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 18/220.127.116.11 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 18.104.22.168 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.