March 31, 2022

Industry Codes & Standards and a look at NFPA 13

Codes and standards, what are they and how does it relate to the fire protection industry? There are many codes and standards in the country that cover a multitude of rules and regulations in many different disciplines that move the county forward daily. A code is a system of principles or rules while a standard is something set up and established by an authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, value, or quality.  In the case of building and protecting what is built, the three codes to focus on are the International Building Code (IBC), the International Residential Code (IRC), and the International Fire Code (IFC). These codes have been around since the early twentieth century and aim to protect health and public safety. Local governments enforce building permits to make sure structures are in compliance with these building codes. The IBC has been adopted for use as a base code standard by most jurisdictions in the United States.

The IBC is a model building code developed by the International Code Council. The IBC addresses both health and safety concerns for buildings based upon prescriptive and performance related requirements. The IBC is fully compatible with all other published International Code Council codes. The code provisions are intended to protect public health and safety while avoiding both unnecessary costs and preferential treatment of specific materials or methods of construction. The IBC also deals with access for the disabled and structural stability. The International Building Code applies to all structures in areas where it is adopted, except for one- and two-family dwellings.

Detached one-and-two family dwellings and townhouses not more than three stories above grade plane in height fall under the International Residential Code (IRC). The IBC covers all types of buildings other than those buildings that are subject to the IRC. For example, a detached residential 2-family dwelling project is subject to the IRC while a detached residential 3-family dwelling project is subject to the IBC. Another example is a townhouse. A townhouse 3 stories above grade plane is subject to the provisions of the IRC while a townhouse 4 stories above grade plane is subject to the provisions of the IBC. When a building does not conform to the provisions of the IRC, the building is then beyond the scope of the code and the provisions of the IRC cannot be applied and must then meet the provisions of the IBC. While the IBC and IRC relate to construction, the scope of the International Fire Code (IFC) focuses on building operation.

The IFC is a set of provisions designed to address life and property hazards associated with buildings and related premises. It is primarily focused on fire prevention and fire protection, and it is generally concerned with addressing potential harm from fires, explosions, hazardous materials, and unsafe use or occupancy of buildings and premises. The IFC has been adopted as a legal regulatory standard in 42 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, New York City, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The 2018 IFC is written with reference to 144 documents and standards published by other organizations. For instance, the code requires compliance with more than 90 National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) standards, such as NFPA 13, which addresses Fire Sprinklers. This allows the IFC to integrate the expertise of industry-specific safety associations into its model regulatory framework. NFPA13, 13R and 13D are some of the more common standards that are inquired about in the fire protection industry.

NFPA 13 is an installation standard and does not specify which building or structures require a sprinkler system. NFPA 13 specifies how to properly design and install a sprinkler system using the proper components and materials after it has been determined that a sprinkler system is required. There are several nuisances and differences between NFPA 13, 13R and 13D. The extent of NFPA 13 covers the entire building both occupied and un-occupied spaces and is designed to protect both life and property. A full NFPA 13 fire sprinkler systems needs to have the means to operate for a duration of 30 minutes – 120 minutes. The fire sprinkler system needs to have a fire department connection (FDC) and be monitored.

NFPA 13R is the standard for the installation of fire sprinkler systems in low-rise residential occupancies. NFPA 13R is specifically engineered to only protect occupied spaces and is designed to only protect life safety. A NFPA 13R fire sprinkler systems needs to have the means to operate for a duration of 30 minutes with a four-sprinkler head design. A four fire sprinkler head design means all four sprinkler heads must be able to flow water for thirty minutes. The NFPA 13R fire sprinkler system needs to have a fire department connection (FDC) and be monitored just like NFPA 13.

Lastly, NFPA 13D is the standard for the installation of sprinkler systems in one- and two-family dwellings, manufactured homes, townhouses, and care facilities. The extent of NFPA 13D covers occupied spaces and only focuses on life safety. A NFPA 13D fire sprinkler systems needs to have the means to operate for a duration of 10 minutes with a two-sprinkler head design. A two fire sprinkler head design means both sprinkler heads must be able to flow water for at least ten minutes. The 13D system is meant to buy time for the occupants to get out of the structure. The ten-minute minimum run time comes from the national standard for the fire depart to respond and arrive on location to the fire.

Factors that contributed to development of NFPA 13D was the 1973 publication of the report “America Burning” by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control (later named the US Fire Administration) focused national attention on the residential fire problem. This report indicated that most fire deaths in the United States occurred in residential occupancies. In 2017 the NFPA Report “US Experience with Sprinklers” stated “Only one sprinkler head operated in four out of five (79%) fires in which sprinklers operated. In 97% of fires with operating sprinklers, five or fewer heads operated.”

The IBC, IRC and IFC are the groundwork for building and maintaining a safe community with the shared mission of life safety. It is a combined effort between the builders of America and fire protection industry experts that keeps us all safe in the home and at the workplace.


For more information on codes and standards or NFPA 13, visit www.NFSA.org.


*An example of a NFPA 13R system. Unoccupied spaces are not protected. As soon as the fire breached into an occupied space the fire was controlled by an activated fire sprinkler head. The fire department is supplying the fire sprinkler system by connecting to the Fire Department Connection (FDC) on the front of the building. In the case of this fire, all occupants were able to evacuate in plenty of time under the cover and protection of fire sprinklers. No injuries were reported.


March 31, 2022

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