Fire Protection Sprinkler Systems

Automatic fire sprinklers have been in existence for over a century, and since their widespread implementation, have extinguished many fires and saved countless lives. A majority of fires are extinguished in buildings that are designed and maintained properly.

How Sprinklers Work

Sprinkler piping is distributed throughout a building, usually overhead at ceilings, with spray heads distributed to release water upon detection of heat. Most sprinkler heads use a heat sensitive glass link that plugs the water, until heat breaks the plug and releases the water. Sprinkler heads have various design temperatures at which to activated, depending on a number of circumstances. A qualified fire protection engineer or NICET (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies) certified sprinkler designer is tasked with designing the details of the sprinkler system.

Unlike what is sometimes portrayed in the movies, where someone pulls the fire alarm or puts a lighter to a sprinkler head and the building gets soaked in water, this is usually not reality. Most sprinkler systems are designed such that only one sprinkler is activated at a time by a direct heat source. Although, there is an less common kind of system called a deluge system, that does activate all sprinklers at once, which is primarily for extremely hazardous situations (not distilleries) and aircraft hangars. 

When are sprinklers needed?

There are many instances when sprinklers are not mandatory in buildings. In the majority of the US, the International Building & Fire Codes are adopted. These codes require sprinklers in high rise buildings, high hazard occupancies, and large assembly occupancies to name a few. Occupancy, building construction type, building area and height are some of the main determining factors for sprinkler requirements. The code often offers reductions to other requirements in exchange for installing a sprinkler system. For example, a fire separation between two occupancies may be 2 hours in a non-sprinklered building, but be reduced to 1 hour in a sprinklered building. This is just one example of many. 

When sprinklers are required or chosen by the designer, they must be installed in accordance with NFPA standards. NFPA 13 is the primary publication regarding sprinklers. NFPA 13 goes into details like activation temperatures, piping type, etc…

Adding a Sprinkler System

There’s some important considerations to make when installing a sprinkler system in a new building or an existing building. There must be sufficient water pressure and volumes to meet the demand of a sprinkler activation. Depending on the occupancy , there will require different water demands. The public supply of sprinkler water is sometimes a separate line from the domestic water system, often the same line as fire hydrants are on. 

While some jurisdictions charge a tap fee for tapping in for domestic water, there is usually not a tap fee for sprinkler lines because the water is not expected to be regularly used. The owner will however be responsible for construction costs associated with tapping in to the water lines. In an urban setting, this may involve temporarily shutting down the street, excavation, piping, and replacement of ground material. 

Once inside the building, a very ballpark figure of $2.50 a square foot can be used to estimate the installed cost of adding a sprinkler system. 

An existing building with multiple tenants can be tricky to retrofit a sprinkler system within, as one can imagine the construction. would be disruptive to several business. 

Sprinkler Systems in Distilleries

Under the IBC & IFC, in an non-sprinklered building, you are limited to 120 gallons of flammable liquid (ethanol over ~16% ABV) before becoming an H-3 (Hazardous) Occupancy. In a sprinklered building, this quantity is doubled, to 240 gallons. This makes a big impact in the capability of a distillery production and storage, while remaining an F-1 (Factory) occupancy. Please see other blog posts about the implications of going to an H-3 occupancy. 

There may be many instances when production is large enough to warrant needing an H-3 occupancy. H-3 occupancies must be sprinklered under all circumstances. 

If a distillery is going into an existing sprinklered building, there will likely be at least some minor modifications needed to be done on the existing system. Distilling and alcohol storage requires a sprinkler flow rate higher than most other occupancies (0.35 GPM/ SF, over a remote design area of 4,000 sf) The remote design area means that if you have an 8,000 sf area, you need to only account for 4,000 sf of sprinklers going off at any given time. 

Other Sprinkler Considerations

There are early response systems, chemical systems, etc… Water is the best type of sprinkler system to put out an alcohol fire. There may be certain instances where a dry pipe system is needed (such as outside due to freezing). This is where the pipe is not filled with water until one of the heads is activated.

Proper maintenance and testing is required for sprinkler systems. Systems will have control panels that notify the local fire department if there is an activation. 

For further exciting sprinkler info, check out this very british and fun fire video:

Article By: Matthew Taylor-Rennert


Subscribe for our Latest updates