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Engineers and Sprinkler System Design

n the middle of August, I received a phone call from a client in Ohio regarding whether or not a fire pump was required for a sprinkler system installation in a threestory office building. The client indicated that the engineer for the project insisted a fire pump was necessary, while the sprinkler contractor indicated that the water supply at the site was adequate to design the system without a fire pump. The client said he would prefer not to have a fire pump installed for two reasons the first was the cost of the pump and the second was the cost (and trouble) of maintaining the pump. One of the clients concerns about the cost of the pump revolved around the fact that if an electric pump was installed, the State of Ohio would require that the pump be provided with standby power. So the cost of installing an electric fire pump involved not only the cost of the pump itself, but also the cost of providing a generator and transfer switch. The cost of providing standby power for an electric fire pump can be avoided by installing a diesel-driven fire pump, but a diesel-driven pump is more expensive than an electric pump and the maintenance costs are also higher. Because I was already familiar with the water supply at the site, I knew that the static pressure at the site was around 50 psi. Based upon this, the answer to the question of whether a fire pump was required for the sprinkler system installation was obvious. The sprinkler contractor was correct there was more than enough pressure to design the system without a fire pump. How did I know that off the top of my head without doing any calculations? The answer to that question is simple experience. Actually, its a very simple sprinkler system hydraulics problem. A rule of thumb is that you lose 5 psi for each building story. Because the building will be three stories in height, the pressure loss due to elevation will be approximately 15 psi. To be more precise, the pressure loss due to elevation is 0.433 psi per foot of elevation change. In this case, the elevation of the roof of the building will be 42 feet above the surrounding grade. Hence, the precise elevation pressure loss will be approximately 18.2 psi. (An estimate of 15 psi is close enough for this calculation.) NFPA 13 requires that the minimum operating pressure at any sprinkler be 7 psi. The flow from a half-inch sprinkler at 7 psi is roughly 15 gpm. In an office building, the typical

sprinkler spacing will be around 150 square feet per sprinkler (due to partitions), hence, a density of 0.10 gpm/SF can be achieved with the sprinklers operating at the minimum operating pressure required by NFPA 13. Given this, the absolute minimum pressure required to operate sprinklers on the third story of the building will be 22 psi. Since the plumbing code in Ohio requires that a backflow preventer be provided for a sprinkler system, another 10 psi loss should be added to the minimum required pressure to account for the pressure drop in the backflow preventer. Hence, without considering any friction loss in the piping system, a minimum pressure of 32 psi would be required to operate the system. Because a static pressure of 50 psi is available at the site,

The sprinkler contractor was correct there was more than enough pressure to design the system without a fire pump.
this means that somewhere between 8 and 18 psi is more than likely available to account for friction loss in the piping system. The sprinkler system designer simply sizes the pipe to limit the friction loss in the pipe to the pressure available for friction losses. The less pressure available for friction loss, the larger the piping system has to be. The above isnt hard if you know how to calculate elevation losses and are familiar with the design criteria contained in NFPA 13. The fact that the engineer on the project couldnt perform this simple (one minute) calculation is an indication that the engineer was not qualified to be involved in the design of the sprinkler system. More disturbing findings After this issue was resolved, the owner requested that I review the full set of contract drawings for the building for code compliance. What I found in the fire protection drawings was rather disturbing. After reviewing these drawings, there was little doubt the engineer who developed the sprinContinued on page 12

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Copyright 2000, TMB Publishing, Inc.

October 2000

Fire Protection
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night in July. Why not make it easier for fire fighters to find the fire department connection? The obvious reason why not is that the engineer has never had to find a fire department connection at 2 oclock in the morning. The difference between a good engineer and an average engineer is that the good engineer puts himself in the shoes of the people who have to use the equipment, while the average engineer just doesnt care. 3. Fire Department Connection Size. The drawings for the sprinkler installation indicated that the piping in the fire department connection was required to be 6 inch. NFPA 13 indicates that the pipe in a fire department connection is required to be a minimum of 4 inch. Will providing 6-inch piping in the fire department connection really improve the performance of the sprinkler system? While a fire department connection larger than the minimum required by NFPA 13 might be justified for a storage building, it is doubtful that a 6-inch fire department connection would really be of any use in a building which is predominantly light hazard. Studies of operating sprinkler systems in New York City some 30 years ago indicate that 100 percent of fires in sprinklered office buildings are controlled by the operation of four or fewer sprinklers. You certainly dont need 6-inch pipe to supply four operating sprinklers. 4. Flow Test Data. Water supply information was provided on the fire protection drawings (as it should be). The water supply data provided indicated the following: Static Pressure: 48 psi Residual Pressure: 41 psi Flow: 955.20 gpm Date: 6/27/00 Time: 11 p.m. Theres a lot to talk about here. First off, given the method of determining the flow rate in a flow test, it simply is impossible to determine the rate of flow to the hundredth of a gpm. Indicating the flow rate to the hundredth of a gpm is an indication that the engineer who produced the drawings is not familiar with how a water supply test is conducted. At best, using a pitot tube and gage to determine the velocity pressure of a water stream issuing from a hydrant is just an estimate. Hence, reporting the flow rate from a hydrant to the hundredth of a gpm implies an accuracy to the measurement which doesnt exist. Secondly, the water supply information provided indicates that the test was conducted in late June at 11 p.m. The appendix material contained in NFPA 13 indicates that the water supply available from a municipal distribution system fluctuates based upon the season of the year and the time of the day. The appendix material further states that the results of a water supply test should be adjusted for these fluctuations. Conducting a water supply test at 11 p.m. in late June is more than likely not representative of the water supply that would exist in the early evening in August when everyone is watering their lawns. A flow test only measures the water supply available at the time the test is conducted. In other words, the results of a flow test are just raw data. These data need to be
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October 2000

kler drawings was practicing outside his area of expertise. Here are some of the errors found in the drawings: 1. Separate Domestic/Fire Protection Services. The building was designed with two separate water supply services, one for domestic water and one for fire protection water. While it was common for two separate services to be provided for a building protected by a sprinkler system in the 1960s, 30 years of experience has shown that combining domestic and fire protection water services does not have an adverse effect on the operation or reliability of the sprinkler protection. Imagine the savings to a building owner who only has to pay for one tap into the municipal distribution system, only has to pay for one pipeline and only needs to maintain one pipeline, rather than two pipelines. On the downside, imagine the reduced revenues for the water company, the reduced amount of work for the plumbers installing the lines and reduced fees for the engineers. 2. Fire Department Location. The drawings showed that the fire department connection would be installed on an exterior wall in close proximity to the location where the underground supply line would enter the building, rather than on the address side of the building. Not a major deficiency, but locating the fire department connection on the address side of the building makes it easier for the fire department to find the fire department connection on a cold snowy night in January or just a dark
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reason. Now imagine you are a fire fighter who has to find a control valve in the ceiling under fire conditions. You cant see more than one foot in front of your face and the temperature at the ceiling is between 1,000 and 2,000 F. If you were a fire fighter, wouldnt you really rather have the control valve located within the exit stair enclosure where you can safely operate the valve from within a 1- or 2-hour fire-rated enclosure? Again, the difference between a good engineer and an average engineer is that the good engineer thinks about the fire fighters who will have to use the valve under fire conditions, while the average engineer simply complies with NFPA 13 requirements without regard to whether or not the control valves will actually be useable under fire conditions. 6. The Term Sprinkler Head. The specifications for the sprinkler installation used the terms sprinkler heads and heads when referring to sprinklers. The term sprinkler head is slang for the term sprinkler. Nowhere in NFPA 13 will you see the term sprinkler head used. Those familiar with the proper use of the English language

Fire Protection
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The only way to improve the level of professionalism in the fire protection field is to discipline engineers who practice unprofessionally.
dont use the word aint. Similarly, fire protection professionals dont use the terms sprinkler heads or heads to refer to sprinklers. 7. Insurance Carrier Requirements. The specifications for the sprinkler installation indicated that the sprinkler contractor was responsible for determining who the owners property insurer was and made the contractor responsible for complying with the insurance carriers requirements for sprinkler installations. Obviously, from the standpoint of bidding the job, it makes more sense to have the engineer inquire who the owners insurer is, rather than have a number of sprinkler contractors contact the owner to ask the same question. Aside from the logistics, it would seem that a good engineer would want to contact the owners insurer to determine any special sprinkler installation requirements so that these special requirements could be included in the engineers drawings. Again, the difference between a good engineer and an average engineer is that a good engineer would have taken the time to identify the insurer and contact that insurer regarding their requirements for sprinkler installations, while an average engineer simply pushes off the work to the contractor. If the function of an engineer is to push off all of the engineers work to the contractor, why do we need engineers? 8. Approval Stamps. The specification for the sprinContinued on page 16
October 2000

adjusted to account for the fluctuations in pressure in the system. 5. Floor Control Valve Location. The system shown on the drawings was a combined sprinkler and standpipe system. Given this, control valves were required to be provided at each sprinkler connection to the standpipe risers. The drawings indicated that these floor control valves were to be installed above the ceilings just outside of the exit stair enclosures. While installing the control valves above the ceiling may be acceptable from a maintenance standpoint, installing the valves above the ceiling certainly doesnt make any sense from a fire fighting standpoint. The reason that NFPA 13 requires that floor control valves be provided in a combined sprinkler/ standpipe system is to allow the fire department to shut down a portion of the sprinkler system in case sprinkler piping breaks during a fire or in case the sprinkler system fails to control the fire. The control valves allow the fire department to shut down the portion of the sprinkler system which is not functional (because it is wasting water) and still maintain the standpipe system in operation. Once you understand the intended function of the sprinkler floor control valves, then its easy to understand why locating the floor control valves in the ceiling outside of the stair enclosure doesnt make any sense. Imagine a fire in the building where the sprinkler system fails for some
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kler installation requires that the sprinkler contractor obtain all of the approvals from the various authorities having jurisdiction prior to submitting the drawings and hydraulic calculations to the engineer for approval by the engineer. Whenever I see this requirement in the specs for a sprinkler system, I smile. The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that the engineer doesnt approve the shop drawings if there are deficiencies in the drawings that have been identified by the approval authorities. (That would be embarrassing.) In other words, if the drawings are approved by the enforcing authorities, then the engineer just approves the drawings without doing an independent review of the drawings. Even if the enforcing authorities have already approved the drawings and hydraulic calculations, the engineer-ofrecord should still do a thorough review of the drawings to verify compliance with fire protection standards. Why, you ask? Simply because the drawings are approved by an enforcing authority doesnt mean that the drawings have actually been reviewed. Most building department and fire department dont have anyone on staff with the expertise to review sprinkler system shop drawings and most insurers wouldnt bother to spend the time reviewing shop drawings for a building with such a relatively low value. Given this, it is likely that the only review of the drawing for compliance with NFPA 13 will be conducted by the engineer, unless, of course, the engineer thinks that somebody else has already reviewed the drawings so there is no reason to review the drawings again. More than likely, the engineer doesnt have the expertise to do a review the shop drawings either. There were many more deficiencies in the fire protection drawings and specifications for this building which I could discuss, but there are limits to the available space. Suffice it to say that the sprinkler drawings and specifications for this building were less than a professional job. It seems obvious to me that the engineer firm who produced these drawings was practicing outside its field of expertise. Should their engineering license be revoked? In my opinion, the answer to this question is yes, definitely. After all, if no action is taken against the engineers, these engineers will simply continue producing unprofessional drawings. The only way to improve the level of professionalism in the fire protection field is to discipline engineers who practice unprofessionally. s

Looking for a review of fire protection basics?


The first nine installments of Richard Schultes Nuts and Bolts of Fire Sprinkler Installations are now available for downloading (as PDF files) from the Plumbing Engineer Web site. www.plumbingengineer.com
Page 16/Plumbing Engineer October 2000

Engineers and Sprinker System Design Part II

he editor of Plumbing Engineer received a virtual flood of email comments on the column titled Engineers and Sprinkler System Design which appeared in the October, 2000 issue of Plumbing Engineer (p. 10). Given that, it is probably appropriate that the topic of the October issue be revisited. The October column addressed whether or not a pump was required to supply the sprinkler and standpipe systems in a three-story office building being constructed in Ohio. The column also critiqued other elements of the engineers design. Fire Pump. The static pressure in the municipal distribution system at the site was approximately 50 psi. Given this pressure, a number of readers wrote to indicate that, of course, a pump was required because NFPA 14 requires that the residual pressure at the highest hose connection be a minimum of 100 psi. (It should be noted that an exception to this requirement in NFPA 14 permits a residual pressure of 65 psi where specifically approved by the enforcing authority.) This comment would be correct if the standpipe system was required to be an automatic standpipe system. However, the Ohio Basic Building Code permits the installation of manual standpipe systems in low rise buildings which are protected throughout by a sprinkler system. NFPA 14 describes three different types of standpipe systems automatic systems, semi-automatic systems and manual systems. An automatic standpipe system is a standpipe system which is provided with a water supply which is adequate to supply the system with the flow and pressure required to operate the system. NFPA 14 indicates that there are two different types of automatic standpipe systems wet and dry systems. A dry automatic standpipe system is an automatic standpipe system with dry supply piping and a water supply controlled by a dry pipe valve. A semi-automatic standpipe system is a standpipe system which is similar to a dry automatic type system, however, the water supply is controlled by a deluge valve. The deluge valve is operated by manual controls located at each hose connection or at some other point in the building. A manual standpipe system is a standpipe system where the supply piping is sized to be capable of delivering the required standpipe demand, but is not provided with a water supply which is capable of providing the required pressure to operate the system. There are two types of manual standpipe systems wet and dry. A wet manual standpipe sys-

tem is filled with water, while the dry system is not. The pressure required to operate a manual standpipe system is provided by the fire department pumping into the fire department connection. In most fire departments, the first arriving engine company at a fire in a sprinklered building has the option of conducting search and rescue operations or of supplying the fire department connection for the sprinkler system. If the first arriving engine company does not supply the fire department connection, it is typically mandatory that the second arriving engine company supply the fire department con-

It is also standard operating procedure for the fire department to supply the fire department connection with 150 psi.
nection. It is also standard operating procedure for the fire department to supply the fire department connection with 150 psi. NFPA 14 indicates that manual standpipe systems are only permitted to be installed in low rise buildings. (NFPA 14 does not define the term low rise building, but defines a high rise building as a building which is more than 75 feet in height. See NFPA 14 for the precise definition of the term high rise building.) A supply pressure of 150 psi is more than sufficient to provide a residual pressure of 100 psi at the highest hose connection in the standpipe system of a low rise building, provided that the standpipe system piping is sized adequately. Given the discussion above, it should be obvious that a pump would not be required for a typical three-story building if a manual standpipe system is installed. Separate Domestic/Fire Protection Water Supplies. The engineers design for the water supply for the building included two separate connections and supply pipelines to
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December 2000

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doesnt necessary mean that compliance with the edict is mandatory. If the edict defies common sense, then it makes sense to challenge the requirement. In this case, the water company backed down as soon as someone challenged the requirement. A second lesson which can be learned from this story is that engineers dont always represent their clients best interests. In this case, the owner retained

Simply because a utility (or a government official) issues an edict, doesnt necessary mean that compliance with the edict is mandatory.
another consultant to look over the shoulder of the engineer-of-record and found all sorts of errors in the contract documents for the sprinkler/standpipe system. The Term Sprinkler Head. The October column addressed the use of the term sprinkler head in the contract documents for the fire protection system installation. The column included a statement that nowhere in NFPA 13 will you see the term sprinkler head used. A number of readers wrote to correct this statement and pointed out that the terms sprinkler head and heads are indeed used in NFPA 13, in a limited number of places. I stand corrected regarding my misstatement of the facts. Although my statement regarding the use of the term sprinkler head in NFPA 13 is in error, my opinion hasnt changed regarding its use. Section 1-4.5 in the 1999 edition of NFPA 13, titled sprinkler definitions, does not contain a definition of the term sprinkler head, nor is there any reference made to this term in this section of NFPA 13. Further, the index to NFPA 13 contains an entry for the term sprinkler, but no entry for the term sprinkler head. Again, the term sprinkler head is a slang term for the term sprinkler. Just like educated people dont use the word aint when writing a letter or giving a speech, fire protection professionals dont use the term sprinkler head in contract documents or on shop drawings. s

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the building one for domestic service and one for fire protection service. In the October column, I commented that a single connection would suffice. A number of readers wrote to say that water companies in their local areas require separate domestic and fire protection connections and piping, hence, designing the building with two water supply connections was not an engineering error. In fact, the water company which supplied the office building site also required two water supply connections and two separate piping supplies to the building. The water utility stated that the reason for this practice was so that they could shut off the water supply to the building (without impairing the fire protection for the building) in case the building owner refused to pay the water bill. After writing my client to tell them there was no engineering reason why separate connections and supply piping should be provided and indicating that the rest of the country allows a single connection for both domestic and fire protection water supplies, the building owner made a few telephone calls. Within a day the water company reversed its policy on separate domestic and fire protection connections. Note that the building owner made these calls, not the engineering firm designing the plumbing/fire protection systems for the building. There are several lessons here. One is that simply because a utility (or a government official) issues an edict,
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Looking for a review of fire protection basics?


The first nine installments of Richard Schultes Nuts and Bolts of Fire Sprinkler Installations are now available for downloading (as PDF files) from the Plumbing Engineer Web site. www.plumbingengineer.com
December 2000