NFSA Sprinkler Questions: Ask the Expert of the Day
Join NFSA, search our EOD articles, and get expert answers to specific NFSA sprinkler questions—fast
NFSA members enjoy many benefits, and one of the most valuable resources is our Expert of the Day (EOD) service. Members submit their toughest real-world questions about sprinkler design, installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM), and more. Our fire sprinkler experts respond with accurate and accessible answers about code, standards, and technology. Contractors and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) alike use this resource to solve complex problems.
EOD questions are answered for members within two business days, but some of them can get expert answers even faster than that. In addition to submitting their problems, people can also search questions that have already been asked and answered. The EOD program helps NFSA members get the information—and get to work—quickly.
In this article, we explain how to submit a question and who our EOD experts are. And we’ll provide some examples of the issues we solve—including a recent request that started with a seemingly simple question but led to new language being submitted to a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard.
NFSA offers the Expert of the Day program as a members-only service. To take advantage of EOD and other member benefits like discounted training, the National Fire Sprinkler Magazine, and more, join NFSA or renew your membership.
Submitting a query is easy. NFSA members can simply give us a call (443-438-1944) or login to NFSA and search “Expert of the Day.” Either way, the Expert of the Day takes your question and starts researching the answer. They will get in touch as soon as your answer is ready—by the end of the next business day.
The EOD program uses a ticket system to track requests. When an expert receives a question, they’ll open a ticket (much like an IT helpdesk ticket, except always helpful). This lets us share your issue with the right subject matter expert (SME), and it enables you to track the progress of your answer.
Resolving problems by the end of the next business day—that’s fast. But members can get answers even faster. Before individuals send a question to the Expert of the Day, they can also search archives of NFSA articles, best of TechNotes, and our TechNotes bulletin. There is a good chance that someone else has experienced the same issue. Users search the archives based on a topic; someone puzzled by a sway brace problem might enter “seismic protection” into the search box.
Just who answers these questions? What are their qualifications? Every business day, a member of NFSA’s Codes, Standards, and Public Fire Protection Department serves as the Expert of the Day. These individuals are design, installation, and ITM experts—and experienced industry practitioners in their own right.
Our Experts of the Day include Professional Engineers (PE), Certified Engineering Technicians (CET), Certified Building Officials (CBO), Master Code Professionals (MCP), and more. They have high-level NICET certifications for the Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems and Water-Based System Layout. Our subject matter experts are also members of many NFPA and ICC committees, so they have additional knowledge beyond the wording of the code or standard—and know why it was implemented. In short, these people know their stuff.
The best of EOD—an NFSA sprinkler question about ESFRs and room design leads to NFPA 13 clarifications
Here’s an example of an excellent (and challenging) EOD question that we answered recently. It started with what should have been a straightforward query—but quickly grew more complicated.
Here’s the question, the problem we encountered, and how the work of NFSA experts both got an answer for our member and bettered our industry. This case led to the submission of a clarifying section to NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.
The question: ESFR sprinklers, room design method, and storage
In August 2019, we received what should have been a simple request. A caller asked if they could use NFPA 13’s Room Design Method for an 800 ft.2 storage room with Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers—assuming, of course, the room’s walls and doors met all of the relevant requirements.
Recall that the Room Design Method for fire sprinkler systems lets us calculate water demand and design the system based on the room that creates the greatest hydraulic demand. In the 2019 edition of NFPA 13, the room design method is described generally in Chapter 19 (19.3.3) and, in the context of storage occupancies, in Chapter 20 (20.8).
ESFR sprinklers are specialized sprinklers that activate early and deliver high-volume flow with large droplets to quickly knock down a fire instead of just preventing its spread. They are designed for warehouses and other storage applications.
The problem: ambiguous language and head-scratching restrictions
At first glance, the answer should have been, “Sure, why not?” However, things get murky in the standard, starting with a line in Chapter 20:
20.8.3 Where the room design method is used, the density shall correspond to that required for the smallest area acceptable under the density/area method.
This points us to the Density/Area Method guidelines (laid out in 22.214.171.124) and the Density/Area Curves in Figure 126.96.36.199.1. This density requirement in 20.8.3 should have been straightforward. But Chapter 19 puts the following restriction on using the Density/Area Curves:
188.8.131.52.2.1 The densities and areas provided in Figure 184.108.40.206.1 shall be for use only with spray sprinklers.
Depending on how we read the standard, Chapter 20’s requirements might seem to limit designers who use the Room Design Method for storage areas to spray sprinklers only—forbidding ESFR sprinklers, among others. It didn’t make sense that the chapter on system design for storage should ban sprinklers explicitly designed for storage, but it was easy to take that meaning from the letter of the text.
The NFSA sprinkler question solution
We were able to sort through this unclear language to provide the designer with a useful answer. Yes, it is acceptable under NFPA 13 to use the Room Design Method with ESFR sprinklers in storage areas. Beyond that, we started the ball rolling on clarifying language for the next edition of NFPA 13. Both of these outcomes were possible because NFSA experts are represented on NFPA 13 committees.
Our member’s question revealed a flaw in the standard—it seems to disallow one of the most useful tools for protecting storage areas. Because of our involvement in NFPA’s Technical Committee for Sprinkler System Discharge, we were able to put the question before the committee members. The Discharge Committee, agreeing that there was confusion, drafted new language to be voted on for inclusion in the 2022 edition of NFPA 13. If accepted by committee vote, it will read as follows:
A.20.8.3 This section is not intended to limit the use of the Room Design Method to density/area sprinkler design. The room design method can be used with any type of ceiling sprinklers as long as the room enclosure requirements are met.
The Discharge Committee also made this comment:
“There is confusion regarding the use of the Room Design Method with CMSA and ESFR sprinklers. There is no prohibition on using such sprinklers, yet this section seems to imply that only density/area concepts are valid, which was not the intent of the standard.”
This is just one example of many problems we solve, of course. A small slice of the issues we’ve tackled includes:
- Should I support a seismic separation assembly? If so, how?
- Can I eliminate sprinklers from apartment closets?
- Should an inspector red-tag an apartment sprinkler system if they aren’t allowed to inspect 100% of the sprinklers?
- Are rod stiffeners part of NFPA 13’s seismic protection requirements?
- Are high-voltage electrical rooms exempt from sprinkler requirements?
- How do I determine the C-factor of old underground pipe I’ll be connecting to?
- What are the requirements for keeping sediment out of a sprinkler system that uses a pond as a water supply?
Our Expert of the Day service gets answers. And perhaps the best part of this effort is that it’s a two-way street. The EOD program relies on the questions of our members to improve fire protection codes and standards. These exchanges often benefit the industry and make fire sprinkler systems safer and easier to maintain and install.
NFSA members get fast answers to queries on fire sprinkler design, ITM, equipment, and other issues
Among the many benefits enjoyed by NFSA members, the Expert of the Day service is one of the most useful. A highly qualified representative of our Codes, Standards, and Public Fire Protection Department stands ready to tackle submissions five days a week—providing answers to your hardest questions about fire sprinkler system design, installation, or ITM. They’ll open a ticket to share the issue with the right expert and enable you to track the progress of your answer. And they’ll respond by the end of the next business day.
Whether your question is about seismic protection, design methods, hydraulic calculations, obstructions, testing methods, or anything else related to fire sprinklers, our experts will find a solution. NFSA members can also search TechNotes archives to see if someone else has already asked the question.
NFSA’s Expert of the Day service and the article search tool are both member-only resources. If members have a question that requires an expert, call 443-438-1944 or login to NFSA and search “Expert of the Day.” To get access to this powerful tool, plus other benefits like discounted training, seminars, and the National Fire Sprinkler Magazine, become a member of NFSA or renew your membership today.
For over a century, the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) has served as the voice of the fire sprinkler industry. Our mission: advocating to protect lives and property through the widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept. To join NFSA or learn more about the ways membership can benefit your organization, visit nfsa.org/join.