BCAB #1678 - Determination of Conformance to NFPA-13, Sentence 3.2.5.13.(1)

October 21, 2010

BCAB #1678

Re: Determination of Conformance to NFPA-13, Sentence 3.2.5.13.(1)

Project Description
The building in question is a three storey noncombustible and fully sprinklered administration and classroom building for a university. Certain rooms contain “floating panel” ceilings consisting of approximately 4’ x 8’ T-bar grids leaving 18” to 24” between the floating panel and the walls. There is one sprinkler head in the centre of these rooms above the floating ceiling panel. In other areas there is no ceiling at all and the overhead structure is exposed to view.

Reason for Appeal
Sentence 3.2.5.13.(1) requires, with some exceptions not applicable to this building, that sprinkler systems be installed in conformance with NFPA 13, “Installation of Sprinkler Systems.” NFPA 13 is a largely prescriptive standard which describes, in considerable detail, the design and installation of sprinkler systems. The sprinkler system was designed by a professional engineer, field reviews were conducted and BCBC Schedules B-1, B-2 and C-B have been submitted.

Appellant’s Position
The appellant describes NFPA 13 as a series of rules that permit the design of a sprinkler system that meets engineering requirements and is a replacement for engineering judgment. Following the rules, including exact dimensions, limits and the like, results in the equivalent of an engineered system. The appellant contends that compliance with the BC Building Code is confirmed if professional engineers provide assurance that the sprinkler system conforms to the explicit requirements of NFPA 13.

Building Official's Position
The building official maintains that the intent of NFPA 13, as contained in several objectively worded rules, has not been met because the floating panels obstruct the water discharge from the sprinkler head and will prevent water from reaching a large portion of the protected area. The building official considers this to be a nonconformity to the fundamental intent of NFPA 13 to ensure complete sprinkler coverage to the protected area. The building official does not agree with the professional engineer’s opinion that the system conforms to the explicit requirements of the standard and is therefore acceptable. A written opinion from an NFPA technical staff person confirms the building official’s position.

Appeal Board Decision #1678
The Board confirms that it is within the authority of the Board to rule on conformity to standards referenced in the Building Code. In this case it is the determination of the Board that the sprinkler system does not conform to the requirements of NFPA 13-1999, including 5-5.5.3, “Obstructions that Prevent Sprinkler Discharge from Reaching the Hazard.”

The Board also confirms the building official has the authority to question the design and/or construction of a building relative to Building Code compliance.

George Humphrey, Chair