Author(s): David Hague. Published on May 1, 2018.

The Makeover

A comprehensive reorganization of the 2019 NFPA 13 has resulted in a major standard that is a leaner, clearer, and more effective tool for the installation of sprinkler systems


A few years ago, as part of the preparation for the 2016 edition of NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, members of one of the standard’s committees expressed concern over inconsistencies they had identified in the document. The standard had existed in one form or another since 1896, had undergone more than 60 revision cycles, and had grown to nearly 500 pages. Committee members realized that, in the process of all that change, some chapters had grown disproportionately large and had become difficult for users to manage and follow. Additionally, redundancies had crept into the standard, increasing its size without adding clarity. Committee members began discussing the possibility of restructuring the standard to address these issues.

The NFPA 13 Correlating Committee noted these concerns and established a task group to review the entire document and identify ways to clarify it and make it easier to use. The task group sought to remove redundancies that created confusion or conflict—repetition that improved usability was deemed appropriate, however—and to avoid repetition of general information throughout the standard. The flow of information was reviewed from chapter to chapter, with the idea of providing consistent chapter structures and combining, reordering, or dividing chapters where the flow was problematic. Chapter titles were checked for accuracy. The task group was charged with preparing a draft prior to the next revision cycle.

The result of this effort is a major re-organization for the 2019 edition of NFPA 13. Information is now clearly separated by subject matter—sprinkler technology, storage method, commodity, and so on—and is organized in the order the information is needed for anyone planning a sprinkler system installation. (One of the first considerations when planning a sprinkler system, for example, is the available water supply. In the previous edition, water supply wasn’t addressed until Chapter 24, so an engineer or designer had to constantly flip from front to back to reference the information. In the 2019 edition, water supply is addressed in Chapter 5.) The standard has been trimmed to about 400 pages. Overall, the 2019 edition offers users a clearer, more concise, and more effective tool for the installation of sprinkler systems.

Much of the work on the new NFPA 13 is already complete. First and second draft meetings were held, and the Notice of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM) closing date has passed with no NITMAMs submitted related to the standard’s reorganization. NFPA 13 will be presented to NFPA’s membership at the upcoming 2018 Technical Session in Las Vegas in June. It is anticipated that the 2019 edition of NFPA 13 will be published later this year with an effective date of sometime in August.

Early technologies

The changes to the 2019 edition of NFPA 13 were nearly three centuries in the making.

The first known water-based fire extinguishing system was installed in England around 1723 and consisted of a container of water, a chamber of gunpowder, and a system of fuses, the operational logic being that a fire would ignite the fuses that would detonate the gunpowder, and the ensuing explosion would release the stored water on the blaze. The first sprinkler system used in the United States was a network of perforated pipes that was used in the mid 1800s. As its name suggests, the pipes were perforated with holes drilled at strategic points along their lengths. The system had to be activated manually and discharged throughout the area, not just over the fire—a rather inefficient method that wasted a lot of water. The first automatic sprinkler was invented in 1864, but it wasn’t until 1878 when Henry Parmelee created an automatic sprinkler that saw extensive use.

In the late 1800s, sprinkler technology was advancing rapidly in the U.S.; in Boston alone, nine different sets of rules for the installation of sprinkler systems were in use. To address this issue, standardize installation, and prevent confusion surrounding different rules, a group of stakeholders, primarily insurance professionals, met in the Boston offices of the Underwriters Bureau of New England in 1895 to draft a set of uniform requirements for the installation of sprinkler systems. The result was “Rules and Regulations of the National Board of Fire Underwriters for Sprinkler Equipments, Automatic and Open Systems,” published in 1896. The document was 25 pages long. “The Red Book,” as it came to be known, was the standard that led to the creation of NFPA 13, as well as NFPA itself, which was founded in 1896.

In 1897, Everett U. Crosby, NFPA’s first secretary of the association, outlined the principles used in establishing the sprinkler standard, effectively describing the process that continues to be used to guide NFPA technical committees to this day. The purpose of the association, he wrote, was “to bring together the experience of different sections and different bodies of underwriters, to come to a mutual understanding, and, if possible, an agreement on general principles governing fire protection. Additionally, he wrote, the process existed “to harmonize and adjust our differences so that we may go before the public with uniform rules and conditions which may appeal to their judgment.”

In the 1960s, the NFPA 13 Technical Committee was charged with evolving the standard to encourage innovation and technology while keeping system installation costs in check. This was done with the intent of making systems available on a wider basis to further reduce fire loss. The effort resulted in the development of new types of pipe, fittings, and sprinklers, as well as the introduction of hydraulic calculations. In the 1980s and 1990s, sprinkler technology exploded with the introduction of the quick response sprinkler, early suppression fast response (ESFR) technology, control mode density area sprinklers, control mode specific application (CMSA) sprinklers, extended coverage sprinklers, and more, and NFPA 13 grew accordingly to address the plethora of new technologies.

Following the 1996 edition of NFPA 13, the technical committee was expanded to accommodate the need for additional technical expertise. The committee was organized into a technical correlating committee (TCC) that oversaw the entire project. The TCC supervised the work of committees on hanging and bracing, sprinkler system discharge criteria, and sprinkler system installation. The Technical Committee on Private Water Supply Piping Systems, part of the organization of NFPA 24, Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and their Appurtenances, was added before the 2002 edition. The Technical Committee on Residential Sprinkler Systems—part of the organization of NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, and NFPA 13R, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies—was added prior to the 2007 edition, as was the Technical Committee on Foam-Water Sprinkler and Foam-Water Spray Systems.

For the 1999 edition, the technical committee decided to include all sprinkler requirements in a significant reorganization of the standard. As part of that effort, language from approximately 40 NFPA codes and standards was added, including the entire text of all of the storage documents, including NFPA 231, Indoor General Storage, NFPA 231C, Rack Storage of Materials, NFPA 231D, Storage of Rubber Tires, NFPA 231E, Recommended practice for the Storage of Baled Cotton, and NFPA 231F, Storage of Roll Paper.

Retooling a major standard

While the contemporary NFPA 13 was comprehensive, it was also due for a big-picture makeover.

As part of the reorganization of the 2019 edition of the standard, the task group developed a spreadsheet showing every section of NPFA 13 in detail. The spreadsheet contained more than 8,000 lines and was developed to help the task group keep track of every line of text in the standard. As part of the document’s reorganization by subject matter, individual lines of text were moved to new locations throughout the standard. While deciding where to place those lines in the new format, almost 500 lines of redundant text were proposed (and accepted by the committees) for elimination. Chapters have been renumbered.

Chapter 1, Administration, and Chapter 2, Referenced Publications, remain essentially unchanged from the previous edition, although the former Section 4.1 Level of Protection was moved to Chapter 1. Chapter 3, Definitions, was rewritten to structure all the definitions of terms used in NFPA 13 alphabetically rather than in groups by subject matter. Feedback from users had indicated that it was difficult to find definitions in the current subject matter organization.

Chapter 4, General Requirements, was revised to include general information needed in the planning and design of a sprinkler system. The chapter begins with the expected level of protection as in previous editions, but now includes occupancy classification since that information is the primary step in determining the design and layout of a sprinkler system. Limitations on system size have also been moved to this chapter.

Chapter 5, Water Supplies, now contains water supply information that was previously located in Chapter 24; the task group felt that this information belonged in the front of the standard, since this is the first step in planning a sprinkler system. Chapter 6, Installation of Underground Piping, formerly Chapter 10, includes requirements for underground piping systems and logically follows water supplies.

Chapter 7, Requirements for System Components and Hardware (formerly Chapter 6), and Chapter 8, System Types and Requirements (formerly Chapter 7), are two of the few chapters that were basically renumbered and moved intact. The former Chapter 9, Hanging, Bracing and Restraint of System Piping, was divided into two chapters based on subject matter: Chapter 17, Installation Requirements for Hanging and Support of System Piping, and Chapter 18, Installation Requirements for Seismic Protection.

As indicated, Chapter 8 in the 2016 edition had become the resting place for a great deal of information that was not necessarily well organized. Users looking for installation requirements or combustible concealed space requirements were forced to wade through a lot of information to find what they were looking for. The chapter was divided into several new chapters with an improved and more logical organization. For example, the new Chapter 9, Sprinkler Location Requirements, contains much of the introductory information contained in the former Chapter 8, while Chapters 10 through 15 contain installation requirements for individual types of sprinklers: Chapter 10 covers installation requirements for standard upright, pendent, and sidewall sprinklers; Chapter 11 covers installation requirements for extended-coverage upright, pendent, and sidewall spray sprinklers, and so on. Chapter 12 covers residential sprinklers, Chapter 13 covers CMSA sprinklers, Chapter 14 addresses ESFR sprinklers, and the new Chapter 15 covers installation requirements for special sprinklers.

Chapter 16, Installation of Piping, Valves and Appurtenances, is a compilation of former Chapters 6 and 8. Similarly, Chapter 19, Design Approaches, includes all or parts of Chapters 4, 8, 11, and 23 from the previous edition of NFPA 13.

The new Chapter 20, General Requirements for Storage, is a renumbering exercise of the former Chapter 12, while the rest of the storage chapters (Chapters 21–25) have been completely revamped and are now organized by protection method: Chapter 21, Protection of High Piled Storage Using Control Mode Density Area (CMDA) Sprinklers; Chapter 22, CMSA Requirements for Storage Applications; Chapter 23, ESFR Sprinklers; Chapter 24, Alternative Designs; and Chapter 25, Protection of Rack Storage Using In-Rack Sprinklers, which has been re-organized into a rack storage chapter. This approach to determining protection of storage should make this task much easier and finding information much more efficient.

The remainder of the standard includes Chapter 26, Special Occupancy Requirements (formerly Chapter 22); Chapter 27, Plans and Calculations (formerly Chapter 23); Chapter 28, Systems Acceptance (formerly Chapter 25); Chapter 29, Existing System Modifications (including portions of the former Chapters 6, 8, and 27); Chapter 30, Marine Systems (formerly Chapter 26); and Chapter 31, System Inspection, Testing and Maintenance (formerly Chapter 27).

Stakeholders ranging from users of the standard, technical committee members, and NFPA staffers expressed concern over being able to find familiar information in the reorganized standard. If a user wanted to know where the requirements for sprinklers in electrical equipment rooms resided (formerly Section 8.15.11), where would they look? We prepared a road map for the new edition similar to the one created for the 1999 edition, when the storage information was added to NFPA 13. It remains uncertain where this information will be provided and in what format, but we are working to create a detailed road map so that every section from the 2016 edition can be found and is accounted for in the 2019 edition. The technical committee and task group are confident that with regular use of the new NFPA 13, users will be able to find the information they need much more easily and in a more understandable way.

DAVID HAGUE is principal fire protection engineer at NFPA. Top Photograph: Adrienne Albrecht