Strange Observations – Ceiling Penetrations

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

This picture was taken in an electrical room. Where the conduits extend upwards and penetrate the suspended ceiling, the gaps around the conduits are too large.

Most surveyors will use the NFPA 80 maximum 1/8-inch gap rule fire door clearance to frames as a standard for the maximum gap around conduit penetrations, where the ceiling is required to act as a membrane for smoke detectors or sprinkler heads.

In situations like this, the easiest and best solution is to remove the suspended ceiling from the electrical room, and relocate the lights in the ceiling to the deck above.

Strange Observations – Smoke Detectors

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

According to NFPA 72-2012, Annex A. smoke detectors should not be located in direct airflow, or any closer than 36-inches from an air diffuser. This would include return-air diffusers, exhaust-air diffusers, as well as supply-air diffusers.

While the Annex section is not part of the enforceable code, it is explanatory information provided to give the reader direction on how the Technical Committee viewed certain standards. Any authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) may use this Annex information in determining compliance with the standard, and most AHJs do. Therefore, the 36-inch rule is widely enforced in all surveys.

But some smoke detectors have UL listings for use in high-velocity airflow areas and are recommended by the manufacturer to be mounted close to air-diffusers. This would lead one to believe they would be permitted within close proximity to an air-diffuser, such as the one in the picture indicates. But I have read reports where surveyors still cite the organization for installing the special high-velocity smoke detectors too close to air-diffusers because of the perception that the airflow would prevent ambient smoke from being detected by the smoke detector.

Rather than fighting this battle with over-zealous surveyors, it is best to just make sure all smoke (and heat) detectors are at least 36-inches from all air-diffusers.

Smoke Detectors in Patient Restrooms

Q: Can I provide a smoke detector in an existing hospital patient restroom? The smoke detector was recommended by the hospital safety committee to avoid smoking in these rooms. Our patient restrooms have bathtubs but no showers. Some restrooms are protected by sprinkler systems and some are not. Some restrooms are provided with heat detectors, but of course, they do not activate during patient smoking. Even though the safety committee recommended changing to a smoke detector, I am afraid of false alarms from the high humidity a restroom can generate.

A: While the Life Safety Code and NFPA 72-2010 do not require smoke detectors to be installed in patient bathrooms, designers usually do not place them there for fear of nuisance alarms. But experience shows a smoke detector in a bathroom that has a toilet and a bathtub is not the same risk that a smoke detector located in a bathroom with a shower has. The shower will atomize water droplets to form high concentrations of water vapor and will more likely cause nuisance alarms. The bathtub and toilet would not raise the relative humidity much at all.

Try it and see how it works for you.

Smoke Detector Disabled

Q: If a smoke detecting device is disabled for a breathing treatment (often for several days), what sort of fire watch, notification or signage is necessary?

A: None. Fire watches are not for a single device taken out of service, or for a single device found to be impaired. According to section A. of the 2012 LSC, it is not the intent of the Life Safety Code to require notification of the AHJ or evacuation (or fire watch) for the portion of the building affected for a single nonoperative device or appliance.

Also, section of the 2012 LSC says where a required fire alarm system (not a single device) is out of service for 4 or more hours in a 24-hour period then an approved fire watch should be conducted. If this smoke detector is located in a healthcare occupancy, there may be a good chance that it is not a required device. Many designers add smoke detectors throughout hospitals where the LSC does not actually require them. In my opinion, you would need to have a branch or circuit disabled on a fire alarm system before a fire watch is required.

Strange Observations – Part 25

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

I guess I like my smoke detectors mounted tight to the ceiling….

Fire Door Smoke Detectors

Q: I have a life safety consultant doing our annual inspection, and he keeps saying that I need to have individual smoke detectors for my corridor fire rated doors. The corridors on both sides of these doors are completely protected with smoke detectors, but he says regardless, that area smoke detectors are required next to the doors. Is this correct?

A: No, I don’t believe what the consultant is telling you is correct. Section of NFPA 72 (2010) allows for either area smoke detectors or complete corridor smoke detector protection to activate the release of a hold-open on a door serving a fire barrier or a smoke compartment barrier. So, in regards to the cross-corridor doors that are held open by magnets connected to the fire alarm system, you are permitted to have one of the following:

  • A smoke detector on either side of the door mounted within five feet of the door; or smoke detectors mounted on both sides of the door within five feet if the transom above the door is greater than 24 inches.
  • The entire corridor where the cross-corridor door is located is properly protected with smoke detectors. A smoke detector must then be located within 15 feet of the door. For mounting locations for an area protected with detectors, the detectors must be no more than 15 feet from the wall (this is based on one-half of the maximum spacing distance between detectors which is 30 feet). The cross-corridor doors must be considered ‘closed’ when designing the detector locations, so that constitutes a “wall” and a detector is required within 15 feet of that wall.

Where consultants and surveyors have problems is they see a cross-corridor door held open by a magnet, and then they do not see a detector within five feet, and they believe that is a violation of NFPA 72. What they don’t consider is the corridor is completely protected with smoke detectors and NFPA 72 (2010) (1) allows a detector to be one-half of the maximum spacing.

Smoke Detectors in IT Closets?

Q: Do IT closets require a smoke detector no matter the size?

A: If the IT closet is in the healthcare occupancy (hospital), and under normal circumstances, there is no Life Safety Code requirement to have a smoke detector in the IT closet, regardless of the size.

Now, there may be other requirements that may necessitate a smoke detector in an IT closet, such as:

  • Compensating measures for an equivalency;
  • To meet the requirement for a fully smoke-detected building required for delayed egress locks;
  • If the door to the IT closet was held open by a magnetic device that releases the door when the fire alarm system is activated;
  • When state or local codes requires a smoke detector.

If you’re thinking the IT closet is a hazardous area and a smoke detector should be installed: That is not a requirement. Sections 18/ do not define an IT closet as a hazardous area, and smoke detection is not a requirement for hazardous area. Even if the IT closet qualified as a hazardous area due to combustibles stored in the room, you still do not need a smoke detector.

On the other hand, a smoke detector in an IT closet can provide early warning of a fire, so you may want to consider one.

Smoke Detectors in Existing Facilities

Q: Are existing healthcare occupancies required to have smoke detectors if they are fully sprinklered?

A: Smoke detectors are required in certain areas of healthcare occupancies, but they are not dependent upon whether or not the facility is sprinklered. But what type of healthcare occupancy are you referring to? A hospital? A nursing home? There are slightly different requirements for smoke detectors depending on the use of the healthcare occupancy. For example: A hospital is not required to have smoke detectors in the corridors or patient sleeping rooms but according to the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code, a hospital is required to have smoke detectors in the following areas:

  • Within 5 feet of a door held open by a magnet, or the entire area served by the door is protected with smoke detectors;
  • In areas open to the corridor that are not directly supervised;
  • In elevator lobbies, mechanical rooms, and shafts where the elevator travels more than 25 feet in any direction above or below the level best served by the responding fire fighters;
  • In the room where a fire alarm panel (including NAC panels) is located, if the room is not continuously occupied;
  • Any other area where smoke detectors are installed to satisfy a local or state requirement, or an equivalency approved by an authority.

In addition to the above, new construction in nursing homes are required to have smoke detection in the corridors.