Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fire Areas in Non Sprinkled Industrial Buildings

There is always a question whether a sprinkler is required to be added in a building after the shell has been built without one. I will go over how we determine this, some examples and some alternatives that are accepted under the code.

When I get an un-sprinklered building to upfit, I first look at how big the entire building is. If it LESS THAN 12,000 sf, that is usually good. Both the building code and fire code address the “fire areas.” (Chapter 9 for both building and fire code)

Fire area – The aggregate floor area enclosed and bounded by fire walls, fire barriers exterior walls or fire resistance rated horizontal assemblies.

Before I proceed, I have a disclaimer......
This information is accurate, but not absolute. The slightest change in program could throw other elements into the mix and require or exempt sprinklers. Please consult your favorite interior designer to confirm your specific needs. Tell her I said hello.

Wade Garret... I mean Sam Elliot from
He said, "I don't want to be known as a sex symbol. There's a great stigma that goes with that tag. I want to be a Sam Elliott"

Some Examples:
A few years ago, I worked on an upfit for a printing company. The facility was changing use from a storage facility to a manufacturing facility. Having said that, the space was larger than 12,000 sf. 20,000 sf warehouse and a 5,000 sf office with no sprinklers (25,000 total with an already rated demising wall). The office area was existing to remain. Because we were changing use, we had to bring everything “up” to the current code regulations.

With no sprinkler, we had to create a rated area in the back of the warehouse, rated doors and all. We also had to separate the office area from the warehouse. Since the suite was 25,000 sf, there were 2 areas of 12,000 sf or less that we needed to create. Luckily, we worked with the office/warehouse wall that already went to deck and was relatively easy to fire rate.

Fire areas are different from the allowed sizes for a building. For instance, chapter 5 of the 2009 NCSBC says I can have a building with:

Business – 23,000 sf (12,000 sf per fire area)
S-1 – 17,500 sf (12,000 sf per fire area)
S-2 - 26,000 sf (12,000 sf per fire area)
F-1 – 15,500 (12,000 sf per fire area unless there is woodworking. That is 2,500 per fire area)
F-2 – 26,000 (12,000 per fire area)

If you have a building of the sizes above, you would still need fire areas within it. The only exception to a fire area is a sprinkler system.

Be warned, if you have educational or A-2 (restaurant occupancy) the fire areas are different. Educational is 20,000 sf (woot woot!) and A-2 is 5,000 sf. Point is, the GENERAL rule of thumb is 12,000, but there is never a “be all end all” in the stinking code.

Speaking of sprinkler systems…….
If you have a building that has an office with a sprinkler system, but the warehouse does not., then what?
I can hear you now…..
“When would I EVER run into this sh*!?

Answer: Off Graham St. in Charlotte.


Some (most) people I know would ask…..
“Now when the hell would I ever run into this effing Sh*!”?

Answer: Off Graham St. in Charlotte.

Plan review looks at this condition as a non sprinkled building when it comes to fire areas IF the building is larger than 12,000 sf (typically). I just had to separate a warehouse with a fire barrier because the building was 15,500 sf, and we changed the use from a storage facility to a primarily Mercantile occupancy. The sprinkled office was 1,800 sf and a portion of the warehouse was also sprinkled. The office didn’t have a rated wall between it and the warehouse. In this case the tenant used one side of the fire area as storage, and the other side for their showroom.

Note: I keep mentioning “change of use”. This term is a huge proponent of the fire area in a non sprinkled building. It is kind of a lapse in the code from when these warehouses were had different requirements for building, and obviously were, at one time, were much more relaxed and code allowed larger fire areas. If you keep the occupancy the same in a building and move in another tenant that would be considered the same occupancy, you DO NOT need to change bring ”up” the building to the current code, so no fire walls.

In addition, there are a TON of single story I-2 buildings just off I-77 (you know who you are) with no sprinklers. *sigh* A majority of these buildings are less than 12,000 sf , so in this case, would not require a sprinkler or fire areas since typically those buildings have Business or storage within them.
An interesting pic of Burt Reynolds from
He said "I can sing as well as Fred Astaire can act."

Lastly, (and having nothing to do with industrial space or Burt Reynolds) think about McMullen Creek Shopping Center off 51. That baby is a monster, (283,271 sf) and guess what? Not Sprinkled. How? Fire walls. Fire walls are spaced throughout the shopping center and penetrate the roof line. That was designed almost like separate buildings within a building. Essentially, they create fire areas at the time of building shell construction. These are great, and usually effective “plan ahead” elements that make an upfit much easier, and the difference is that they penetrate the roof and are a structural member of the building and cannot be eliminated from the shell footprint. That is usually how shopping centers roll, even today.

Even as the author, I even trailed off during this composition so I apologize. I thought I’d share with you what I was thinking about. My next blog will be “change of use” It should be short, but very, very powerful, much like Mr. Miyagi. Wax on, wax off.

No caption required!

He said (as Mr. Miyagi) "Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything"

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