Residential Garages and Sprinklers

by Phill Brown, S.E.T., C.F.P.S., from the 1/2004 issue of Sprinkler Age, page 8

Do you have to sprinkler a garage in a one- or two- family dwelling? The answer is NO. NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, is quite clear on the subject of sprinklering garages. Subsection 8.6.4 states: "Sprinklers shall not be required in garages, open attached porches, carports, and similar structures."

Since the adoption of NFPA 13 at the 1975 NFPA Annual Meeting in Chicago, Ill., the primary goal of NFPA 13D was and still is to provide an economical life safety system for one and two family dwellings. For this reason, the omission of sprinklers in the garage was felt to be a reasonable approach for the purpose of lowering the basic installation cost of a system without unduly endangering the occupants of the home.

This, however, has not deterred some Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) from taking it upon themselves to modify their local code to require the sprinklering of garages. Communities, such as Scottsdale, Ariz., have had a requirement for the sprinklering of garages for years. There is justification for an AHJ to require the garage to be sprinklered. The annual average of 1986-1990 structure fires reported by fire departments shows that garages and carports produce 14,580 fires resulting in 45 deaths and 524 injuries. Sprinkler protection can be extended into the garage for a nominal addition to the sprinkler installation cost.

Although the 2002 edition of NFPA 13D does not require sprinklers in the garage, it is recognized that this is just an allowance to omit protection. Since some jurisdictions require such protection, guidance can now be found in Subsection A.8.6.4 of the Annex. The protection criteria for the sprinklering of the garage is based upon the general purpose established by NFPA 13D. That purpose is to provide a sprinkler system that aids in the detection and control of residential fires and provides improved protection against injury, life loss, and property damage. The sprinkler system as designed and installed is expected to prevent flashover and to improve the chance for occupants to escape or be evacuated.

Subsection A.8.6.4 allows the use of residential or quick-response sprinklers. Although residential sprinklers are not tested specifically for fires in garages, field experience has shown that the sprinklers can help to alert occupants of a fire, which will improve the chances for occupants to escape. The use of residential sprinklers can also reduce the possibility of flashover in the garage. The allowed use of residential sprinklers for garage protection can also be found in NFPA 13R Section which addresses a garage that is accessible from a single dwelling unit. Unlike NFPA 13R, which will require a four-sprinkler design criteria, NFPA 13D only requires a two-sprinkler design in the garage. NFPA 13 Subsection permits pipe or tube listed for light hazard occupancies to be installed in ordinary hazard rooms of otherwise light hazard occupancies where the room does not exceed 400 ft2. NFPA 13D likewise will allow the same piping used in the dwelling to be used in the garage.

If your garage is anything like mine, it is more of a warehouse than garage. When one of the predominant members of the NFPA 13D committee sprinklered his home, he had the sprinkler protection extended to include the garage. The extension of sprinkler protection into the garage is a rational step.

Do you have to sprinkler a garage in a one- or two-family dwelling? No, that is unless it is an amendment to your local code. Sprinkler protection, however, can be extended into the garage for a nominal addition to the sprinkler installation cost and will increase the level of safety.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phill Brown, a NICET Level IV, is AFSA's manager of codes in the Technical Services Department. He has an associate degree in Applied Science/Fire Science and has 39 years industry involvement, including 26 years of contracting experience. He is a Senior Engineering Technician (S.E.T.) and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (C.F.P.S.). Brown represents the interest of AFSA and its members in the building codes. He assists in responding to technical questions and is the primary instructor for the AFSA design schools.

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