For bathrooms and shower rooms that are protected with automatic sprinklers, do the shower curtains require the same open mesh at the top as privacy curtains used in patients rooms? This was a question that I was recently asked, and my feeble mind immediately thought why would the NFPA codes and standards require sprinkler protection in a shower? What’s going to burn in there?
But a review of NFPA 13 (1999 edition) shows there are no exceptions for sprinkler protection in showers when the building is required to be fully protected with automatic sprinklers. (There is for small bathrooms in dwelling units, but that does not apply healthcare occupancies.) And I asked an associate of mine who knows more about sprinkler installations than I, who said showers can be a place that could be used to start a fire so there is a need to provide protection (who would have thought?).
Then I remembered there was an exception concerning shower curtains and after I looked that up, I realized that exception only applied to the requirement found in section 22.214.171.124 of the 2000 Life Safety Code that curtains needing to be flame resistant. So, that didn’t apply. So, after reviewing NFPA 13, I found that the answer would be… it depends. The shower curtains may need the ½ inch open mesh at the top 18 inches of the curtain if the top of the curtain is too close to the sprinkler head.
According to NFPA 13 (1999 edition), there are no exceptions for sprinkler protection in showers, so that means the showers need to have sprinkler protection. This can be achieved by having sprinklers mounted directly inside the showers, or it can be achieved by having sprinklers mounted on the outside of the showers and count on the spray pattern to cover the area of the shower. If the curtain does not have the open mesh at the top, then the top edge of the curtain needs to be a certain vertical distance below and a certain horizontal distance away from the sprinkler head, in accordance with Table 5-126.96.36.199.
So it is possible that if the top of the shower curtains are mounted far enough below the sprinkler and far enough away from the sprinkler, then the open mesh at the top of the curtain is not required. But if not, then the curtains would need to have the open mesh, as stipulated in the Appendix (Annex) section A-5-188.8.131.52.