Not so long ago, fire safety codes and standards only existed in the more industrialized nations. But a lot has changed in just a little bit of time. Today more governments, fire and life safety officials, manufacturers and nonprofit organizations are working collaboratively to help establish consistent standards and provide the resources so those standards can be met around the globe.
As a result, codes are being adopted or revised to require the installation of life-saving fire sprinkler systems in industries and applications where they were not mandated before with a focus on both new construction, as well as retrofits.
One of the organizations leading the charge to standardize codes across continents is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which has been successful in bringing fire sprinkler technologies and educational information to those regions of the world looking for assistance in enhancing fire and life safety. As part of its international outreach initiatives, the NFPA now makes available key codes and publications in an array of languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. In total there are now more than 200 translations available. In addition, the organization utilizes Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) throughout the world to promote the adoption of NFPA standards. MOUs are already in place in such diverse regions as Australia, China and multiples countries in Latin America, The Middle East and Far East. (Visit nfpa.org for additional information.)
Challenges to Meeting Required Standards Worldwide
There is still much to be done, however. Despite increased education and more consistent standards, there are many fire sprinkler installations that do not meet those standards. Key challenges include:
Continued use of counterfeit or unapproved products
The International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) has identified a significant concern in certain regions of the world regarding the use of counterfeit fire sprinkler products, as well as those products that have no marking indicating that they have been certified by a reputable third party certification organization such as UL or FM. A recent report provided to
the IFSA by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) highlighted the concerns associated with sprinklers that have no evidence of being certified by a reputable third-party certification organization, specifically calling out a number of commercial installations in China. (Visit sprinklerworld.org for more information.) The use of faulty or non-certified fire sprinkler products can cause a fire sprinkler system to be ineffective in controlling or suppressing a fire, thus putting lives and property at risk. That’s why it is important that the pipe and fittings being installed are Listed and approved for the specific application.
Lack of training
The right product installed the wrong way can be nearly as risky as installing an unapproved product. Designers, as well as installers, should be trained and certified specifically for fire safety products. Some manufacturers, such as Lubrizol, provide extensive training in the field regarding the proper installation of their specific brand of BlazeMaster CPVC pipe and fittings. As part of the training, installers receive hands-on experience and are tested on their knowledge before becoming “certified”. The company also provides ongoing technical assistance to address questions or issues that may arise.
Outdated processes for calculating pipe size
As basic as it sounds, one of the greatest challenges faced when installing a fire protection system today – especially in larger projects – is properly sizing the fire sprinkler pipe. Light Hazard, Ordinary Hazard and Extra Hazard areas all have different pipe schedules.
An ongoing problem is the lack of consistency in establishing pipe size between the various countries, as some regions (particularly in the Middle East) are still using the outdated pipe schedule system. NFPA stopped using the pipe schedule system in the early 90s because it had proved inefficient. The organization has since aggressively promoted the use of a hydraulically calculated system, which determines the size of the pipe based on the NFPA density required as a result of the available water supply. This newer, more efficient method takes into account water flow, sprinkler head specifications, static pressure, pressure loss through friction, and many other factors in order to calculate a given density of water necessary to meet the NFPA-determined fuel load. The end result is a properly sized system that delivers just the right amount of water to extinguish a fire.
4Lack of understanding regarding the importance of chemical compatibility when choosing ancillary products. No piping material is compatible in every environment. Steel pipe, for example, is vulnerable to the effects of corrosion over time. The corrosive process is exacerbated by the presence of a damp or salty environment. Similarly, the integrity of plastic piping systems can be compromised if they come into contact with a material or chemical that is chemically incompatible. That’s why the FBC System Compatible Program from The Lubrizol Corporation is so valuable. It is the only program of its kind in the world that tests products to help specifiers and installers ensure they are only using compatible ancillary products in conjunction with Lubrizol’s BlazeMaster, Corzan and FlowGuard CPVC piping brands.
CPVC Meets Global Standards
With stricter building codes and an increased focus on performance and reliability, there is greater emphasis on the quality of the piping material. Today there are more piping material options than ever, including specially listed products such as chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe and fittings. CPVC has proven over 50 years of successful field performance to meet the highest standards, as well as all pertinent building codes. As a specialty listed product, CPVC has undergone more rigorous testing, including fire performance testing, and has been subject to more scrutiny than many other traditional piping products. The material, which is UL Listed for Light Hazard applications as defined in NFPA 13, 13R and 13D, has been effectively installed in numerous commercial applications, including multi-family housing, hotels, office buildings, student housing, clubs and bars in more than 160 countries.
CPVC fire sprinkler systems have grown in popularity because of their proven reliability and lower total installed costs. CPVC systems provide a long, reliable, low-maintenance service life largely because they are immune to the effects of pitting, scaling and corrosion, including Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC). They additionally offer numerous cost advantages over steel. Not only is the upfront material cost more stable over time, but the labor savings are significant as the result of a fast and easy solvent cement joining system. CPVC systems also offer superior hydraulics. All UL-Listed CPVC fire sprinkler systems are hydraulically calculated and have 150 C factors (compared to the 120 C factor of steel pipe). This can lead to possible pipe downsizing and the need for fewer heads, leading to additional cost savings.
CPVC has proven especially ideal for retrofits, making it a timely solution for the numerous commercial facilities around the world being upgraded to meet newer life safety building codes and requirements by multinational corporations that employees must stay in sprinklered facilities when traveling overseas. Key to its use in retrofits is the fact that CPVC is lightweight—as little as one-sixth the weight of a comparably sized steel pipe. That makes it easier to move on the jobsite and even allows for sidewall installations, when appropriate. While still considered a rigid material, CPVC also offers greater flexibility than steel, making it easier to thread through existing ceilings and tight spaces typical of many retrofits.
The solvent cement joining system used to install a CPVC fire sprinkler system offers another major advantage for retrofits. It’s fast, quiet, clean and simple, requiring only simple hand tools and eliminating the need for heavy equipment, oils and welding torches that can create fire risks. On-site changes can also be quickly and easily accommodated by cutting pipe right on site without the need for offsite pre-fabrication which is required for most steel system installations.
As a result of the speed of installation, retrofits can be completed in a fraction of the time required for a steel system installation. With little noise or mess, many retrofits have been completed with residents still in the building. That translates into increased occupancy rates and fewer displacement costs and headaches for the building owner.
Looking to the Future
The thousands of successful installations around the world demonstrate that, as an industry, we are moving in the right direction in meeting more consistent global standards. But the effort can’t stop, as there are still so many areas of the world left unprotected. Ongoing education, collaboration, consistent code enforcement and a commitment to following best practices in the field are necessary to give people the best fighting chance against fire.
For more information, go to www.blazemaster.com