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FPE Corner

By Samuel S. Dannaway, PE, President, S.S. Dannaway Associates, Inc., Honolulu

Fire Sprinkler Design — Part 2


he engineer’s design of a fire sprinkler system must include a basis of design, the contract or bid drawings, and a set of specifications. Last month in our discussion of the engineer’s design of a fire sprinkler system we dealt with the project basis of design and the contract or bid documents. In this article, we will be discussing the specifications for the fire sprinkler system. A properly-written sprinkler system specification is the backbone of the sprinkler system design. Unfortunately, it is all too common for a poorly edited, or even unedited sprinkler specification to be submitted as the design. It’s as if the engineer copied the spec from the last job and submitted it as is. This can be a cause of several problems. First, because the sprinkler design is performance-based, a properly prepared specification is essential to obtaining a correct design. Second, a poor specification creates opportunities for change order seeking contractors to win projects away from competent sprinkler contractors. Third, poor specifications seem to go hand-in-hand with poorly prepared basis of design and contract drawings. This provides ammunition for those in our industry who feel it is sprinkler contractors, not engineers, who should be responsible for the design of fire sprinkler systems. The sprinkler specification can take different forms. The specification form chosen depends on the size of the sprinkler system and the requirements of the reviewing authorities. For a minor project perhaps involving relocation of a few sprinklers, it could be as simple as a few notes on a drawing indicating compliance with local codes and identifying the appropriate sprinkler installation standard such as NFPA 13, Standard for Installation of Sprinkler Systems. More often it will be a separate text document. The starting point is normally a guide specification that can be tailored to the specific fire sprinkler system design. Many consulting firms maintain their own library of guide specifications for commercial projects. Also, one can go to the Master Format website and purchase guide specifications from one of the vendors supporting the Master Format. The new Master Format 2004 system is the industry standard for construction specifications. This format expanded the old 5-digit system from the 1995 version. For example, what used to be Section 13930 Fire Suppression Wet Pipe Sprinklers is under Master Format 2004 now Section 21 13 13.00 20. There are also specifications used by various federal government agencies that can be downloaded for free at the Whole Building Design Guide website of the National Institute of Building Sciences at One must take care when using these specifications as the starting part as they have a great deal of information in them that relates to specific requirements of the federal agencies
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publishing them. In certain cases, they may exceed minimum codes and, to a lesser extent in some cases, may not meet minimum code requirements. It is my opinion that the United Facilities Guide Specifications (UFGS) located on this website provide the best guide for a fire sprinkler system specification. The following represents what I think is a good suggested recipe for a properly prepared specification section for a wet pipe fire sprinkler system. The standard specification has three major parts. • Part 1 Addresses general requirements such as scope of work, reference publications, design criteria, submittal requirements, and qualifications. • Part 2 Addresses the products and materials involved with the fire sprinkler system. • Part 3 Addresses execution, which normally deals with the installation, testing requirements, and closeout requirements. Each part should contain the following minimum information: Part 1 — General Requirements References — One needs to identify all pertinent codes and standards used by the specification. This section also should identify the specific edition of the document which is to be used. First and foremost would be the applicable sprinkler standard, i.e., NFPA 13 NFPA 13R, or NFPA 13D. Other important NFPA documents which may apply are NFPA 14, 20, 24, 25, and 72. There also would be standards for various system components such as ASME and ANSI standards for pipe, fittings and AWWA standards for underground pipe and fittings. Also, the directories of the nationally recognized testing and approval organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories Fire Protection Equipment Directory and/or Factory Mutual Approval Guide should be identified. Related Specification Sections — Here, one may have references to specification sections for fire pumps, standpipes, fire alarms, painting and electrical work. System Description or Scope of Work — A brief paragraph describing the general scope of the project. Identify the building or area to be protected, if the project is for a new sprinkler system or an existing system being modified, and indicate the extent of coverage (which is usually the entire building). The description should include listing requirements and identify approving authorities. Sprinkler System Design Requirements — This section should define requirements for hydraulic design and seismic protection. The section also may include sprinkler location and spacing that is more restrictive than NFPA 13 limitations, sprinkler discharge criteria, including design densities and design areas, hose stream allowance requirements and
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September 2009

Fire Protection
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water supply data. If some or all of this information is contained on the drawings, then it may be better for this section to refer to the information on the drawing rather than repeating it and risking a mistake that could create a conflict with the drawings. This is a good general rule to follow for avoiding conflicts between specifications and drawings. Submittals — The submittal requirements should be clearly identified. This includes the parties (the engineer, building department and/or fire department) the contractor must have review and approve the submittals before installation can proceed. In addition to the minimum requirements for working drawings, hydraulic calculations, and meeting the requirements of Chapter 22 of NFPA 13, the specification also should require the submittal of product data. The product data must have sufficient technical information to allow reviewers to determine compliance with the specifications, and where there are choices between different model, part or style numbers, the cut sheets should be annotated to identify which specific items are being provided. This section also will identify the submittal requirements that occur later in the project including test plans, test reports, i.e., NFPA 13 Contractor’s Material and Test Certificate for Underground Piping and the Contractor's Material and Test Certificate for Aboveground Piping; operations and maintenance manuals, as-built drawings, and spare parts. This section should also contain a provision prohibiting partial submittals. Installer Qualifications — The contractor’s qualifications may include a level of experience and licenses required by the jurisdiction. One also may wish to include certification requirements for the sprinkler contractor’s layout technician. One way to do that is to require the layout to be performed by a NICET Technician with minimum Level 3 certification in Automatic Sprinkler System Layout. Part 2 — Products This section is used to specify requirements for all the various components in the sprinkler system. This would include that portion of the underground piping system that may fall within the purview of these specifications. Aboveground piping components include pipe, fittings, hangers and supports, seismic bracing, branch line restraints, valves, alarm valves, alarm valve trim, sprinklers, fire department connections, backflow prevention devices, drains, signage, spare sprinkler cabinet and relief valves. In general, all components must be listed or approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL or FM. As with design criteria, one must make sure product specifications do not conflict with information on the drawings. A common conflict arises when specifications and drawings allow different kinds of piping materials or different types of sprinklers. Because a certain fire sprinkler product complies with NFPA 13, and is properly listed, does not necessarily mean that the product must be permitted to be used. The engineer has the option to require a higher standard of performance, as indicated by their experience and knowledge. It is also important to be aware of any special requirements of the client that exceed the minimums established by NFPA 13. This could include limitations of the type of pipe and fittings that will be allowed or the use of concealed, recessed pendent sprinklers for aesthetic
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purposes. The engineer should use the Part 2 to prohibit specific types of products that, in the engineer’s opinion, have not performed well. For example, many engineers do not permit the use of plain-end fittings. Regarding the use of proprietary specifications, if the client or authority having jurisdiction permits the use of proprietary specifications, then it would be the engineer’s option to go with a proprietary specification provided there is good technical justification for favoring one manufacturer over another. In general, it has been my experience with fire sprinkler system design and the resulting installation that a non-proprietary specification serves the client better and has not diminished the quality of the resulting installed system. Part 3 Execution Installation Practices — This section will call for installation in accordance with NFPA 13 and other applicable standards. It also can cover items of installation not regulated by the standards that the engineer deems necessary. This could include: 1. Concealing all piping in areas with finished ceilings. 2. Painting of all exposed sprinkler piping (the engineer may even want to require painting of all sprinkler piping). 3. A prohibition against the use of bushings as reducing fittings. Test Requirements and Acceptance Criteria — This part also must identify all required preliminary and final tests and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) responsible for recommending acceptance of the system. The acceptance criteria for a wet pipe sprinkler system is relatively straightforward, but we also want to ensure that all post-installation documents have been provided prior to acceptance; this would include O & M manuals, as-built or record drawings, spare parts, etc. Training — Part 3 also will contain any training requirements that may be required by the client. Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance — I have found that requiring the installing contractor to provided ITM for the system in accordance with NFPA 25 and the AHJ during the required warranty period to be a valuable service to clients. So before the next sprinkler design is due, please take a look at your sprinkler guide specs, make sure they are up to date and include the necessary provisions to make for an excellent sprinkler system design. Combine a wellwritten spec with a well-thought-out basis of design and properly prepared contract drawings and the chances of a successful installation with minimal construction issues will be greatly improved. I
Samuel S. Dannaway, PE, is a registered fire protection engineer and mechanical engineer with bachelors and masters 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 consulting firm with offices in Honolulu, Hawaii and Guam. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not reflect those of Plumbing Engineer nor its publisher, TMB Publishing.
September 2009