Author(s): Matt Klaus

DESIGNING SUPPRESSION SYSTEMS for most new projects and facilities is often as simple as turning to NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, which in most cases provides all the design guidance you’ll need. When dealing with industrial facilities, however, NFPA 13 may be only one of several NFPA codes and standards that you need to review before understanding the entire scope of the required suppression scheme.

Most facilities, including office buildings, retail outlets, and restaurants, are required to have NFPA 13-compliant automatic sprinkler systems, as required by the applicable building code or life safety code in that jurisdiction. Industrial facilities often have additional occupancy, storage, or process standards that address unique hazards in these facilities, hazards that may require alternative suppression systems, risk assessments, or modifications to the baseline requirements of NFPA 13. Standards like NFPA 36, Solvent Extraction Plants, and NFPA 86, Ovens and Furnaces, while not as well known as standards like NFPA 13, are critically important to designing the fire protection program for the unique fire protection challenges presented in these facilities.

In addition to, or in some cases in lieu of, a traditional closed head, wet pipe sprinkler system, many of these industrial applications require the use of other suppression standards, such as NFPA 15, Water Spray Fixed Systems for Fire Protection, NFPA 16, Installation of Foam-Water Sprinkler and Foam-Water Spray Systems, or NFPA  2001, Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems. In other instances, these occupancy and process standards may require a traditional sprinkler system, but with specific design discharge criteria or spacing requirements that differ from NFPA 13.

If you’re familiar only with NFPA 13, there are two starting points to find the required system requirements for special industrial occupancies. First, NFPA 13 has included extracted information in Chapter 22 from dozens of industrial standards. This chapter contains the suppression-related requirements for many industrial facilities, including liquid propane gas plants, semi-conductor production facilities, and hydroelectric generating plants. This chapter is intended to highlight possible special design requirements for these types of facilities, requirements that are unique and supersede those of NFPA 13.

In addition, you can use NFPA’s list of codes and standards at nfpa.org to determine if a specific standard exists. All NFPA standards are available for free through the NFPA doc info pages and the “real read” feature. Subscribers to the National Fire Code Subscription Service (NFCSS) can search nearly 300 documents for keywords to determine if special suppression requirements exist and which standards should be used for the design of those systems.

Simply going to NFPA 13 and expecting to find every answer to every suppression question for industrial facilities can be a costly mistake. It is not uncommon for system designers and owners to be unaware of all of the special features and design requirements that go into these facilities until it is too late. This can lead to delayed openings, costly change orders, and possibly abatement orders or shutdowns from the authority having jurisdiction if these “design deficiencies” are found after the facility is open. Don’t let this happen to your project — make sure you have a complete understanding of the hazards and system requirements for your industrial occupancy, and use the tools at your disposal to make sure your research is comprehensive and complete.

Matt Klaus is principal fire protection engineer at NFPA and staff liaison for NFPA 13, 13R, & 13D.

NFPA members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 13 at nfpa.org/13.

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