Including a Fire Suppression System in Building Design

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Fire suppression systems are required for all commercial buildings and some new residential buildings, as well. While it is possible to retrofit a building to include a suppression system at any time, it’s often the most cost-effective solution to include one during the building design phase of the project. More and different methods of fire suppression can be included during design versus a retrofit where options may be more limited by the building or by expense.

Building a fire suppression system during the design stage is the most effective way of ensuring that you not only meet state or federal building codes, but also help minimize the risk and potential damage to the building in the event of a fire.

What Is a Fire Suppression System?

Fire suppression designs include multi-faceted systems aimed at stopping the spread of flames and smoke, and helping to put out, reduce or remove the flames or smoke already in the building. Suppression systems are also usually coupled with other safety systems that include evacuation plans, smoke detectors and emergency light systems.

Fire suppression systems are generally unique to the building they are installed in, meaning that they can be, and usually are, tailored to meet the building’s unique needs. When introducing the system in the design stage, this offers you the most flexibility in terms of placement, materials, system choices and overall design.

There are many different components that can make up a fire suppression system, and most systems will have both active and passive elements. Active elements are those that work to eliminate or remove smoke and flame such as sprinklers and ventilation systems, while passive elements are materials that stop their spread such as fireproof walls and smoke curtains. 

Designing a fire suppression system should include a comprehensive look at the building itself, how it will be used, how many occupants it will have and its overall layout.

Fire Suppresion System Benefits and Building Requirements

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Building requirements for fire suppression systems do vary by state, but all commercial buildings and multi-family residential buildings require sprinkler systems, fire detection systems and lights at a minimum. 

However, there are many other system elements can help protect the building and its occupants in the event of a fire. Including them during the design phase of the project helps offer additional benefits.

When designing the active components of the system, planning needs to include not only the square footage, layout and occupancy but also the pump room. By leaving space for the pump room immediately in the design phase of the project, you don’t need to carve out space for it later, try to determine where space should be taken from, or locate it in an area that would mean additional pipes and connections in order to reach the main sections of the building. 

In addition, many fire codes include the need for fire areas, with each area having its own fire suppression system. Each area needs to be separated from adjacent areas with fire retardant materials to help stop the spread of flames in the event of a fire. 

By keeping those fire areas in mind during the design phase, you can better include barriers, even in open floor plans. For example, while you may have openings between rooms, it’s possible to include things like smoke or fire curtains that can deploy in the event of a fire to block and protect the adjacent room(s), effectively creating the necessary barrier.

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If the building is designed without these things in mind, it becomes more difficult to retrofit them successfully. Often walls must be moved and changes must be made to disguise the use of curtains or baffles. Expenses begin to rise as these changes add up. 

By obtaining building codes and building recommendations, studying the layout of the building before construction begins and planning for the introduction of both active and passive fire suppression systems, you will create the safest design. This not only limits damage to the building itself, it also helps keep loss of life to a minimum in the event of a fire. 

When and Where to Include Fire Suppression Systems

Fire suppression systems should be included in nearly every part of the building. In most instances, they should blend in seamlessly with the building’s design. 

Active fire suppression systems such as smoke detection systems and fire sprinkler systems need to follow specific requirements. For example, sprinkler heads should never be more than 15 feet apart from one another, with each one covering between 150 and 200 square feet. For active systems, you’ll need to work with the building’s design and layout to ensure proper placement and spacing.

For passive systems, however, you have slightly more design control. Passive systems stop the spread of smoke and flames. When you have physical walls in your design — separate rooms, corridors, etc. — it makes the most sense to ensure that they’re built of flame retardant materials. But for door openings, stairwells, atriums, elevators and open floor plans, you’ll need to make different choices. 

In some instances, such as atriums and stairwells, smoke baffles can be installed near the ceiling to help direct the smoke toward ventilation systems and to prevent it spreading. This combination of active and passive systems is very effective at stopping and minimizing damage.

For doors, open floor plans, closed stairwells and elevators, including smoke and fire curtains in the design can be an unobtrusive way of protecting these areas. Smoke curtains install in the header above the opening and deploy when needed, so they make a discreet barrier that doesn’t impact the aesthetics of the building. 

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And while all of these systems can be added later, knowing that you’ll be including them right from the beginning lets you work them discreetly into the design. You won’t have to compromise the style or layout of the building to gain the protection that it requires. 

Get Better Fire Protection

Fire protection should never be an afterthought. By including it in the building’s design right from the beginning, it opens up more choices for how you’ll layout and design both the systems and the rooms. 

With the use of smoke opening protectives, it’s possible to create fire protection without physical walls, giving you more flexibility in design. Get better fire protection for the buildings you design by working the suppression systems in from the start, and minimize the damage that a fire could bring.

For more information on how smoke and fire curtains can benefit your next design, contact Smoke Guard today.