Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on March 1, 2017.

What building owners need to know about keeping sprinkler systems in step with building use

NFPA 25, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, places the responsibility for compliance solely on building owners. While decades ago, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) were able to get around to inspecting every property in a given area, that is no longer the case due to a growing number of buildings and, in some jurisdictions, shrinking fire service resources. It’s up to building owners to be proactive and make any necessary changes to water-based fire protection systems before changes to their building’s use or contents are made.

With that in mind, the 2017 edition of NFPA 25 includes information to help building owners understand when an evaluation of their property’s water-based fire protection system is needed. Below are six actions that would require a system evaluation before being completed.

REMODELING OR ADDING ON TO ANY PART OF THE BUILDING. For example, if a building owner were to install a cross-corridor door, it might affect the spacing of sprinklers throughout the hallway, rendering one or more sprinklers out of compliance with NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

CHANGING THE USE OR FUNCTION OF ANY SPACE WITHIN THE BUILDING. With change of use or occupancy often comes a change in the contents and placement of everything inside the building. In the case of the General Electric warehouse, the building had been changed from manufacturing space to storage space, and the results of the ensuing fire were catastrophic.

CHANGING THE MAKEUP OF THE PRODUCTS STORED OR THE PACKAGING MATERIALS USED. Changes in product packaging and storage materials—such as adding foam inserts, bubble wrap, or plastic wrap to packages, or converting from wooden to plastic pallets—can significantly increase the fire hazard. Changes in the amount and placement of other products, such as cleaning supplies, which can be highly flammable, should also be considered.

ADDING RACKS OR INCREASING THE HEIGHT OF STORED MATERIALS. More rack space means a higher density of potentially combustible materials. These kinds of changes can require significant modifications to sprinkler systems, such as the addition of in-rack sprinklers.

MOVING OR CHANGING THE STORAGE ARRANGEMENT. Examples of this include adding solid shelves to racks or changing the aisle widths. Both, like adding racks, can increase the density of combustible materials in a given area.

REMOVING HEATING SYSTEMS. If a warehouse is void of employees, it might seem lucrative to remove heating systems in the space. But doing so can make pipes that supply sprinklers more prone to freezing.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal.