Mechanical Room Storage

Q: I have a storage question for you that relates to storing beds and other hospital equipment in our mechanical rooms. Is this allowed or would I be cited for storing things in the mechanical room??

A: To be sure, mechanical rooms are designed to house mechanical equipment, and storage should not obstruct access to the mechanical equipment. According to the 2000 edition of the LSC, storage in mechanical rooms is not prohibited, however there are some requirements that you must meet. The mechanical room must not contain any open flame or fossil-fuel fired heating equipment. The items stored in the mechanical room must be orderly and neat. Storage cannot obstruct access to electrical panels, fire extinguishers, fire alarm pull stations, and must be clear of all sprinklers located on a horizontal plane 18 inches below the sprinkler deflector. If the items stored in the mechanical room are combustible (cardboard boxes, paper or plastic wrapping, linens, etc.) then the mechanical room must meet normal hazardous room requirements. If the room is new (meaning if the room has been designated for storage on or after March 11, 2003), then it must be protected with automatic sprinklers  and the walls constructed from the floor to the deck above with 1-hour fire rating, with a ¾ hour fire rated, self-closing, positive latching door. If the room is considered existing (meaning the room was designated as storage before March 11, 2003 and there have not been any major renovations since), then it must be protected with automatic sprinklers with walls that are smoke resistant and extend from the floor to the ceiling, and protected with a 1 ¾ inch solid bonded wood core door that is smoke resistant and self-closing and positive latching, or if not sprinklered, then the room is required to be protected with 1-hour fire rated barriers. However, please check with your state and local authorities as they may have other codes or standards that may prohibit storage in a mechanical room.

Mechanical Room Storage

Q: Is it prohibited to store items in a mechanical equipment room? We have different opinions at our hospital as to what is allowed and what is not allowed. Do sprinklers make a difference? Your answer would help decide this issue.

A: As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the LSC preventing non-combustible items from being stored in a mechanical room that does not contain fuel-fired equipment. Also, I don’t see any problem with storing combustible items in a non-fuel-fired equipment room, provided it meets the requirements of 18/19.3.2.1 for hazardous rooms.  Now, I do see some NFPA documents (such as NFPA 13, and NFPA 72) that prevent storage of items in certain equipment rooms in special situations. But as far as general storage in mechanical rooms that do not have fuel-fired equipment, I don’t see why not. What drives AHJ’s to cite this as a problem is the amount of storage that accumulates in those rooms. There are documented situations where storage on top of ductwork and air handlers has been in such massive quantities that it blocks access to mechanical equipment.  In some instances, the amount of storage discourages the regular maintenance of equipment, because storage has to be moved to gain access.  The purpose of the mechanical room is to house mechanical equipment and when storage interferes with this objective, that’s when problems begin. Some organizations have portioned-off sections that prevent stored items from obstructing access to mechanical equipment. That confines and limits the amount of storage to a certain quantity and keeps access to mechanical equipment clear.

Mechanical Rooms & Exit Enclosures

Q: We have a mechanical room in our hospital whose entrance door opens into the top of an exit stairwell. I was informed by a consultant that this arrangement is not permitted and we must create a vestibule so the mechanical room does not open directly onto the stairwell. Is this true? If so, is this our only option?

A: The requirement for the arrangement that you described is found in the Exits section of chapter 7 of the 2000 Life Safety Code. This chapter applies to both new occupancies and existing occupancies. Section 7.1.3.2.1(d) requires openings to exit enclosures (stairwells) to be limited to normally occupied spaces. A mechanical room is not considered by many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) to be normally occupied. Therefore, by this definition alone, your consultant is correct and your arrangement does not appear to meet the requirements of the Code.

However, you do have other options to building the vestibule. Later editions of the Life Safety Code address this exact issue and actually permit an opening into an exit enclosure from an unoccupied mechanical room space, provided it meets the following criteria:

  • The space does not contain any fuel-fired equipment
  • The space does not contain storage of combustible equipment
  • The building is protected throughout by an approved automatic sprinkler system

If your mechanical space meets these conditions, it is my recommendation your organization submit an equivalency to the AHJ that has regulatory control over your facility. You should cite the change in chapter 7 of the 2006 edition of the Life Safety Code as your facility meeting an equivalent level of safety. This is an acceptable alternative to meeting this requirement, rather than constructing a vestibule which could be costly.

Mechanical Rooms That Have Open Vertical Shafts

Q: We have a penthouse mechanical room on top of our hospital that has a vertical shaft used for pipes, conduits and HVAC ductwork which is open to the mechanical room. We were informed that this arrangement is permitted by the LSC, but we could not have any equipment in the mechanical that is not related to the purpose of the open shaft. Is this true? Are we prohibited from having equipment in the mechanical room that does not serve the shaft?

A: Vertical shafts are addressed in section 8.2.5 in the 2000 edition of the LSC. The exception to section 8.2.5.3 allows a vertical shaft to terminate in a room and not be enclosed, provided the room has a use related to the purpose of the shaft. The room must be separated from the remainder of the building with construction that has a fire resistance rating equal to or greater than the vertical shaft. However, there is no written language in the LSC that limits the equipment in the room to that which is related to the purpose of the shaft. In other words, the LSC would permit equipment that may not be served by the shaft to be in the mechanical room, such as a radio transmitter. So it appears that you would be permitted to have equipment that is not related to the purpose of the shaft in the room.

One exception to this situation is found in ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators which does not permit any equipment or machinery that is not used directly in connection with the elevator in an elevator machine room. Many elevator machine rooms have their machinery mounted on top of an open vertical shaft, so this is a situation where equipment that does not support the elevator would not be permitted in a room with an open shaft. However, ASME A17.1 only applies to new construction or renovations, and existing conditions are permitted to remain. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) always makes the interpretation of the LSC, and your local or state AHJ may have a differing opinion on this subject, so a review of the situation with them is always a wise decision.

Mechanical Rooms & Exit Enclosures

Q: We have a mechanical room in our hospital whose entrance door opens into the top of an exit stairwell. I was informed by a consultant that this arrangement is not permitted and we must create a vestibule so the mechanical room does not open directly onto the stairwell. Is this true? If so, is this our only option?

A: The requirement for the arrangement that you described is found in the Exits section of chapter 7 of the 2000 Life Safety Code. This chapter applies to both new occupancies and existing occupancies. Section 7.1.3.2.1(d) requires openings to exit enclosures (stairwells) to be limited to normally occupied spaces. A mechanical room is not considered by many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) to be normally occupied. Therefore, by this definition alone, your consultant is correct and your arrangement does not appear to meet the requirements of the Code.

However, you do have other options to building the vestibule. Later editions of the Life Safety Code address this exact issue and actually permit an opening into an exit enclosure from an unoccupied mechanical room space, provided it meets the following criteria:

  • The space does not contain any fuel-fired equipment
  • The space does not contain storage of combustible equipment
  • The building is protected throughout by an approved automatic sprinkler system

If your mechanical space meets these conditions, it is my recommendation your organization submit an equivalency to the AHJ that has regulatory control over your facility. You should cite the change in chapter 7 of the 2006 edition of the Life Safety Code as your facility meeting an equivalent level of safety. This is an acceptable alternative to meeting this requirement, rather than constructing a vestibule which could be costly.