It is a popular and well-established concept that water and electricity don’t mix.
Water is electrically conductive which creates a major hazard of electrocution where a continuous pool of water meets a live electrical feed.
Can We Omit Sprinklers in Electrical Rooms?
On a few occasions I have come across building authorities and building owners who assume that sprinklers will not be installed inside traditional electrical rooms.
Why? The basic tenant that water and electricity don’t mix.
While the concept is important, the intent of sprinkler protection throughout a building is not just for each item within a building, but the building itself.
The primary intent of sprinklers is suppression – or stated differently – to prevent the growth of fire from the room of origin throughout a building. This includes all the rooms and spaces beyond just the electrical room where a fire could begin.
This week I’m digging into guidance surrounding electrical rooms.
NFPA 13 Guidance
NFPA 13 (2002 Section 126.96.36.199, 2007-10 188.8.131.52, 2013 184.108.40.206, 2016 220.127.116.11, 2019 9.2.6) allows sprinklers to be omitted in electrical rooms, but only where each of the following are met:
Concerns with Providing Sprinklers in Electrical Rooms
Providing sprinklers within electrical rooms could:
Prior to the 1994 edition of NFPA 13, important electrical equipment were required to have hoods (or shields) comprised of non-combustible construction to prevent direct contact by sprinkler discharge. All electrical rooms were required to be sprinkler protected.
Beginning with the 1994 edition, NFPA 13 introduced language to address concerns for firefighter safety and equipment damage. Sprinklers could be omitted in electrical rooms where the room contains dry-type equipment (no oils), is dedicated to electrical equipment only, is fire-resistant to reduce fire spread, and the room has no storage hazard.
The 2016 Edition, the requirement for equipment hoods or shields was removed to direct it under the scope of NFPA 70.
Just recently for the 2019 Edition new text was introduced such that no storage is permitted (non-combustible storage had been allowed) and liquid-type K-class (less flammable, non-spreading fluids) would be allowed.
International Building Code Input
The International Building Code (IBC) does not allow the omission of sprinklers “merely because it is damp, of fire-resistance-rated construction, or contains electrical equipment” (IBC 2000-18 18.104.22.168.1).
Within the same code section, the IBC does allow sprinklers to be omitted in “generator and transformer rooms separated from the remainder of the building by walls and floor/ceiling or roof/ceiling assemblies having a fire-resistance rating of not less than 2 hours.” These rooms must have an approved automatic fire detection system.
According to IBC commentary, buildings with sprinklers omitted in one of the sections allowed by the IBC would still be considered fully-sprinklered throughout and in compliance with the code and NFPA 13. This distinction is important as it carries eligibility for code alternatives, exceptions and reductions.
Combined, both the IBC and NFPA 13 require electrical rooms to be protected unless the prescriptive alternative option is followed.
As NFPA 13 commentary outlines, sprinkler systems have been successfully installed in rooms containing electrical equipment for over 100 years with no documented instances of a problem. While still seemingly controversial, most projects designed today include sprinkler-protected electrical rooms.
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Joseph Meyer, PE, owns/operates his own Fire Protection Engineering practice in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.