Fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings

Fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings can vary by state, county and municipality.

All business owners want to keep their property and employees safe, and one of the biggest concerns is fire safety. Fires in a commercial setting are significant as they can lead to injury and death, not to mention they can wipe out an entire inventory and reduce a sizeable structure to ash. For these reasons, commercial buildings should be equipped with fire sprinkler systems that meet local standards.

Consider this: The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) fact sheet on sprinkler systems is quite telling when it comes to why they’re so important. For every 1,000 fires in a structure that has sprinklers, around 20 firefighters are injured. That number triples to 61 in building where there are no automatic extinguishing systems, such as a sprinkler.

Aside from protecting your property, employees and customers, installing a sprinkler system might actually be the law for you.

What’s required in my structure?

So, you want to do the right thing and install a sprinkler system. You know it’s the right thing to do, but how will you know if you’re doing it right?

The first thing you need to do is check with your local fire authority and find out what laws are on the books for commercial properties in your municipality, state and county. Among the more often used guidelines for standards covering fire sprinkler systems is the NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

This national standard provides fire sprinkler requirements that offers builders and building owners a go-to source for determining if they’re in compliance and what they need to do if they’re not. Most business owners will want to exceed fire safety requirements to ensure they are fully protected.

The following are some excellent guidelines that give you an idea of what’s required in various different types of commercial buildings:

  • Sprinkler systems are required throughout structures that are 55 feet high or taller
  • Water supply control valves must be easily accessible
  • Valves need to be protected if they’re in exposed areas where collision is possible
  • All valves need to be marked indicating locations they cover
  • Fire pumps must be installed to push the right amount of water pressure to the sprinklers
  • New buildings with a fire area exceeding 5,000 square feet must have a sprinkler system
  • Old buildings that have been remodeled must include a sprinkler system

NFPA guidelines to follow

The NFPA publishes what is called the Life Safety Code, which is language that is adopted for use in a given jurisdiction. Government agencies as well as municipalities often adopt this Code. It’s published every three years, but local jurisdictions don’t always adopt the most recent one.

Check with your local fire authority to see if the Code impacts what you install in your building, and for extra precaution, ask if it’s the latest Code or if they’re still working off of one from previous years. Be proactive and ensure that you’re following the current Code to the letter.

What are the benefits of having a system?

Your system should detect heat, smoke and flames, and then send water or a fire suppression agent (such as foam) to the affected areas. When you have your system installed, tested, maintained and regularly inspected, you have to assurances you need to know that should the worst occur, your system will be there to protect your workers, customers and property.

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are often able to react faster than humans. So if your method of fire protection is to have a few extinguishers placed throughout the building, you definitely need to rethink your strategy.

When you sprinkler system is deployed during work hours, it will fight back the fire, giving your employees and customers more time to evacuate. And while some business owners are reluctant to install sprinklers because of the water damage they might cause, they need to know that sprinklers actually reduce damage. It’s a myth that sprinklers cause more damage than fires.

Consider this regarding that myth: A sprinkler system will actually control the heat and smoke from the fire, which limits damage. A fire in a commercial building that does not have sprinklers will force the local fire department to react, and their lines will drop up to 1,200 gallons of water per minute on your fire. The NFPA says that fire departments will use up to 8.5 times the amount of water on a fire than a sprinkler system will.

Which fire sprinkler system fits my commercial building requirements?

The most common type of system is a wet pipe system, which means the water is present in the pipes up to the sprinklers, just waiting for the command to flow freely and knock down heat, smoke and flames. However, this isn’t going to work in all situations.

In cold climates and in buildings that have areas that aren’t heated, a dry pipe system is required. These systems are usually filled with air or gas so that they don’t risk burst pipes from frozen water. Once a fire is detected, the air is released from the pipes and water flows out of the pump and into the pipes, finally reaching the sprinkler heads.

Pre-action systems also have dry pipes, but they require a series of events to trigger the water to flow to sprinkler heads. These are used in areas with sensitive equipment, such as a data center, or a library or art gallery where valuable artifacts are housed. In some cases, the pre-action system is outfitted with gas that smothers the flame, protecting the contents of the building from water damage.

For buildings that house toxic, explosive and dangerous materials, a deluge system is required. As the name might indicate, the deluge system floods areas that would otherwise be quickly consumed by flames. Oil refineries, jet hangars and manufacturing structures where highly flammable materials are stored typically install these systems.

At Valley Fire Protection, we’ve designed, built, installed, replaced and maintained every type of fire suppression system in use in many, many industries. Contact us today and let’s talk about your options.

Related Topics: Fire Protection // Fire Sprinklers
By: Tom Hartel
I acquired my expertise by directing day-to-day operations of the business for over 20 years. Continuous hard work helped me become a nationally recognized speaker and expert on fire protection, fire sprinklers, special hazards, and plumbing systems. In this blog, I share my knowledge that will hopefully help you make better decisions for your projects.

1 Comment

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    Thanks for mentioning that before installing a sprinkler system in a commercial building you should check with local fire authorities for what laws are on the books. I think it’s a good idea that facilities have new technology also that can be accessed via phone apps. It also seems like a good investment to hire a reputable company that has both the technology and equipment to install a protection system in a commercial building and also knows of the laws that they must follow.


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