Sprinklers in Electrical Rooms

I was talking recently with a good friend of mine, Jeff Lehmann, concerning sprinkler installation in electrical equipment rooms. The topic of discussion was, if an electrical equipment room was not protected with automatic sprinklers, but the rest of the hospitals was, does that make the hospital to be classified as being nonsprinklered?

In the NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinklers handbook (2010 edition), there is a comment concerning sprinkler installation in electrical rooms:

“Although sprinkler systems have been successfully installed in rooms containing electrical equipment for 100 years with no documented instances of a problem, NFPA 13 identifies certain conditions that, if followed, permit sprinklers to be omitted from electrical equipment rooms… Building owners need to police the areas. The building owner must control access to all such electrical equipment rooms to reduce the likelihood that storage of any type is present in these spaces.”

What the handbook is referring to is also found in NFPA 13 (1999 edition) section 5-13.11 which allows an exception to installing sprinklers in an electrical equipment room, provided you meet all of the following requirements:

  • The room is dedicated to electrical equipment only
  • Only dry-type electrical equipment is used
  • Equipment is installed in a 2-hour fire rated enclosure including protection for penetrations
  • No combustible storage is permitted to be stored in the room

As mentioned, the room must have a 2-hour fire rated barrier surrounding the room, including the floor and deck above. Any openings (doors) in the room must be properly fire rated at 90-minutes and must be self-closing and positive latching. Any ventilation ductwork which penetrates the 2-hour barrier must be equipped with the appropriate fire dampers, and all penetrations must be properly firestopped.

But we need to look at section 19.3.5.1 in the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code which also has an exception that says:

“In Type I and Type II construction, and where approved by the authority having jurisdiction, alternative protection measures shall be permitted to be substituted for sprinkler protection in specified areas where the authority having jurisdiction has prohibited sprinklers, without causing a building to be classified as nonsprinklered.”

In the past, I have seen this exception applied to elevator equipment rooms as well as electrical equipment rooms, specifically where the lcoal AHJ did not want sprinklers in those rooms. But this exception is also accepted to allow FM-200, Halon, Inergen and CO2 fire protection systems to be installed in certain rooms, such as computer rooms, without the building being classified as nonsprinklered.

The 2-hour fire rated barrier exception in NFPA 13 (1999 edition) section 5-13.11 certainly qualifies as an ‘alternative protection’ system, therefore, if properly installed in Type I or Type II buildings, it would not make the hospital be classified as being nonsprinklered.