Significant changes to NFPA 13R sprinkler protection in the 2021 International Building Code
The 2021 Significant Changes guides are available for the International Building, Residential, Fire, Energy Conservation, Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Codes. This valuable series can help any code user save time by zeroing in on the most critical changes in the 2021 International Codes. The Code Council’s technical experts provide summaries, analysis and graphics for these changes making them clear and easy to understand.
2021 International Building Code
A modification to Section 903.3.1.2 (NFPA 13R Sprinkler Protection) states that the maximum building height where an NFPA 13R sprinkler system is permitted has been reduced. In addition, where the podium provisions of Section 510 are applied, the story height measuring point has been changed to grade plane.
An NFPA 13R sprinkler system is intended as a life safety system and is not expected to address all of the property protection concerns. As such, the sprinklers are allowed to be installed only in the occupied areas of the building and are not required to be installed within the attic or other concealed combustible spaces. While the IBC and the NFPA 13R standard both generally allow these systems to be installed in buildings “up to…four stories in height,” the IBC has historically allowed measurement from the podium building’s “horizontal assembly creating separate buildings.” Although the overall height in feet remains consistent, counting the permitted number of stories starting at the podium deck has essentially made the residential sprinkler system now applicable to what is seen from the ground as being a five-or six-story building. This allowance places the unsprinklered attic area of combustible construction at a higher and more difficult level for the fire department to reach or defend. Because of these concerns, the permissible use of an NFPA 13R sprinkler system has been modified to require the story height limit for podium buildings to be made from grade plane instead of from the horizontal assembly separating the upper and lower buildings.
In addition, the 60-foot building height limitation that was measured from “grade plane,” has been replaced with a 30-foot maximum height measured to the floor level of the highest story from the lowest level of fire department vehicle access. This modification will be more restrictive than what has been previously allowed. The 30-foot floor level height and other triggers were selected based on the standpipe requirements found within Section 905.3.1. Using a single scoping limit for both the standpipe and the NFPA13 sprinkler systems makes for a logical point at which additional fire protection is warranted.
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