What do we do with smoke dampers now that the hospital is fully protected with sprinklers? That question is asked many times by facility managers who are looking to cut back on what they believe are unnecessary maintenance costs. For new construction purposes, chapter 18 in the Life Safety Code does not require the installation of smoke dampers in smoke compartment barriers provided the HVAC ductwork that penetrates the smoke compartment barrier is fully ducted (no open return air plenum ceilings), and both smoke compartments served by the smoke compartment barrier are fully protected with quick-response automatic sprinklers. But sprinklers were not always required for healthcare occupancies and only became a rule for new construction in the 1991 edition of the LSC.
Until then, sprinklers were an option (unless state or local laws required it, and the construction type required it), and not all hospitals choose to invest in the systems when the building was constructed. That means smoke dampers had to be installed in the smoke compartment barriers. After the facility became fully protected with sprinklers, many hospitals believed they could remove the smoke dampers (or disable them in place), since new construction specifications did not require the smoke dampers. Section 4.6.7 of the 2000 LSC says whenever alterations or renovations are made, the requirements of new construction must apply. Since new construction (chapter 18) requirements for hospitals did not require smoke dampers where both smoke compartments are protected with sprinklers, facility managers thought they had good ground to stand on.
While this may be acceptable for NFPA, it is not for the International Code Council which publishes the International Building Code (IBC). The organization needs to request permission from their local and state authorities before they remove them. Usually, permission will not be granted because the IBC does not recognize the removal of existing fire safety equipment. I’ve also been told that in those jurisdictions where the smoke dampers were installed prior to the adoption of the IBC, there is a chance that the authorities may permit it.
Bottom line… Don’t be in a hurry to remove the smoke dampers even if you believe they are no longer required. Check with the state and local AHJs and seek their permission. It will save you a lot of work of re-installing them if you don’t ask for permission, and they find out later.