Another great post from Jeff Hugo, NFSA
Can a protected stair enclosure have a combination standpipe/sprinkler riser in it? The answer, because we see this all across the country in high rises, hotels, etc, is “yes”. Because we see and install these systems, does that make it right? Sure. Why? The International Building Code, International Fire Code, NFPA 5000 and NFPA 101 don’t allow much in stair enclosures, but all four codes allow a combined standpipe system in the stair.
Installing the combined system in the stair is the most economical and logical placement for fire sprinkler contractors. This holds true for building owners and the responding fire department. The combined system has the flow alarms, floor control valves, testing outlets, drains, gauges, hose connections and check valves on each floor. Each landing becomes a mini-riser room for that floor protected by the fire resistance and structural stability requirements of stair enclosures.
There have been questions raised lately on whether this life safety system can be located in this life safety component of the building. Stairs and evacuation of a building while the fire department is entering has been an issue of many discussions in the code development world since the World Trade Center tragedy in 2001. Closer to home, some fire sprinkler contractors are feeling this effect by local authorities claiming these systems cannot be in a stair enclosure.
A means of egress, as defined by the International Building Code, is a continuous and unobstructed path of vertical and horizontal egress travel from any occupied portion of a building or structure to a public way. A means of egress consists of three separate and distinct parts:
1. The exit access
2. The exit
3. The exit discharge.
The stair enclosure is part of the exit portion. When occupants enter the stairway, they are protected from the interior hazards. Stairways are usually masonry or concrete towers with typically a two-hour fire rating, self-closing fire doors, and are of a certain width to accommodate the egressing occupants. Stair enclosures must exit directly to the outside. If they do not, or cannot there are provisions that must be installed.
The provision that is approved when the stair does not exit directly to the outside is called an exit passageway. Simply put, an exit passageway is a protected connector from the base of the stair enclosure (usually at the grade floor) to the outside of the building. In some cases, a structure cannot be built with all the stair enclosures on the exterior perimeter, so exit passageways are installed to continue the occupants protected path. Picture the exit passageway as a corridor with severe restrictions. Designers avoid passageways because of strict code language does not permit them much flexibility.
So, where do standpipes fit into this equation of stair enclosures and exit passageways? The combined standpipe system is permitted within a stair enclosure and in exit passageways but code language does not specifically say combined systems. Is there a difference? In the 2006 International Building Code, Section 1020.1.2 (Vertical Exit Enclosures) and Section 1021.5 (Exit Passageways) specifies the components that can penetrate the vertical exit enclosures (stairs) and passageways. The section starts out saying that any opening is prohibited, except for the required exit doors, ducts for pressurization, conduits dedicated for the illumination/power for the stairs and fire department communication, sprinkler piping and standpipes. The 2006 Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) Section 126.96.36.199.1 (6) essentially has the same items, and it applies the same ideology.
If sprinkler piping and standpipes can be installed, then can combined systems be installed in these spaces? According to Section 1018.1 of the IBC, an exit shall comply with Sections 1018 – 1023 and an exit shall not be used for any purpose that interferes with its function as a means of egress. We know now that Sections 1020 and 1021 allow piping and standpipes; but can we be assured that a combined system does not interfere with the function of the stairs?
First, let us clear up that if the code allows sprinkler piping and standpipes, then it is obvious that a combined system is the same. A combined system consists both of sprinkler piping and is a standpipe for the building. Combined systems are the usual choice by building owners and contractors because their dual purpose is sensible, safe, and economical. The combined system is hydraulically calculated for both sprinkler flow and fire hose flow (up to a 1,000 gpm) at the same time. Furthermore, the IBC Commentary of Section 1018.1 states that standpipe risers are permitted in the stairs; however, they must be installed so they do not interfere with the required clear width of the exit.
A sprinkler contractor must coordinate with the professional designer on location of the combined system so it does not interfere with occupant flow. Combined systems with hose connections are usually installed on the intermediate landing; however, if the system is placed on the floor landing the local building or fire official must first approve it. Most fire departments have a preference or a standard operating procedure that they use to attack a fire from a stairway, so hose connection placement is critical. The occupant egress flow follows the width of the stair down through the landings. If the required width is 44”, then 44” of the landings must be clear, meaning the combined system must stay out of this required clear path.
It appears obvious that the intent of the code is to allow combined systems in stairs. With wording in the text of the code such as sprinkler piping, standpipe risers, and standpipes, one has to look past the combined system term and realize all are of the same. Although the codebooks are thick, they cannot possibly address every situation or term in every building. An educated and professional authority having jurisdiction has the ability and support of the codebook to interpret this language as the same.
View our checklist page on standpipe systems