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When Are Fire Sprinklers Required

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When designing a new structure, one must take into account whether an Automatic Sprinkler System is required. Section 903 within Chapter 9 of the International Building Code (IBC) establishes the requirements for automatic sprinkler systems. Before we get into when its required, lets define what an automatic sprinkler system is.

The International Building Code (IBC) defines an automatic sprinkler system as the following:

An automatic sprinkler system, for fire protection purposes, is an integrated system of underground and overhead piping designed in accordance with fire protection engineering standards. The system includes a suitable water supply. The portion of the system above the ground is a network of specially sized or hydraulically designed piping installed in a structure or area, generally overhead, and to which automatic sprinklers are connected in a systematic pattern. The system is usually activated by heat from a fire and discharges water over the fire
area.

According to Section 903.2, “Approved automatic sprinkler systems in new buildings and structures shall be provided in the locations described in Sections 903.2.1 through 903.2.12”. Let’s go ahead and dive into these sections to understand the locations of where a fire sprinkler system is required.

Group A Occupancy – 903.2.1

An automatic sprinkler system is to be provided to fire areas and intervening floors of a building when any of the following conditions exist throughout the building and portions thereof:

Group A-1 Occupancy – 903.2.1.1

  1. Fire Area exceeds 12,000 square feet.
  2. Fire Area has an occupant load of 300 or more.
  3. Fire Area is located on a floor other than a level of exit discharge serving such occupancies.
  4. Fire Area contains a multi-theater complex.

Group A-2 Occupancy – 903.2.1.2

  1. Fire area exceeds 5,000 square feet.
  2. Fire area has an occupant load of 100 or more.
  3. The fire area is located on a floor other than a level of exit discharge serving such occupancies.

Group A-3 Occupancy – 903.2.1.3

  1. The fire area exceeds 12,000 square feet.
  2. The fire area has an occupant load of 300 or more.
  3. The fire area is located on a floor other than a level of exit discharge serving such occupancies.

Group A-4 Occupancy – 903.2.1.4

  1. The fire area exceeds 12,000 square feet.
  2. The fire area has an occupant load of 300 or more.
  3. The fire area is located on a floor other than a level of exit discharge serving such occupancies.

Group A-5 Occupancy – 903.2.1.5

Group A-5 Occupancies require fire sprinkleres at the following areas:

  1. Concession Stands
  2. Retail Areas
  3. Press Boxes
  4. Accessory Use areas that exceed 1,000 square feet

Assembly Occupancies on Roofs – 903.2.1.6

An assembly occupancy on an occupied roof that exceeds an occupant load of 100 for Group A-2 occupancy and 300 for all other Group A occupancies requires all floors between the occupied roof and level of exit discharge to be equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system, except for open parking garages built with Type I or Type II construction.

Multiple Fire Areas in Group A – 903.2.1.7

When multiple fire areas of Group A-1, A-2, A-3, or A-4 occupancies share an exit or an exit access component, and the combined occupant load of the fire areas is 300 or more, an automatic sprinkler system must be provided.

Ambulatory Care Facilities – 903.2.2

An automatic sprinkler system must be installed throughout an ambulatory care facility when any of the following conditions exist:

  1. Four of more care recipients are incapable of self-preservation.
  2. One or more care recipients incapable of self-preservation are located located on a floor other than the level of exit discharge.

Group E Occupancy – 903.2.3

  1. Throughout all Group E fire areas greater than 12,000 square feet in area.
  2. Throughout every portion of educational buildings below the lowest level of exit discharge serving that portion of the building unless where every classroom below the level of exit discharge has no fewer than one exterior exit door at the ground level.

Group F-1 Occupancy – 903.2.4

  1. Fire Area that exceeds 12,000 square feet.
  2. Fire Area located more than 3 stories above grade.
  3. Combined area of all Group F-1 fire areas on all floors, including any mezzanines, exceeds 24,000 square feet.
  4. Group F-1 occupancy building used for the manufacture of upholstered furniture or mattresses exceeds 2,500 square feet.

Woodworking Operations – 903.2.4.1

Group F-1 occupancy fire areas containing wood working operations that exceed 2,500 square feet in area and that generate or use finely divided combustible waste or material.

Group H Occupancy – 903.2.5

Group H Occupancy Buildings are considered high-hazard occupancies and therefore an automatic sprinkler system is required throughout all Group H occupancies.

Group I Occupancy – 903.2.6

Group I occupancy buildings require an automatic sprinkler system throughout except for Group I-4 day care facilities that are located at the level of exit discharge and where every room providing care has no fewer than one exterior exit door.

Group M Occupancy – 903.2.7

  1. Fire Area that exceed 12,00 square feet.
  2. Fire Area is located more than 3 stories above grade.
  3. Combined area of all fire areas of all floor, including mezzanines exceeds 24,000 square feet.
  4. Building used for the display and sale of upholstered furniture or mattresses that exceed 5,000 square feet.

High-piled Storage – 903.2.7.1

Automatic sprinkler system is required in Group M buildings where storage of merchandise is in high-piled or rack storage arrays.

High-piled storage is defined in the International Fire Code. It is defined as followed:

HIGH-PILED STORAGE AREA. An area within a building which is designated, intended, proposed or actually used for high-piled combustible storage.

HIGH-PILED COMBUSTIBLE STORAGE. Storage of combustible materials in closely packed piles or combustible materials on pallets, in racks or on shelves where the top of storage is greater than 12 feet in height. Where required by the fire code official, high-piled combustible storage also includes certain high-hazard commodities, such as rubber tires, Group A plastics, flammable liquids, idle pallets and similar commodities, where the top of storage is greater than 6 feet in height.

Group R Occupancy – 903.2.8

All buildings with Group R fire areas and acre facilities shall be provided with automatic sprinkler systems throughout.

Group S-1 Occupancy – 903.2.9

  1. Fire Area exceeds 12,000 square feet.
  2. Fire Area is located more than 3 stories above grade plane.
  3. Combined area of all fire areas of all floor, including mezzanines exceeds 24,000 square feet.
  4. Fire Areas used for storage of commercial motor vehicles where the fire area exceeds 5,000 square feet.
  5. Building used for the storage of upholstered furniture or mattresses that exceed 2,500 square feet.

Repair Garages – 903.2.9.1

  1. Buildings that have two or more stories above grade plane, including basements, with a fire area containing a repair garage exceeding 10,000 square feet.
  2. Buildings not more than one story above grade plane, with a fire area containing a repair garage exceeding 12,000 square feet.
  3. Buildings with repair garages servicing vehicles parked in basements.
  4. A Group S-1 fire area used for the repair of commercial motor vehicles where the fire area exceeds 5,000 square feet.

Bulk Storage or Tires – 903.2.9.2

Buildings where the storage area of tires exceeds 20,000 cubit feet are required to be provided with an automatic sprinkler system throughout.

Group S-2 Occupancy Enclosed Parking Garages – 903.2.10

  1. Fire Area of an enclosed parking garage exceeds 12,000 square feet.
  2. When an enclosed parking garage is located below other occupancy groups, except when located beneath Group R-3 occupancies.

Commercial Parking Garages – 903.2.10.1

Buildings used for storage of commercial motor vehicles where the fire area exceeds 5,000 square feet.

Specific Buildings and Hazards – 903.2.11

This section covers specific buildings regardless of the occupancy, other than Group U. Specific buildings are sometimes designed in such a way that they can create a hazard. Buildings that are designed in such a way or contain specific areas within them will be required to be fire sprinklered. These types of buildings can range from the amount of exterior openings a building has verse it size, or if building are certain height, have commercial cooking operations, contain hazardous exhaust, or have rubbish and linen chutes. This section alone has several specific requirement that needs it’s own blog post for explaining. If you would like to read these requirements, you can find them in Section 903.2.11 of the 2015 International Building Code (IBC).

Fire Area Defined

There has been several references to “Fire Area” within the code and it would be best to see how the code defines a “Fire Area”.

The International Building Code (IBC) defines Fire Area as the following:

The Fire Area is defined as the aggregate floor area enclosed and bounded by fire walls, fire barriers, exterior walls or horizontal assemblies of a building. Areas of the building not provided with surrounding walls shall be included in the fire area if such areas are included within the horizontal projection of the roof or floor next above.

So there you have it. The basic triggers of when an automatic fire sprinkler system required in a building. So next time you design a new building or make alterations to an existing structure, make sure to read through Section 903.2 within Chapter 9 of the International Building Code (IBC) for when an automatic fire sprinkler system is required.

* Reference Source – 2015 International Building Code – [Buy on Amazon]

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