Q: Can cardboard boxes be stored in an electrical room that is over 50 square feet, fully sprinklered, and has only dry transformers under 112 1/2 kVA?
A: Yes, only if the room qualifies as a hazardous room under sections 184.108.40.206 or 220.127.116.11 of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code, depending if the room is considered new construction or existing conditions. With the exception of NFPA 1 (2012 edition) NFPA codes and standards do not prevent storage in electrical rooms as long as it does not obstruct access to the electrical equipment. Since NFPA 1 is NOT a referenced standard by the Life Safety Code, the restrictions found in that standard does not apply. You must maintain at least 36 inches clearance in front of all electrical panels, and at least 30 inches clearance to the side of electrical panels. Now, other authorities having jurisdiction may have their own rules and interpretation, so I would suggest you check with your accreditation organization, state and local authorities to see if they have any issues with that.
Q: Are there any requirements to firestop penetrations in Information Technology (IT) closets and electrical rooms in business occupancies?
A: Only if the barriers surrounding the IT closets are designated as being fire rated on the life safety drawings, or by an authority. There is no Life Safety Code requirement to firestop penetrations in barriers surrounding IT closets simply because the closet serves IT equipment. Penetrations in fire rated barriers must be properly firestopped regardless what the barrier serve. I am not aware of a Life Safety Code requirement for IT closets to have fire rated barriers. But, perhaps, local or state authorities have regulations that may require it. You should check with them.
Q: What is the fire rating supposed to be in the walls of the hospital equipment rooms, such as the generator room, boiler room, chiller rooms, and electrical rooms? We have a disagreement as to what is required and your answer decides who is correct.
A: According to NFPA 110 (1999), section 5-2.1, generator rooms are required to have 2-hour fire rated barriers that protects the room from fire outside the room. Any 2-hour fire rated barrier is required to have 90-minute fire rated doors and frame and if there are any HVAC duct penetrations through the 2-hour barrier, then the HVAC duct opening needs to be protected in accordance with NFPA 90A Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating System, which would require a 90-minute fire damper. A boiler room is considered a hazardous area, and according to the 2000 edition of the LSC, sections 18/18.104.22.168, the hazardous area is required to be protected with 1-hour fire rated barriers if it is considered new construction, or 1-hour barriers if it is considered existing and is not protected with sprinklers. Existing boiler rooms that are protected with sprinklers only require smoke resistant walls. All door openings in a 1-hour barrier are required to be ¾ hour fire rated, with fire rated frames. However, unlike the 2-hour barrier, a 1-hour fire rated barrier for a hazardous area is not required to have any fire dampers in a HVAC duct penetration, unless the HVAC penetration is not fully ducted. Electrical rooms typically are not required by the LSC to have fire rated barriers (walls), however NFPA 13 (1999 edition) Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, section 5-13.11 does permit an electrical room to be protected with 2-hour fire rated barriers in lieu of being protected with sprinklers. Therefore if the room does have fire rated barriers for any reason (including local or state building codes) then it would need fire dampers in the HVAC duct penetration if it is 2-hour fire rated or greater. Chiller rooms typically do not require fire rated barriers, unless the chillers are fuel-fired, then they would require the same protection as the boilers. As always, please check with your local and state authorities to determine if there are other regulations that may affect this situation.
Q: In a recent posting a question was raised about storage in a mechanical room. What about storage in an electrical room? Is it permitted?
A: In some cases storage is permitted, and in others, it is not. NFPA 70 National Electrical Code (1999 edition), section 450-21 limits storage in rooms containing dry-type transformers to 112½ kVA or less, as long as the combustible items stored are at least 12 inches clear of the transformer. However, the room must meet the requirements for hazardous areas found in sections 18/22.214.171.124 in the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code, if the room is over 50 square feet. Electrical rooms housing liquid-filled transformers are required to be 1-hour fire resistant and storage would not be permitted. There are some exceptions to these requirements associated with NFPA 70 that you may qualify for. In regards to NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of sprinkler Systems (1999 edition), section 5-13.11 permits electrical rooms to be excluded from having automatic sprinklers, provided the room is 2-hour fire resistant rated, and the room is not used for storage. So it appears that storage in electrical rooms would be permitted according to NFPA codes and standards, other than what has been identified in this response. As always, please check with your local and state authorities to determine if they have any additional limitations.
Q: I had a state inspector tell me that communication wires and cable in our hospital are not permitted to be tied to conduit containing electrical wires. Is this true? If so, I will have to un-tie miles of communication wires from my conduit and re-hang them.
A: Yes, I’m afraid this is true. Section 19.5.1 (section 126.96.36.199 for new healthcare occupancies) of the Life Safety Code® (LSC) requires compliance with section 9.1 which in turn requires compliance with NFPA 70 National Electrical Code, 1999 edition. Article 300.11 (B) of NFPA 70 does not permit anything to be attached to conduit, with one exception: Class 2 control cable may be attached to the conduit if it serves the circuit in the conduit. Apparently, the concern that NFPA has is heat from the electrical conductors inside the conduit may not dissipate adequately if there are additional cables and wires tied to the outside of the conduit. While it is highly unlikely that a single low voltage cable that is wire-tied to a conduit would cause a problem, I guess it is logical that many wires and cables could be a problem. The question is where do you draw the line? I guess NFPA draws the line at one (1). So, I’m sorry to say, you will have to remove all the wires and cables from conduits in order to be compliant with the LSC. And by the way, do not attach those wires to your sprinkler pipes, either. That will cause a whole bunch of problems that you don’t need.
Q: I was recently informed by an architect that an electrical equipment room does not need to be sprinkled if it has a two-hour fire resistant separation. Have you heard of this and if so, can you tell me where it is permitted?
A: Yes, this is permitted. According to section 19.3.5 of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (LSC), 2000 edition, where sprinklers are required, they must be installed in accordance with NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (1999 edition). Section 18.3.5 of the LSC for new construction has the same reference to NFPA 13. Section 5-13.11 of NFPA 13 (1999 edition) has an exception that allows the electrical equipment room to be protected with 2-hour fire rated enclosure in lieu of having to be protected with sprinklers. There are a few requirements that must be met when using this exception, though. The room must be dedicated to electrical equipment only, and only dry-type electrical equipment can be used. In addition, the room cannot be used for combustible storage.
Q: Are electrical equipment rooms required to be fire rated? We have a dry-type transformer in an utility room on one of our nursing units and wanted to know if the room is required to be fire rated.
A: According to the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code, electrical rooms are not required to be fire rated, although NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (1999 edition) does provide an option to provide a 2-hour fire rated barrier around an electrical room in lieu of installing sprinklers (see previous question). But a room that has a transformer in it is regulated by NFPA 70 National Electric Code (1999 edition), article 450-21. This article says any room containing a dry-type transformer which is rated more than 112½ kVA must be 1-hour fire rated. There are some exceptions to this requirement based on the transformer insulation values and vertical mounting. However, transformers that are rated 112½ kVA or less are only required to be separated from combustible materials by 12 inches by a fire resistant heat-insulated barrier. I am aware of some states that require hospital electrical rooms that contain emergency power to be fire rated, so please check with your local and state authorities for their requirements.
Q: Do all electrical rooms have to have automatic sprinklers installed in them? Our electrician tells us there are exceptions to installing sprinklers in an electrical room even when the entire building is required to be sprinklered. Are you aware of these exceptions?
A: The Life Safety Code does not require electrical rooms to be fire rated. However, there are some exceptions which are found in NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems 1999 edition, section 5-13.11. While this standard requires sprinkler protection in electrical equipment rooms, it does provide an exception in lieu of having to install sprinklers. The room has to be dedicated to electrical equipment only, and only dry-type electrical equipment is allowed in the room. The room has to be protected with 2-hour fire rated barriers with 1½ hour fire rated doors that are self-closing and positively latching. Even though the room is dedicated to electrical equipment only, you are not allowed to have any combustible items stored in the room, which would include cardboard boxes. If you choose to comply with this exception and not install sprinklers in the electrical rooms, then this option does not otherwise cause your building to be non-compliant with any requirement to be fully sprinklered.