By now, the majority of jurisdictions across the country is using, or at the very least has had some exposure to, the International Building Code (IBC). Although many of its requirements are identical to the codes that those of us in the engineering disciplines were using prior to its adoption, a few revisions quietly made their way into mainstream design requirements and unfortunately have made their presence known in very expensive ways. One of thosesilent revisions concerns seismic design for fire sprinkler systems. I know many of you in the plumbing and mechanical design disciplines probably are saying to yourselves, “I have been doing this for years. What’s the big deal?” Well, if you read on, you will learn that this seismic stuff is a very big deal.
The Seismic Shift
Seismic design for fire sprinkler systems historically has been governed by building codes that were not very specific regarding the requirements for seismic restraint. In fact, the need for earthquake bracing has been fairly clear and isolated in large part because, up until the last eight to 10 years, the majority of fire sprinkler systems was designed using performance specifications rather than installation specifications. As such, the design criteria were left up to the fire protection contractor. Almost all performance specifications contain language such as “design and install per NFPA 13;” therefore, fire sprinkler contractors were using NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Fire Sprinkler Systems to determine what to include in the design of the system. NFPA 13
never was intended to dictate “if” seismic design was required in a system. It always has been and still is the standard for “how” to install seismic components when they are required. Normally this requirement comes from the adopted building code by which the project is governed. The requirement also can come from the local authority having jurisdiction or the client’s insurance company. When contractors design and install per NFPA 13, it typically means consulting the seismic map that many contractors use as an indicator of the likelihood of a seismic event taking place in the location in which they are working. Based on this map, contractors decide whether or not to install earthquake bracing. For example, California is a Zone 4, which is the worst case; if a contractor sees that he is in a Zone 0, 1, or even 2, he most likely will decide to do nothing about seismic design. The fact that an earthquake never had occurred in the city and that the AHJ never had required seismic design often confirms the perception that seismic does not need to be included. For many of you this may seem crazy; for others it may be perfectly logical. How you feel about the process most likely depends on where you live and practice. What is so amazing is that the previous building standards, including the Uniform Building Code and the Building Officials and Code Administrators, never intended for fire sprinkler systems to be exempt from seismic requirements. They were just vague about the extent to which the design was to be implemented. Since the specifications were not giving any definite guidance, the inclusion of seismic design was very isolated. This is not the case any more. A slow but deliberate metamorphosis has been taking place in the industry, and FS (Fire Sprinkler) sheets are making their way into construction documents across the country. Engineers are beginning to take responsibility for aspects of the installation portion of the design, as well as the criteria, including seismic, by which the system is to be installed.
IBC Requirements and Exemptions
Now that we are working in this new era, you must understand the “if” of the requirement before discussing the “how.” The information used to determine design standards includes data that is collected and tested by the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP). IBC, NFPA 5000: Building Construction and Safety Code, and others all use the data collected by this organization to create the criteria that should be followed. Let’s first take a look at how the IBC deals with seismic. The text about earthquake protection in the IBC is based in large part on criteria found in ASCE 7. This separate document is published by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It includes design criteria for seismic restraint of architectural, mechanical, and electrical components and systems. The first edition of IBC in 2000 introduced the requirement for seismic design for fire sprinklers but did not directly reference ASCE 7 at that time. IBC Section 1614.1 states,
“Every structure, and portion thereof, shall as a minimum, be designed and constructed to resist the effects of earthquake motions and assigned a Seismic Design Category as set forth in Section 1616.3. Structures determined to be in Seismic Design Category A need only comply with Section 1616.4.” The 2003 edition kept this requirement in place but revised the exemptions that followed. The first exemption says, “Structures designed in accordance with the provisions of Sections 9.1 through 9.6, 9.13 and 9.14 of ASCE 7 shall be permitted.” This exemption allows the use of ASCE 7 in lieu of IBC. The referenced sections that deal specifically with fire sprinklers are found in the body of Section 9.6. Within this section are six exemptions that detail when seismic is not required. It is within these six exemptions that the “if” can be determined. The first exemption allows you to exclude all aforementioned components if the Seismic Design Category is A. The second allows architectural components that are in a Seismic Design Category B with some exceptions concerning parapets and wall types. The third exemption is where fire sprinkler systems are addressed. This exemption allows mechanical and electrical components that are a Seismic Design Category B to be excluded. This section will prove to be the most referenced section in the process. After several years of dealing with this process, I have found that the majority of the country will be classified as a Seismic Design Category B. The fourth exemption appears to affect fire sprinkler systems as well. It allows mechanical and electrical components that have a Seismic Design Category C to be excluded; however, they must have an Importance Factor (Ip) that is equal to 1.0. Fire sprinkler systems have been assigned an Ip of 1.5 (ASCE 7-9.6 1.5) because they are considered life safety systems. Therefore, this exemption cannot be applied. The fifth and sixth exemptions, while applying to mechanical and electrical components, both include a requirement for an Ip equaling 1.0, meaning fire sprinklers are not allowed to be excluded. Five other exemptions in IBC Section 1614.1 can be applied if the first one does not apply. The second exemption states, “Detached one- and two-family dwellings as applicable in Section 101.2 in Seismic Design Categories A, B and C, or located where the mapped short period spectral response acceleration, Ss, is less than 0.4g, are exempt from the requirements of Sections 1613 through 1622.” No specific language in NFPA 13D: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes requires seismic design for structures of this type; however, be advised, this does not include multifamily structures. NFPA 13R: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies Up to and Including Four Stories in Height requires systems to follow the requirements of NFPA 13 in their entirety. There are no exceptions to this. If your project is a one- or two-family detached dwelling, seismic design is not required. However, if you are working on a multifamily structure that most likely falls into a R1 type of occupancy, it will be subject to seismic design if it cannot meet any of the other exemptions. The third IBC Section 1614.1 exemption states, “The seismic-force-resisting system of wood frame buildings that conform to the provisions of Section 2308 are not required to be analyzed as specified in Section 1616.1.” This exemption deals more with the structure itself
rather than the portions thereof. I doubt this section ever could be applied in an effort to exempt fire sprinkler systems. The fourth exemption states, “Agricultural storage structures intended only for incidental human occupancy are exempt from the requirements of Sections 1613 through 1623.” The reasoning behind this exemption seems self-explanatory. Obviously these types of structures would have a very low occupancy load and most likely would not require very extensive life safety systems. Hence, it stands to reason that system protection would be minimal. The fifth and sixth exemptions are really the only other viable exemptions where seismic design for fire sprinkler systems is allowed to be excluded. Exemption five allows you to use the seismic maps that are included in Section 1615. “Structures located where mapped short-period spectral response acceleration, Ss, determined in accordance with Section 1615.1 is less than or equal to 0.15g and where the mapped spectral response acceleration at 1-second period, S1, determined in accordance with Section 1615.1 is less than or equal to 0.04g shall be categorized as Seismic Design Category A. Seismic Design Category A structures need only comply with Section 1616.4.” The contour lines shown on these maps are based on two different time periods. Without delving too deep into the world of seismology, we will accept these maps as a guide to determining the anticipated g-forces that are expected over a given time period. Finally, exemption number six allows you to use a calculation procedure to determine the values to be compared with the allowed minimums. It states, “Structures located where the short-period design spectral response acceleration, SDS, determined in accordance with Section 1615.1, is less than or equal to 0.167g and the design spectral response acceleration at 1-second period, SD1, determined in accordance with Section 1615.1, is less than or equal to 0.067g, shall be categorized as Seismic Design Category A and need only comply with Section 1616.4.” According to these two exemptions, if you look at the two different maps—short period and long period—and interpolate your location on each, and the values you determine are less than those listed in these exceptions respectively, then you do not have to provide seismic restraint for the system. For example, consider a single-story office building being built in Tampa, Fla. You would look at the short and long-term spectral response maps, IBC Figures 1615-1 and 1615-2, and interpolate as exactly as possible the closest g-force percentage. (Keep in mind that these values are presented as percentages. This will become useful when we actually do the calculations.)
Figure 1 The maps in the code book itself are very small and somewhat difficult to read. Several resources are available that provide these maps as .dwf files, which are a type of AutoCAD viewing file similar to a .pdf or Acrobat file. Most manufacturers that provide components that are listed for seismic restraint have these files available. A software program available through the International Code Council also provides a more useful and accurate way to evaluate these maps. You also can purchase the maps as one large foldout that has the short-term period on one side and the long-term period on the other. I highly recommend this investment. Figure 1 is an enlargement from the electronic version of the map that came from ICC. It helps you better determine the short- and long-term values for our example. Figure 1 is the short-term map. The upper contour line is 10 (the number is not visible) and the lower contour line is 5 as shown. As you can see, Tampa, which is in Hillsborough County, falls nearly between the short period response percentages lines of 5 and 10. Depending on the project’s location in the
county, you can further define, or interpolate, between these two lines; however, for the sake of this example we are going to assume a value of 7.5. The long-period map (Figure 2) has contour lines 2 and 4 showing in the same area (2 is the lower contour line and 4 is the upper contour line). Here again, you can interpolate between the contour lines or simply choose the higher of the two. Keep in mind that you must satisfy both the short- and long-term values in order to use the fifth exemption.
Determining the Seismic Design Category of a Building
So how do you know if seismic protection is required? The process begins with assigning a Seismic Use Group to the building. This classification can be found by using IBC Table 1604.5. (The relevant portion of this table is found in Table 1.) The second part of the initial process involves an evaluation of ground motion. This can be determined using a general procedure or a site-specific one. The only exception to this is if the Site Class is determined to be F. This class mandates the site-specific procedure be used.
Using the general procedure, two maximum earthquake spectral response accelerations (short term and long term) must be considered as discussed. Remember that both time periods must be evaluated separately. A Site Class of A through F then is determined based upon the soil at the site per IBC Table 16184.108.40.206. This step is very important because a building’s Site Class directly dictates whether or not it has to be designed for seismic. Keep in mind that you can use the specific Site Class value from the table, or, if this information is not readily available for some reason, you are allowed to default to Site Class D. However, this classification more than likely will require you to provide seismic protection so do not be too quick in deciding to use this option. A quick call to the structural or civil engineer on the design team should provide this information. As I noted previously, seismic protection for sprinkler systems can be costly. For example, a Site Class A allows a reduction of the spectral response acceleration values, which possibly would result in exempting seismic protection. The response values are adjusted based on the effects of the Site Class using formulas in IBC Sections 1615.1.2 and 1615.1.3: Using the design response accelerations and Seismic Use Group, Tables 1616.3(1) and 1616.3(2) yield the Seismic Design Category (see Table 2).
Again, this must be evaluated for both the short- and long-term accelerations. These categories also use designations A through F. The most severe Seismic Design Category of the two time periods is used. The last step is determining whether seismic protection is required based on the assigned Seismic Design Category. Now, if your head is in a tailspin at this point, don’t feel left out. Many of us have had to perform the process several times before grasping it. To help you understand this process, I’ve listed the steps below.
A Word About Responsibility
Prior to the introduction of the IBC, contract specifications were usually the vehicle used to require seismic restraint. Engineers would add language to the specifications indicating “earthquake bracing shall be provided per NFPA 13.” This usually meant the contractor would multiply the predetermined force factor by the weight of water-filled pipe in a zone of influence to size the braces. However, the method has changed; you now must take several variables and steps to evaluate and determine whether seismic protection is needed and, if so, the data required to properly size the components that will be used. This is the “how” in the process, which I will look at in the second article of this series. Before we go any further, I believe a discussion regarding responsibility is warranted. Just like every other aspect of sprinkler system design, the criteria for seismic should be determined and provided to the contractors by the engineer of record. This certainly does not mean that contractors are not capable of learning this process and applying it correctly. They have been taking on the liability and exposure for the majority of the design criteria from the beginning. However, it is time that the engineers who have decided to practice in the discipline of fire protection take on the responsibility that goes with it. I am sure that many
of you are rolling your eyes and beginning to complain about how all this is going to affect you. But before you do, let me point out that while going through the learning curve, I discovered something that will most likely help you digest this. Are you ready? Here it is: The structural engineers have been figuring this out as part of their design process for years. Just like many other items that fall under the engineer’s responsibility, the information needed in the course of this process is available from the other design team members (the structural engineer) at the time that the construction documents are prepared. So you see, it really should not take that much effort to determine a very important part of the required design criteria that the engineer of record should be providing. As I said, meeting the installation requirements for seismic components in a sprinkler system is costly, and the matter needs to be given serious consideration during the bidding process. Therefore, the information needed, namely the “if” and the force factor to be used, should be included with the rest of the information that is required in the owner’s certificate found in NFPA 13 Chapter 4.3. I think you’ll agree that this is an important process and one that will take some time to become familiar with. Whether you are in Orlando, Fla., the plains of West Texas, Boise, Idaho, or Yuma, Ariz., the evaluation of seismic protection is required. It is the design professional’s job to determine the Seismic Design Category that is assigned to a building, as well as provide the force factor that should be used if seismic protection is required, a process I will explain in the second part of this series.
In the first part of this series, I discussed the “if” aspect of seismic design for fire sprinkler systems. The article reviewed International Building Code (2003) Section 1614 where the requirement for seismic design is made and each of the six exemptions to this requirement. Now it is time to discuss how to actually do this in your sprinkler system designs. Let’s first review the process thus far. IBC Section 1621 references a document called ASCE 7, which is published by the American Society of Civil Engineers and used by structural and civil engineers for building component design criteria, among other things. ASCE 7 Chapter 9.6, “Architectural, Mechanical and Electrical Components and Systems,” is where the exemption for fire sprinklers is found if the Seismic Category as determined in IBC is an A or B. (Remember that fire sprinkler systems in Seismic Category C cannot be exempt from the seismic restraint requirement because they are considered life safety systems and therefore are given a higher rating than standard mechanical and electrical systems.) Having determined that seismic design is required, the “how” of the process begins.
A Word About Terminology
While almost everyone is familiar with the concept of sway bracing, it is important to standardize the language of this design process. For years specifying engineers and other entities have referred to seismic design by simply stating “provide earthquake bracing as required” or “sway bracing shall be provided as required in NFPA 13 [Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems]” or “when bracing is required, it shall be installed per NFPA 13.”
I must stress that you immediately remove any such canned or standardized language in your company’s specifications. Such vague wording is very misleading. Seismic design for fire sprinkler systems includes several components in addition to bracing. While bracing is one of the most familiar methods, it certainly does not provide the necessary restraint for a system to meet the level of performance intended.
The Objective of Seismic Restraint
Understanding the purpose behind seismic design is the next step in the process. As with other aspects of sprinkler system design, plenty of gray areas make following the rules difficult. I believe that a designer must understand the overall objective behind a code or standard to better provide a solution for those times when the rules do not readily apply. The objective of seismic design for a fire sprinkler system is twofold. The first goal is to minimize stresses in piping by providing flexibility and clearances at points where the building is expected to move during an earthquake. The second is to minimize damaging forces by keeping the piping fairly rigid when supported by a building component expected to move as a unit during an earthquake, such as a floor/ceiling assembly. The idea is to design a system that gives and moves as the building is designed to move. You want the system rigid where the building is rigid and flexible where the building is flexible. According to the standards, the systems attached to the structure of the building all should work together as one unit. That being the case, let’s look at each element required to make this happen. NFPA 13 Chapter 9.3 is where all the standard installation requirements for seismic design can be found. The chapter is organized by each required category: couplings, separation, clearance, and sway bracing.
The first element is couplings. The general idea is to provide rigid couplings throughout the system except at locations where the piping is installed vertically. In fact, if flexible couplings are installed on piping running horizontally, a lateral sway brace is required to be included within 24 inches of the coupling. (Please note that this applies only to piping that is 2½ inches and larger.) So it stands to reason that you do not want to install flexible couplings anywhere other than where they are required. Following are the coupling requirements as listed in NFPA 13 (2003). (Nos. 2 and 4 are taken from the 2002 edition.)
Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of the top and bottom of all risers, unless the following provisions are met:
a) In risers less than 3 feet (0.9 meter) in length, flexible couplings are permitted to be omitted. b) In risers 3-7 feet (0.9-2.1 meters) in length, one flexible coupling is adequate.
Within 12 inches (305 millimeters) above and within 24 inches (610 millimeters) below the floor in multistory buildings. When the flexible coupling below the floor is above the tie-in main to the main supplying that floor, a flexible coupling shall be
provided on the vertical portion of the tie-in piping. On both sides of concrete or masonry walls within 1 foot (0.3 meter) of the wall
surface, unless clearance is provided in accordance with Section 9.3.4. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of building expansion joints. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of the top and bottom of drops to hose lines, rack
sprinklers, and mezzanines, regardless of pipe size. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of the top of drops exceeding 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length to portions of systems supplying more than one sprinkler, regardless of pipe size.
Above and below any intermediate points of support for a riser or other vertical pipe. It is the practice in my company to include a sheet note on the drawings that says, “All couplings shall be rigid type unless noted otherwise.” In the design of the system, we use some type of symbol designation to indicate that the couplings are to be flexible. The coupling requirements are usually stricter in inrack sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, systems that are multilevel, and riser assemblies.
The second element involved is seismic separation. Building separation is a critical aspect of design for structural engineers. The building codes require buildings to be structurally separated once they reach a specific length and/or square footage. Where a building is separated, no part of the structure is connected at that point. In other words, while the building may appear to be one complete structure, it is structurally separate such that the two parts move independently of each other. You usually can identify this occurrence by reviewing the structural drawings. You will find two column grid bubbles that are very close together, usually 12 inches apart. You will see two beams or other structural members running side-by-side, parallel to each other for the entire width of the building. If you look at the details you will see that no part of the structure at that point is connected. From the foundation up through the roof, the two parts are completely separate. The only thing that makes the building appear whole is the siding and roof coating that are applied.
A separation should not be confused with a building expansion joint. While an expansion joint is designed to allow the building to move, it certainly does not provide the magnitude of movement that a separation is designed to allow. Expansion joints also have coupling requirements, but NFPA 13 requires a specific type of assembly to be used with building separation. Many contractors and designers have seen pictures of this assembly, but I have found that few have investigated its purpose or actually used it. This section includes only one statement, but its effects are far reaching. In fact, this one requirement can completely dictate the type of piping configuration you will use for the system. If this section is overlooked during the estimating process, complying with the requirement in the field most likely will use up most of the profit. This section requires that separation assemblies with flexible fittings be installed, regardless of size, where piping crosses building seismic separation joints. Figure 1 Gridded System The magnitude of this requirement is best explained by considering a gridded system. This type of piping configuration involves the installation of a primary main on one side of the building and a secondary main on the opposite side. The mains are connected with a series of branch lines that run perpendicular to each main (see Figure 1). Since seismic separation applies to all pipe sizes, a seismic separation assembly is required at every location that these grid branch lines cross a required separation. If you look at what this involves, you will better understand what is at stake (see Figure 2). Six 90-degree ells
added to each branch line will be included in the hydraulic calculations, and their presence most likely will increase the branch-line size at least one size, making the system even more expensive. The only currently known alternative to this assembly is a fitting assembly called a Metraloop, which provides the same movement in a more feasible manner. While the NFPA 13 assembly can take out as much as 5 feet or more depending on size, the Metraloop provides a more compact and easy-to-install alternative. While a grid usually is considered the most cost-effective piping configuration, you also should consider a series of center-feed, tree-type systems requiring only the bulk feed main to cross the separation once, rather than several times as with a gridded system. Remember: If you use the Metraloop, flexible couplings are required for its connection to the piping.
The third design element involved with seismic restraint is clearance. This feature includes provisions for piping that penetrates specifically concrete and/or masonry floor/ceiling and wall assemblies. Do not confuse this with penetrations through rated assemblies that are framed with wood or steel studs with gypsum board. This section has nothing to do with assembly ratings or the requirements for sleeves or fire caulking. Those are usually a function of other specification requirements and should not be in this section of your specification or drawings notes.
Like separation, this feature is simple but very expensive. This section requires a specific nominal annular space to be provided around the pipe penetrating the assembly. A 1-inch annular space is required around 1-3- inch pipe. A 2-inch space is required around pipes that are 4 inches and larger. Core drilling a 10-inch-diameter hole for a 6-inch pipe is not something most fire protection contractors are very eager to do. This process can be quite involved, and the cost of core drilling is tied directly to the size of the hole. However, there is a less expensive way to accomplish this penetration. You will recall that I previously mentioned that flexible couplings also could be used as a solution for clearance requirements. This is where couplings prove their worth. In lieu of large clearances, the standard allows for a flexible coupling to be installed on either side of the assembly within 12 inches of the face of the penetration. By providing these couplings, standard hole diameters may be used. My experience is that contractors prefer this method to providing the larger holes. This section applies to all pipe sizes, so, like the separation requirements, consideration of the piping configuration is important. It is usually better to penetrate once into a concrete- or masonry-assembly room with main piping and then create a smaller tree-type system than it is to penetrate several smaller holes into the space simply to maintain uniformity. A prudent plumbing designer would discuss these types of design features with the architect during the design development phase to try to minimize the amount and/or configuration of these assemblies as well as the overall sprinkler system cost. Doing so also may help you gain a level of favor with the installing contractor.
The fourth and most commonly referenced seismic restraint design feature is sway bracing. Unlike in other plumbing systems, the water and pipe that comprise fire protection systems are lifesaving features. While the majority will never activate, fire sprinkler systems must perform when needed or people and property will suffer. With that in mind, it becomes obvious why the bracing of fire sprinkler systems has its own rules for spacing, location, and force factor criterion. The process for laying out sway bracing starts much like that for laying out sprinkler heads. There are three types of braces: lateral, longitudinal, and 4-way. Lateral bracing is required to be spaced at a maximum of 40 feet between braces. We also are required to install a brace within 20 feet of each end of the run of main, which is half the allowable distance between braces. Finally, we must have a brace on the first piece of pipe on each end of the main. Figure 3 depicts an example of lateral bracing.
When applying the rules to each run of main piping, you’ll want to try to maximize the distance between braces as much as possible. However, remember to leave room for the braces to be moved in either direction in case actual field conditions inhibit the fitter’s ability to install the brace at the location shown on the drawing. Also, as the distance between braces grows, so does the total weight that each brace will be required to resist. If you are in a high seismic category or if the site soil or building importance dictates a high force factor, maximizing the spacing may not be cost effective. Once the lateral braces are located, you lay out the longitudinal braces. The maximum spacing for these braces is 80 feet. As with lateral braces, you are required to install a longitudinal brace within half the allowable distance between braces, meaning you must have one brace within 40 feet of each end of the run of main. Normally there will be fewer longitudinal braces than lateral. The final bracing that is required is referred to as 4-way bracing. Industry terminology for this feature has been diluted, so for the purpose of clarification, 4-way bracing is not where both a lateral and longitudinal brace are located. Rather it is a bracing assembly that is used to restrict the movement of pipe that is installed in a vertical position such as the riser piping at the fire service entry into the building. As you can see in Figure 4, this bracing usually is installed in the horizontal position and has specific attachments that are designed to meet the intended installation configurations. The brace must be located within 24 inches of the top of the riser.
Like many of the requirements of this standard, nuances and exceptions can be applied. Both lateral and longitudinal braces can serve each other’s purpose if located within 24 inches of the end of the run of main (see Figure 5). Notice that the 4-way brace can be considered as the longitudinal brace as well. As a matter of design, I usually first lay out the bracing for each run of main independently, and then go back and consider the relocation of the braces at each end of the mains as a whole to apply these alternatives. Some designers have been taught to simply install a 4-way brace at every change of direction if sway bracing is required. Not only is this wrong, it is very expensive and does not accomplish the goal of seismic design. Bracing layout needs to be done with consideration of total weight and the ability of the fitter to actually have ceiling space to install the brace.
For example, in ceiling areas with an excessive amount of ductwork above the piping, it will be very difficult to run the sway brace up to the top chord of the structural member. If you have maximized the spacing, little can be done. Whereas if you have allowed for this condition ahead of time, the fitter can relocate the brace further down the main in one direction or the other without compromising the ability of the hanger to carry the weight that it was designed to resist. While it is not cheap, adding a brace to cut down the spacing is much less expensive than having field personnel trying to figure out how to make it work. It is my hope that you see the importance of the “how” of the process of seismic design of fire sprinkler systems. As with any engineered system, especially life safety systems, understanding the overall goal and applying the standards by which we are intended to meet these goals is very important. Remember: Vince Lombardi said, “Excellence is achieved by mastering the fundamentals.”
In the previous articles of this series I discussed the “if” and the “how” of seismic design for fire sprinkler systems. Let’s now take a look at an actual design and apply this knowledge in a practical example. For the sake of size and complexity, I’ll use a basic design; however, keep in mind the basics should be applied to each design no matter how complex it might be. To begin, I recommend that you print out Figure 1 that will be referenced throughout. This is our basic system design. Using the step-by-step guideline that was provided in the first article, assume that this system falls into a seismic category C-F. Remember, if the building has been classified as an A or B it is exempt from seismic design.
It is the job of the engineer of record not only to designate the seismic category but also, if required, to provide the force factor that shall be used. This force factor now is going to be used to help in sizing the seismic bracing that is part of the overall seismic design. Seismic bracing is only one of the five design features that must be provided when doing seismic design for a system. While bracing is the most common, remember that the system must have rigid and flexible couplings located in specific locations, separation or expansion components at specific locations, and clearance provided as specific locations. Further, restraint for branchlines must be considered as well. Using the example let’s first locate the lateral bracing that is required. (Remember, the requirements for lateral brace location are found in NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems Chapter 220.127.116.11.) The braces are spaced a maximum of 40 feet apart from each other with a brace required within the first 20 feet from each end of the run of main being considered. This is half the allowable distance between braces. Also, a brace must be located on the first piece of pipe from each end. This may sound confusing but considering that steel pipe comes in 21-foot, 24-foot, and 25-foot lengths, putting a brace on the first piece of pipe and within the first 20 feet of each end is not that hard to grasp. However, let us say the first piece of pipe on a run of main is 14 feet long. Then the first brace has to be located within that first 14 feet. It cannot be located after that somewhere in the next 6 feet. Locate the braces on the cross main first. We will deal with the bulk main last. This main is 97 feet, 7 inches long from end to the last branchline on the end. If you
divide 97 feet, 7 inches by 40 feet (maximum distance between braces) you can determine the minimum number of braces needed. Keep in mind that this is the minimum. Several factors must be considered when determining how many braces actually are needed. For instance, if it is an exposed system with the piping near the roof deck or structure above, the bracing usually is spaced to its maximum as long as weight is not an issue, which we will see when we are sizing the braces. However, if the system is feeding pendants or is several feet lower than the structure, braces more than likely will need to be added to find locations to attach to the structure. When systems are hung lower other systems such as HVAC, electrical, and plumbing usually are above it, which makes it more difficult to locate a place where the braces can reach the top of the structure. Hence: 97.58/40 = 2.4395. This means the minimum number of lateral braces required is 3. For the sake of example, consider this system to be unobstructed to structure. Our example ends up with something that looks like Figure 2. As you can see, the approximate locations fall into the allowances given in NFPA 13 Chapter 18.104.22.168. Again, if the starting pieces on each end where less than 20feet, the brace would need to be located somewhere on that first piece. Notice that the distances from the braces on each end to the middle brace both are within the 40 feet maximum. The second step is locating the longitudinal braces. The requirements for longitudinal braces can be found in NFPA 13 Chapter 22.214.171.124. Again, we will concentrate on the cross main first. As you may recall, longitudinal braces affect only the main itself and do not have anything to do with the branchlines. Also, size is not an issue. The cross main could be 8 inches or 1 inch. Either way, longitudinal bracing is required.
The spacing requirements for longitudinal bracing are double that of the lateral bracing. The maximum spacing is 80 feet with a brace required within the first 40 feet, which is half the allowable distance between braces. To find the minimum number of longitudinal braces divide 97 feet, 7 inches by 80feet. Hence: 97.58/80 = 1.21975. So a minimum two braces are necessary to meet the requirements of NFPA 13 Chapter 126.96.36.199. Locate the longitudinal braces on the example layout. Remember that there must be a brace within the first 40 feet of each end of the run of main. As you can see in Figure 3, two braces are adequate. Notice the amount of over spacing. This is advantageous because it allows the fitters plenty of distance to relocate the braces from one end to the other in case obstructions are encountered yet still stay within the limits allowed. Now that the lateral and longitudinal braces are located on this run of main, attention can be given to the bulk main feeding this cross main. As was previously described, lay out the lateral and longitudinal bracing for this run of main. It should look something like Figure 4. The overall length of this bulk main is 35 feet, 9 inches, so the minimum number of lateral braces required is one since it is less than 40 feet in overall length. The brace must be located within the first 20 feet of each end and must be on the first piece of pipe from each end.
A common question raised here is what to do about the 11-foot, 9-inch piece of pipe. If we put one brace within 20 feet of the system riser symbol, we have nothing on the 11-foot, 9 inch piece on the other end. Technically speaking, that is correct; however, given the fact that the entire run is less than 40 feet and the brace is located within 20 feet of each end, it generally is understood that the amount of weight will not be such that one brace cannot adequately provide the support required. In such a case it is recommended to locate the brace as close to center as possible so the weight is distributed as equally as possible. The required longitudinal brace is also a single brace since the overall distance of the main is less than 80 feet. This brace also can be located toward the middle of the run so the weight is distributed equally. When a lateral and longitudinal brace end up relatively near each other, it is usually cost effective to use bracing components that are made specifically to accommodate both braces. This is one example where the vocabulary gets diluted, so be careful. This is not a 4-way brace as described in Part 2 of this series. Rather, it is a combination brace that allows for support in both the lateral and longitudinal directions. Notice that the symbols are not crossed but rather two individual symbols side by side. This is done on purpose because it can be confused with the next brace that we are going to locate, which is a 4-way brace. Before moving on, let’s examine a couple of options that can be considered with the layout that we now have. First, as indicated in NFPA 13 Chapters 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206, the bracing used in one direction on one run of main can be counted as the opposite type of brace for an adjacent main in the perpendicular direction. For example, if we locate a lateral brace within 24 inches of the end of the bulk main on the 11-foot, 9-inch piece of pipe, it could be counted as the first longitudinal brace on the cross main. Figure 5 shows how this would
affect the layout. Notice that the first longitudinal brace was eliminated because the next longitudinal brace required can be up to 80 feet away. However, you also can see that we really did not gain anything in terms of the number of braces needed. In this case we simply traded one brace location for another. Furthermore, we now have loaded the brace at the 11-foot, 9-inch piece with much more weight than the original brace location, which means we could end up having to size this brace much larger than the original brace location. This is a great example of how brace location is somewhat subjective and, if properly done, can offer a fair amount of flexibility to accomplish the overall goal of seismic design. The last brace to be located is the 4-way brace. This is a bracing configuration that provides support in all directions specifically for vertical pieces of pipe. The requirements for 4-way bracing can be found in NFPA 13 Chapter 220.127.116.11: Risers. The requirements found here include a maximum 25 feet between braces, so if the riser piece being braced is longer than 25 feet, two braces must be installed, one of which must be located within 24 inches of the top. Remember also that size is not a consideration here. It applies to all pipe sizes. Further, the 4-way brace can be counted as the longitudinal brace for the first run of pipe coming off the top of the riser. In the case of our example, we could eliminate the longitudinal brace that is in the middle of the run of bulk main because we are within 40 feet of each end, and only one is required. The total weight on the brace is the same regardless, so this is a good option to use. Figure 6 shows how the design is affected.
Now that the bracing layout is complete, we can begin to determine the sizing of the components. This process is very similar to that of establishing the area of operation or remote area when performing hydraulic calculations. The total force that the system must resist is a function of the weight of the water-filled piping times the force factor that has been assigned by the engineer of record (see Part 1 of the series). As shown in Figure 7, we have clouded the piping that will be assigned to each of the lateral and longitudinal braces. Notice how it is equally distributed. Obviously, since there is an odd number of branchlines, one of the lateral braces needs to carry the weight of one extra branchline. The terminology used to describe these areas is referred to as the zone of influence or ZOI. Examples of how the ZOI is located for different system configurations can be found in NFPA 13 Figure A.18.104.22.168(a).
Once the ZOI has been established, determining the total weight for each zone is next. To calculate the total weight for a zone you add the weights of all pieces of pipe (as if filled with water). Several resources are available for this information. Most of the pipe manufacturers have these values for every pipe type they make. NFPA 13 provides the values for Schedule 10 and Schedule 40 in Table A.22.214.171.124. If you are using one of the specialty pipe sizes equivalent to Schedule 7, the values are found in the manufacturer’s data sheets. The conservative approach is to use the weights of Schedule 10 and 40 regardless of the actual pipe type used. For the purpose of this example, let’s examine the most demanding zone, which is ZOI No. 1. Since the branchlines are typical, determine the weight for one of them and multiply by four. The weight of one branchline is approximately 133 pounds, so the total is 532 pounds. The total weight for the main piping that is part of this zone is 35.0 feet = 3-inch pipe ≈ 320 pounds. Thus, the total load for ZOI No. 1 lateral brace is Wp ≈ 850 pounds. As mentioned previously, the resultant design load is a function of the total weight of water filled pipe times the force factor expressed as Fp. It is important to note that the Fp from the International Building Code (IBC) and the Fp from the map found in NFPA 13 vary greatly, which causes a lot of confusion. For years, NFPA 13 has allowed a default value of 0.5 to be used. This is where the phrase “half the weight of water-filled pipe” came from. When IBC 2000 began to be adopted, many designers realized this discrepancy and have taken a completely different attitude toward seismic design of sprinkler systems. For example, the Fp for California based on NFPA 13 is 0.4. Using IBC and ASCE 7: Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, the Fp for California can be 1.35 or more. My advice is to use the IBC/ASCE 7 formula. It is obvious that the 0.4 that NFPA 13 offers is substantially lower than IBC and the default value, while greater than the value for California, will grossly oversize the components for areas like Colorado Springs, which can be as low as 0.17. As a reminder, the formula from ASCE 7 is expressed as
For the sake of our example I have used numbers that represent a location in Jonesboro, Ark., zip code 72404. Using the formulas referenced in IBC from Part 1 of this series we end up with a SSD of 1.317g. Since we have not considered height of the building in this example, we drop of the last part of the equation. Therefore, Fp = (0.4 x 1.0 x 1.317 x 850)/(3.5/1.5) = 192. If we use the default value of 0.5 we would end up with a resultant weight of 425 pounds (Fp = 850 x 0.5). That is a difference of more than 220 percent. Finally one more factor is involved before we can size the components: the system component factor. This is a percentage that has been assigned by NFPA 13 to account for the fittings and sprinkler heads on the main and branchline piping within the ZOI. If you are using the 1999 edition of NFPA 13, the factor is allowed to be revised; however, if you are using the 2002 edition it shall be 15 percent, or 1.15 times Fp. This raises our value from 192 pounds to approximately 221 pounds. Now that we have the force we can proceed with sizing the components. The most common type of brace material is steel pipe. However, several other popular materials are available. Tension cable is another method for bracing that provides the required resistance while sometimes being easier to install than rigid pipe and structural attachments. In the case of using cable or any other material not listed in the tables of NFPA 13, the manufacturers’ values must be used. As seen in NFPA 13 Table 126.96.36.199.9(a-c) several options are available depending on the type of brace, such as pipe, steel angles, steel flats, and rods.
Another very important factor is the angle at which the brace is situated in relation to the pipe it is bracing and the structure to which it is attached. For lateral bracing, the brace gets stronger as it nears 0 degrees. Notice that as the slenderness ratio grows, the maximum length of the component lengthens. Take 1-inch pipe for example. When the brace is 3 feet, 6 inches long it can withstand loads as high as 12,242 pounds when the angle is reduced from 90 degrees to 60 degrees or more. Obviously the brace can resist more weight the closer to perpendicular it is. Also, the longer the brace is, the less weight it can resist. When sizing braces it is important to consider the reality of the project. Again, you want to provide as much flexibility with the actual installation as possible, so sizing the brace based on the worst-angle orientation (30 degrees to 44 degrees) is prudent. The length is a function of the type of system you are designing, that being its location with regard to structure. For instance, if the system is in a warehouse, the bracing most likely will be relatively short since the system piping will be located high in the structure. On the other hand, in a hospital the system will be located right above the ceiling with several obstructions above it and several feet from the top of the structure where the anchoring attachment must be located. If we assume the warehouse situation, our lateral brace could be 1-inch pipe up to 10 feet, 6 inches long. We can conclude that 221 pounds is well under the allowable 786 pounds. After determining the brace type and size, the final step is to determine the type of attachment. NFPA 13 Figure 188.8.131.52.1 provides the available attachment arrangements and corresponding attachment types, which usually are dictated by the type of structure. Several more types of listed seismic attachments are available from the major hanger manufacturers, and I strongly recommend that you reference them in this process as well. Even in the past few years, several new types of attachments have become available, making it easier to deal with the types of structures being built today. The previous steps then are used to determine the longitudinal braces as well. Remember, the only weight considered for longitudinal braces are the main piping. Branchlines are not considered. Also, in case your situation does not fall into the scope of the tables listed in NFPA 13, the standard does allow for other types of methods and materials as long as the system is designed by a registered professional engineer. I hope that this series of articles has helped you understand seismic design for fire sprinkler systems. If you need further explanation, feel free to contact me. I also recommend contacting the local sales representative for the major hanger manufacturers. Several of them are represented on the hanging and bracing committee of NFPA 13 and surely would be able to answer specific issues as they arise. Three familiar manufactures (Tolco, Afcon, and Loos) offer software that streamlines this process. Two of them even integrate with AutoCAD.
Finally, let me remind those of you who have decided to practice fire protection engineering. You are responsible for the design criteria of a life safety system. While toilets and drains and warm and cold air are important, they are not life safety systems. Take this seriously and do your homework. Keeping a sprinkler system in place and able to perform in the case of a seismic event is of utmost importance. Like I always tell myself, “Just do it right!”