When are Fire Sprinklers Required in Commercial Buildings?


At the beginning of a project, commercial building owners need to know if fire sprinklers will be required for their property. The answer to this question depends on various factors, such as the type of occupancy, the state or municipality in which the building is located and the size of the building.

Fire sprinklers are typically required in commercial buildings when the occupancy, square footage or height of the building reaches a certain level. However, there are some general guidelines to be observed.

What is a Fire Sprinkler System?

A fire sprinkler system is a simple, yet essential, active element of a building's fire protection system. The system includes a water supply, a distribution piping network and sprinkler heads installed in ceilings or sidewalls. When heat is detected, the sprinkler will activate automatically. However, smoke does not activate most systems.

How Do Sprinkler Systems Work?

When a fire sprinkler system is activated, it releases water from a sprinkler head where the temperature increase is detected. There are four types of sprinkler systems:

Wet Pipe

This is the most prevalent system in use. Pressurized cold water is directed through pipes to the activated sprinkler heads in order to release water.

Dry Pipe

Dry systems are primarily used in unoccupied structures where there is considerable danger of pipes freezing. The pipes are filled with air under pressure, which keeps the water from flowing through them until a fire is detected. When the sprinkler head is activated, the air leaks out, allowing the water to flow.

Pre-action Systems

With a pre-action system, water is held back from the piping by an electronic valve and released when heat is detected. The sprinkler head must also be activated before water is released. In areas where accidental discharges must be prevented, the extra costs associated with this system are justified.

Deluge Sprinkler System

The deluge system is similar to the wet pipe system, but with two key differences:

  • The sprinkler heads are always open.
  • The water is released to the entire system when smoke or heat is detected.


Who Regulates the Requirements for Fire Sprinkler Systems?

The NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, is one of the most widely-used standards for small businesses. This country-wide standard establishes the methods and conditions for installing sprinkler systems and provides builders, owners and managers with a consistent framework for meeting or exceeding fire safety criteria.

Which Commercial Buildings Should Have a Sprinkler System?

Various local, state and federal rules will dictate the type of buildings that must be protected with a sprinkler system. These standards need to be followed carefully in order to meet your area's safety standards, as well as building codes. The following are some of the significant fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings from NFPA 13:

  • All new commercial structures with a fire area of more than 5,000 square feet must have automatic fire sprinkler systems installed.
  • Any remodeling or expansion that extends the fire area beyond 5,000 square feet, or any single tenant increase in occupancy requiring a new certificate of occupancy, will require sprinkler systems to be installed throughout the building.
  • Buildings more than 55 feet tall must have automatic sprinkler systems installed in all of the structures.
  • Sprinkler systems are required in townhomes with more than two residential occupancy units within a structure.

How is a Commercial Building Protected When No Sprinkler System is Present?

Passive and active are two types of fire protection, and both are usually engineered into the design of a modern commercial building. The difference between passive fire protection and active fire protection is that the former focuses on containing a fire, whereas the latter concerns itself with stopping one.

Active Fire Protection

Active fire protection focuses on taking some sort of action to prevent a blaze from spreading. Some measures, like a sprinkler system, are automated, while others, such as a fire extinguisher, can be handled manually. Fire alarms, smoke detectors and even firefighters are all considered active fire prevention measures.

Passive Fire Protection

When a sprinkler system is not used, passive fire and smoke containment measures must be in place. Passive fire protection divides the buildings into compartments through the use of fire-rated walls and floors, which help prevent the spread of flames.

To further compartmentalize the structure, fire doors are used, in addition to dampers that keep smoke and fire from traveling throughout the ducts of the building.

Photoluminescent path markers are another frequently-seen protection element in high-rise structures. Path markers assist in the evacuation process by lighting dark or smoky stairwells for a safe exit.

Our Smoke and Fire Containment Systems are Trusted Internationally

Smoke Guard has created cutting-edge smoke and fire confinement systems to satisfy the demands of architects and designers around the world. Our objective is to maximize the usable area in your structure by developing custom solutions that address the specific requirements of your project. We cover a wide range of openings, from modest windows to enormous atriums.

Contact us today to learn how we can improve your existing safety measures or help you design a new fire and smoke containment system from the ground up.