Twelve Questions to Choose the Right Standpipe

Every so often, a building will be in the works and the question of fire standpipes comes up. When I hear “four stories” (or five, or six, or seven,…) I know there’s a possibility for standpipes and a fire pump. As these building components are expensive, it’s helpful to determine if they’re required as soon as possible. Unfortunately, code requirements include a number of exceptions and particularities and reading through them all can feel like reading a rather uninteresting choose-your-own-adventure book. In this article, I’m going to summarize what’s outlined in Section 905 of the International Building Code (IBC) that pertains to determining fire standpipe requirements, with definitions taken from the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems, or NFPA 14. I’m referring to the 2012 and 2013 editions of each respective code.

Per the NFPA, a fire standpipe system is “an arrangement of piping, valves, hose connections, and allied equipment installed in a building or structure, with the hose connections located in such a manner that water can be discharged in streams or spray patterns through attached hose and nozzles, for the purpose of extinguishing a fire, thereby protecting a building or structure and its contents in addition to protecting the occupants.” This is describing the piping, valves, and hose connections one typically sees in stairwells on multistory buildings.

There are a few different types of standpipe systems:

  • Automatic dry standpipes are filled with air, but connected to a water source that will automatically engage when used.
  • Automatic wet standpipes are filled with water and connected to a reliable source of water so they’re ready be used all the time.
  • Manual dry standpipes are filled with air and require a manual connection to a water source (such as a fire truck) to be used.
  • Manual wet standpipes are filled with water, but rely on an external supply (such as a fire truck) to meet pressure and flow demands.
  • Semiautomatic dry standpipes are filled with water and supply a device, such as a deluge system, that’s controlled via a remote sensor of some sort.

There are also a three different classes for standpipes:

  • Class I systems provide 2-1/2” hose connections for use by fire fighters.
  • Class II systems provide 1-1/2” hose connections for use by trained personnel or fire fighters during initial response only.
  • Class III systems rprovide 1-1/2” hose stations for use by trained personnel and 2-1/2” hose connections for use by fire fighters.

Locations of hose connections are outlined in NFPA 14, along with more exceptions and particularities. Additionally, different types of standpipes are allowed for different classes.

The flow diagram below provides a high-level overview that can act as a guide in determining standpipe requirements for most buildings. Of course, it’s the designer’s obligation to verify with applicable codes as well as the requirements of the authority having jurisdiction. Once the standpipe class and type are known, the next step is determining pressures, flow rates, alarms and fire department connection requirements, and whether a fire pump is needed. These considerations will be left for a separate article.

Standpipe Flow Chart


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