what questions always get the same answers.
That being said, there's no real one defined list that matches everyone's preferences. What questions do you ask that you feel are important to the design that's not explicit in code? Comment below.
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Determining fire flow can be a tricky subject. This week I'm breaking down one common method of determining fire flow requirements and hopefully exposing some myths about the process.
Not an Exact Science
First, determining the exact amount of water required to manually suppress a fire is dependent upon so many variables. The amount of water used could depend on the building size, hazard, outdoor conditions, speed of fire growth, fire department response time, whether the building is protected by sprinklers, and on and on.
The methods used to calculate fire flow are different methods at estimating the amount of water required to manually suppress a fire. It is not an exact science.
What is Fire Flow?
I'll start by what fire flow is not. Fire Flow is not the volume of water required for the fire sprinkler system. I couldn't count the number of projects where Fire Flow has been assumed to be sprinkler-related.
Fire Flow is formally defined as the "flow rate of a water supply, measured at 20 psi (138 kPa), that is available for fire fighting." (IFC 200-2018 Appendix B Section B102)
Fire flow is used to determine the quality of a water supply to an area. It's used as an aid to determine pipe size and arrangements to delivery water to a specific area.
Fire Flow is important for emergency response at it is the total capacity of the system that the fire department has available for use in response to a fire.
How Is Required Fire Flow Determined?
In short - it depends.
There are many methods for determining fire flow. The most common cited in US circles include the Insurance Services Office (ISO) Method, Iowa State Method, and the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Method. At least a dozen other methods exist (for more on these, the Fire Protection Research Foundation provides great analysis in Evaluation of Fire Flow Methodologies research paper).
The International Fire Code (IFC) offers Appendix material that provides guidance for determining the required fire flow, which is based on the ISO Method. It is not a mandated code requirement unless a jurisdiction adopts the Appendix.
Many jurisdictions I've worked with do not have an ordinance that adopts the appendix, but when asked they are typically open to using the IFC Appendix B method of determining fire flow. The International Fire Code, which is widely adopted in the US, only requires that an approved water supply "capable of supplying the required fire flow" be provided to buildings.
This process will be explored in more detail here.
1. Determine Baseline Fire Flow
The first step in this overall determination of water supply to a site is to determine the required fire flow.
Using the IFC Method, Appendix B has a reference table that stipulates a minimum fire flow and flow duration based upon building size and construction type (2000-2012 Table B105.1, 2015-2018 Table B105.1(2)).
2. Reductions & Increases
Once a baseline value for flow and duration is taken from the table, it can be reduced based on the presence of sprinkler system.
Section B105 details the adjustments that are available for buildings with a sprinkler system. A reduction of up to 75% can be permitted for buildings with a fire sprinkler system.
It's important to note that up through the 2012 edition of the International Fire Code, a reduction of fire flow had to be approved, meaning the AHJ must agree on the reduction. This may not make a difference if a jurisdiction hasn't adopted the appendix and the entire calculation has to be approved anyways, but in the case where Appendix B is adopted and you're under IFC 2000 through 2012, you'll need AHJ buy-in to use the reduction.
The 2015 and 2018 edition of IFC removed the approval necessity for sprinkler flow reductions.
As part of this process the Fire Chief is also authorized to decrease the required fire flow, based on building isolation or impracticality. Alternatively, the Fire Chief is also authorized to increase based on unusual susceptibility for the facility. These stipulations come with Section B103 of Appendix B (all editions).
Fire Flow is used to quantify the available water supply for manual firefighting operation.
3. Verify Provided Fire Flow
The best way to verify fire flow for a location is to conduct a flow test at the site itself. This of course can be difficult to impossible for new-construction projects on virgin sites.
For developed areas or building expansions, this may not be difficult to accomplish.
I have a current project we're working on that is a major building expansion. Fire flow needed to be assessed based on the new expanded building and whether a single 8-inch feed would still meet the minimum requirements. A flow test on the site itself confirmed that we are just short of required fire flow which prompted a healthy discussion with the AHJ.
4. Calculate from Flow Test to Site (if necessary)
Sometimes a flow test can't be conducted on the site itself.
When this is the case, a hydraulic calculation can be run between the water supply source (nearby flow test, a water tower, reservoir, or pump) and the project site to estimate what the available fire flow will be. This calculation incorporates the pressure loss of the pipe network as water is constricted between a source and a project site. The best way to confirm actual fire flow (in my opinion) is to verify with a flow test once any extension is installed.
Easy Tools for Fire Flow & Water Supply Analysis
There's a new tool in the arsenal around here that directly addresses fire flow requirements.
It's the Fire Flow Calculator that's now a part of the Toolkit. If you're already a Toolkit subscriber, download it today.
The Fire Flow Calculator uses the IFC method based on your project parameters to quickly grab the baseline fire flow and duration, and make adjustments for sprinkler protection. Now you have extremely quick access to determine required fire flow, and the documentation to support your process.
This is a tool I'm happy to debut and have used with great client feedback.
On a side note, Toolkit subscribers also now have access to last week's Design Checklist with user-provided feedback. The download update includes both tools. Give them a download and let me know what you think!
Don't get these weekly articles? Subscribe here and get a free guide for canopies & overhangs.
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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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.