Commentary | Risks and Rewards

Warehouse Fires Can Cripple Your Business. Preventing Them Just Got Easier.

Tags: Warehousing

Wes Baker is Assistant Vice President and Senior Engineering Technical Specialist, FM Global

As warehouse heights have increased with the help of new materials handling technology, so have the risks. That’s why fire codes often require property owners to install dense arrangements of expensive sprinklers throughout the racks. Fortunately, alternative designs can make this “in-rack” sprinkler protection far less cumbersome and costly.

The proper sprinklers can be essential in a warehouse. Fire is the leading cause of commercial property damage, and according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires in warehouses result in higher property loss per incident than most other occupancies. U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 1,270 fires in warehouse properties per year from 2007-2011. And in 2014, one in four large-loss fires in the United States—those causing over $10 million in damage—affected storage properties.

So, given that sprinklers are essential in warehouses, how can you get the most from your fire protection investment? The answer is in new guidelines that can help you save significant money on sprinkler installation, water bills, and upkeep while you get better protection and reduce your environmental footprint.

How you save

By using today’s newer, larger-orifice sprinklers with their higher flow rates, you can now significantly reduce the number of in-rack sprinklers that need to be installed, thereby cutting the cost of a new in-rack sprinkler system by as much as 40 percent. This approach can allow you to increase the vertical distance between in-rack sprinkler levels and increase the amount of storage above the top in-rack sprinkler level.

You could save in several ways. Let’s say you have a 500,000-square-foot (46,450-square-meter) warehouse with an 80-foot (24-meter) ceiling height that needs automatic sprinkler protection. Your cost of installing ceiling and in-rack sprinklers, a fire pump, and water storage tank could fall from approximately $4.3 million to $2.6 million, according to independent contractors. With fewer in-rack sprinklers for wayward forklifts to strike, you could expect a significant reduction in the likelihood of water damage to stored commodity as well as interruption to warehouse operations due to sprinkler system repair.

Meanwhile, you operate greener by using less water. Specifically, the new in-rack sprinkler designs allow for a reduction in the volume of water needed, even for your highest commodity hazards. In addition, if a fire were to occur, the new in-rack sprinkler arrangements could help to significantly reduce fire, smoke, and water damage you would normally experience with traditional in-rack sprinkler arrangements.

The details

Here are the key points in the new guidelines:

  • Vertical spacing between in-rack sprinklers has increased – Traditional installations use a vertical spacing between levels of in-rack sprinklers of 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 meters); the new guidelines allow a vertical spacing of 30 to 40 feet (9.1 to 12.2 meters).
  • Allowable storage height above in-rack sprinklers has increased – Traditional in-rack sprinkler installations limit the storage height above the top level of in-rack sprinklers to 10 feet (3.0 meters); the new guidelines allow for storage to be from 35 to 40 feet (10.7 to 12.2 meters) above the top level of in-rack sprinklers, depending on the commodity being protected.

Documentation

Although NFPA codes likely won’t change until 2019, they expressly allow for systems and methods like the above that are judged by local authorities to be of equivalent or superior quality to the codified guidelines.

The new guidelines have been developed by researchers using sophisticated computer models and small, intermediate-scale experiments, as well as vetted and validated by full-scale fire tests at FM Global’s Research Campus in West Glocester, R.I., the world’s largest center for scientific property loss prevention research and product testing. The guidelines are fully documented for use by property owners, insurers, and code enforcement officers.

With so many business activities in our complex world getting more complicated and expensive, it’s refreshing to see simple options expand in a cost-friendly way. So you could potentially make your warehouse as big as it needs to be while minimizing the headaches of the past.






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