The 2015 edition of NFPA 101

There was a time when the publication of a new edition of “NFPA 101 The Life Safety Code,” included many changes that were of great interest to the sprinkler industry. This is not the case for the 2015 edition, in which sprinkler related changes are relatively minor. 

So what does this mean? One explanation is that the lack of changes affecting sprinklers is a testament to the success the sprinkler industry has had in its more than 40-year effort to get U.S. model codes to recognize the importance and value of sprinkler protection. 

“America Burning,” the landmark 1973 report from the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, got the ball rolling. The report recommended that, “the model codes should specify automatic fire extinguishing systems and early-warning detectors for high-rise buildings and for low-rise buildings in which many people congregate.”

Now, virtually every building of substantial size with a life safety concern requires sprinklers. 
I sifted through the 2015 edition and came up with the following revisions related to sprinklers.

NFPA 101 (2015) paragraph 7.2.1.11.1.3 outlines conditions permitting the use of security turnstiles, which includes a requirement for complete sprinkler protection.

8.7.3.3* Alcohol-Based Hand-Rub Dispensers. Special provisions for alcohol based hand-rubs, previously limited to health care, ambulatory care, educational and day-care occupancies, have been made available to all occupancy chapters that wish to allow them. Sprinklers are required where these products are used in carpeted areas. 

11.3.2.4.3 Tower structures with sprinkler protection shall be electrically supervised.

19.2.2.2.7 Egress doors in existing health care occupancies that are allowed to be locked “where the clinical needs of patients require specialized security measures or where patients pose a security threat,” may be disguised with murals provided several conditions are met including complete sprinkler protection within the affected smoke compartment. 

19.4.2.2 and 19.4.2.3 The deadlines for compliance with the retroactive sprinkler requirements for high-rise health care occupancies has been adjusted. 

The original time to comply was 12 years in the 2009 edition of NFPA 101. This has been lowered to nine years for those jurisdictions that previously adopted the 2012 edition of NFPA 101 and to six years for those jurisdictions that previously adopted the 2009 edition. 

20.7.5.4 and 21.7.5.4 For new and existing ambulatory health care occupancies, additional provisions for use of combustible decorations have been added and now will allow an increased amount of decorations when the smoke compartment is provided with sprinkler protection. 

Paragraph 28.3.5.2 has been deleted in the 2015 edition. This paragraph permitted new hotels and dormitories to not be provided with sprinklers if guestrooms or dwelling units had 1) direct exits to the street or 2) direct access to an exterior exit access for up to three story buildings. This is the most significant sprinkler related revision as it removes the last remaining exception to sprinkler requirements for new residential occupancies. 

30.3.5.4 and 31.3.5.4 For new and existing apartment buildings, where the sprinkler system is provided in accordance with NFPA 13, sprinklers may be omitted from bathrooms in dwelling units that are not greater than 55 square feet. 

This provision is in conflict with NFPA 13, which only permits omission of these sprinklers for hotels and dormitories, not apartment buildings. 

32.2.2.5.5.3, 32.3.2.5.5.3, 33.2.2.5.5.3, and 33.3.2.5.5.3 Egress doors for new and existing, small and large residential board and Care Occupancies are allowed to be locked “where the clinical needs of patients require specialized security measures or where patients pose a security threat,” provided staff can readily unlock doors and the building is provided with complete sprinkler protection.

33.3.3.2.1 Allows “rooms containing high-pressure boilers, refrigerating machinery, transformers, or other service equipment subject to possible explosion” to be located under or adjacent to exits in buildings that are protected by sprinkler throughout. 

Though a bit unclear, it appears the hazard separation requirements of paragraph 8.7 would still be required.

As is sometimes the case in the code development arena, one of the most interesting proposed revisions did not make the cut. The proposal was to increase the maximum size of sprinklered smoke compartments in health care occupancies from 22,500 square feet to 40,000 square feet. Unfortunately, this significant change failed to beat back a NITMAM challenge, the result of an alliance between the fire service and the passive fire protection industry. In my view, the defeat of this proposal was a backhanded attack on sprinklers, an attempt to recover some of the gypboard lost to previous wins by sprinkler advocates over compartmentation advocates.

Now that it appears there is less opportunity for new sprinkler requirements, the future role for sprinklers in the NFPA 101 code development process may be to move in the direction of improving the value of current sprinkler trade-offs, such as, increasing travel distances and reducing fire resistance ratings. This could have the beneficial effect of reducing some of the layered redundancy in the model codes, something, the passive fire protection industry advocates will be watching closely.

Samuel S. Dannaway, PE, is a registered fire protection engineer and mechanical engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering. He is past president and a Fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. He is president of S. S. Dannaway Associates Inc., a 15-person fire protection engineering firm with offices in Honolulu and Guam. He can be reached via email at SDannaway@ssdafire.com

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