How to coordinate system requirements with an architect?
As a consultant, this is probably the biggest picture item that I need to confirm with the client.
Is a system even required? And if not, does the building owner want a system regardless?
This goes for sprinkler systems, standpipes, or even fire alarm systems.
When I was in my first two months of my first full-time job, I never did code checks to see what kind of system was actually required when a project started. I didn't know that I needed to check the building code to see if a system was required. And I didn't know that I should ask if it's not required, whether the owner wants it or not. I just assumed that if a project landed on my desk, that it needed fire alarm and sprinkler, and that's what I did.
So about three to four months into that same job, I noticed later on that my fire alarm plants never got sent out with the job. I called the project manager and asked what was going on. I was confused and I was worried that something was missing. And the project manager said, well, the fire alarm system's not required by code and the owner didn't want it. So, I didn't include the drawing. Boom. Wow. Okay. Aside from feeling like I wasted everybody's time, I made a note to myself that I always needed to check whether the system was required or not before I just assumed that I needed to design the system.
I've also worked with architects in the past who I hate to say try to skirt the system, but they are considering different approaches so that the end result is something that is code compliant, however, is also the most cost-effective option to their building owner client.
Not exactly trying to say that the owner is being just straight up cheap or that the architect is shady, but they're looking at the construction process and the costs associated with that process with a very different mindset, especially about fire protection than how you and I see it.
I sometimes get questions about trying to limit the building size so that sprinklers aren’t required or trying to divide up larger buildings with formal building separations or firewalls so that they can avoid sprinkler requirements. Personally, I don't advocate for finding ways around installing sprinklers. I feel like they provide a tremendous value both in terms of property protection and life safety. In general, I'm trying to encourage architects and building owners to look into sprinklers and provide them even when they're not code required.
When I get asked about all of these different possibilities or different arrangements of the building to try and get around sprinkler requirements, then I can usually go into what the building code would require. But then that's also a great opportunity to advocate for a level of protection that is different than what the minimum requirements of the code require.
In other words, this is a great discussion to have. It's a great opportunity to educate the client. As a consultant, that's really our role. We're there to educate. We're there to help. We're there to provide our expertise with the perspective and the education that we have. And that's really the value that we're bringing to a project. Unfortunately, a lot of architects and building owners only see fire alarm and sprinkler systems as an obstruction to what they're trying to do.
They also see it as just added expense to the project. They don't always carry the mindset that having fire sprinklers can offer major benefits to not just life safety, but protecting the building, lowering insurance premiums and preventing disastrous business loss and downtime possibilities.
When we get into data centers and we're thinking about downtime and server downtime, the amount of money that that costs it's extreme and fire protection is a real risk to the revenue that a business has.
The same could be said for business loss cases. If a small business is dependent on one location in order to continue running and continue operating, say like a dental office, for example, if they lose a building to a total loss and a fire, which I've seen happen. It just happened to a dentist that I know in our area, they could be months without revenue and depending on their insurance and how they go about that, even if they do get insurance claims and get money back for the lost revenue, it's not a one for one exchange.
They could lose clients, their client could scatter to other competitors. There's a real concern that when you have a total building loss, that it could affect your business in a very, very negative way. It's another example of one area where we can educate the building owner and not just think about the initial install cost but think about the life cycle of your building and how it can protect your business assets and business revenue.
So how do I approach this discussion on what systems are even required?
Some projects are very straightforward and it's very obvious whether a system is required or not. That might not be something I even need to bring up to the architect. If we've got a large building, it's a hospital, it's three story, sprinkler system's gonna be required. I know it's gonna be an NFPA 13 system by code, boom, slam dunk, not controversial.
For other projects that might be borderline or could go a few different ways, or maybe it's early in development, I'll usually lay out a quick, I call it a code path that starts with your building code and works its way down to the actual system requirement. It doesn't have to be long, it could be three bullet points that just starts at the top, and works chapter by chapter, and so you get down to the correct section, it says 903.2, this is our occupancy, this is where it's required, put that in an email and get it confirmed.
If it's early in a job and the architect hasn't even nailed down the occupancy type yet, or settled on a square footage value, then this kind of collaborative approach becomes really important.
The worst thing you could do when starting off a job, coordinating early on is to make assumptions that are wrong and never have those validated until you've wasted a bunch of time and you're really deep in design only to find out that a system isn't required and the building owner doesn't want it.
If there's a question as to whether the system is required or not, do your code research, write it down, and get that confirmed with an architect.
If it's still vague or a system is shown to not be required by code. Now is the time to ask the building owner, if they want any of these systems based on their own insurer requirements, or maybe they just simply want the system.
I once had a project that was a vet clinic in a small business park. By code, a sprinkler system was not required based on its occupancy type, its occupant load, and its size. However, the vet clinic kept animals in cages overnight after surgeries and on hospitalization emergency visits. The vet clinic owner was adamant that they needed a fire sprinkler system so they wouldn't suffer a horrific tragedy of losing all these animals when the building didn't have a person in it overnight.
In that case, it was absolutely. They should have a fire sprinkler system, regardless of whether the code does or doesn't require it. That was a great case where the building owner knew clearly the value that a sprinkler system provided, they wanted it regardless. They didn't want to be on the front page of the news in some awful tragedy.
In these conversations, just remember that you’re a consultant. It's your job to help educate your clients. If a facility in your opinion should have sprinklers, then advocate for it and explain why with justification. It's not good enough to sit silent and say that something isn't required by code and never even ask the question.
Remember that code is just a minimum. It's not designed to be perfect. And just because something is built to code, doesn't necessarily mean that it's up to the level that the building owner would expect, or that it's even up to the level of what you and I might feel prudent. As a consultant, it's your job to help educate your clients.
You have to be the expert and you have to inform your clients to the point that they can feel comfortable with making their own decisions. That's really what they're paying you to do.
So in summary, how do I coordinate system requirements with an architect?
Well first, I do my code research and I determine on my own what is and what is not required.
Two is that I write down a quick code path as I see it, and get that approach confirmed by the architect.
Three, if any of these systems are not required by code, then I ask if insurance is gonna be a driver for it, or simply if the building owner wants these systems included.
You can also be creative and have the system priced as an alternate so that the building owner can look at the total cost of the system and see if it has the value that they want for their building.
In the next video, we're gonna get into how we coordinate the standard that would apply to the project and how we coordinate that with the architect.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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