7, 2008 in the COLORADO REAL ESTATE
Sprinkler System Can Affect Leasing Options
by Bob Boland
SO MANY ELEMENTS
OF INTERIOR DESIGN are exciting, inspiring, provocative,
A building's sprinkler system is not one of them. But when it comes to leasing office space, "non-sprinklered" buildings can drive up budgets, affect design flexibility and raise a host of unwelcome code issues.
A non-sprinklered building is just that: a commercial building that was constructed without a fire suppression system. Sprinklered buildings today are the norm, but that wasn't entirely the case during the last building boom of the 1980's.
Building codes have always offered the option to forgo sprinklers with alternative forms of construction, like fire-rated public corridors, and tenant interior walls and doors, for example. But the 2000 switch from the Uniform Building Code (UBC) to the International Building Code (IBC), has only made the alternative more difficult and costly for tenant occupancies in non-sprinklered buildings.
Although the 2003 IBC is the governing building code for the metropolitan Denver and Boulder-area jurisdictions, the 2006 edition already has--or soon will--replace the current codes in most other area building departments, along with local supplemental codes.
Some jurisdictions are requiring even more stringent restrictions on new tenant improvements within non-sprinklered buildings. So building owners and managers of non-residential buildings without fire-protection sprinkler systems should become keenly aware of these changes.
What constitutes 100 percent fire-protection sprinkler systems? The IBC's interpretation here is clear: buildings that are partially, but not fully sprinklered are reviewed as if they have no fire-protection sprinkler systems at all.
What are the restrictions/design guidelines within the 2003 and 2006 IBC that encourage 100 percent fire-protection sprinkler systems?
These methods can vary, but are typically expensive, and are required by code for commercial building interior remodel and construction.
1. Interior Corridors. Public corridors in non-sprinklered buildings have always been required to be one-hour rated. That requirement is being enforced with more frequency in tenant interior corridors, as well.
2. Mixed occupancy separations. Where a fire-rated separation between different occupancy types exists, non-sprinklered buildings will require a greater fire-rated separation. A two-hour fire separation between and office and warehouse in a non-sprinklered building would be required as opposed to a one-hour fire separation in a fully sprinklered building.
3. Atriums Enclosures. An atrium is an opening between two or more floors, other than enclosed fire-rated stairways or shafts. A fully sprinklered building requires a one-hour fire-resistive separation between atrium and adjacent spaces with exceptions for interior glass, which meet fire-protection sprinkling requirements. A non-sprinklered building requires a two-hour fire-resistive separation between atrium and adjacent spaces.
EXITING THE BUILDING
Egress codes can be adversely affected by the IBC's new sprinkler requirements, as well.
1. Path of egress. The exiting travel distance for tenant suites in non-sprinklered buildings is limited to 75 feet; 100 feet for sprinkled buildings. In some extreme cases where the building cannot meet this requirement, a costly fire-rated extension to the existing fire-rated exit enclosure may be required.
2. Number and Separation of Exits. In sprinklered buildings, two exits separated by only one-third the length of the longest diagonal distance in the suite are required for spaces with over 49 occupants, or 4,949 square feet. In non-sprinklered buildings separated by one-half the length of longest diagonal, two exits are required for 29 occupants, or 2,949 square feet. In some non-sprinklered buildings, separation of exits can be an issue for tenants wishing to occupy the "end cap" of a floor.
The unwritten intent of these new building codes is, of course, to minimize non-sprinklered buildings. On the plus side, the cost of sprinklers to an existing empty building is modest when weighted against the cumulative cost of fire-rated construction, HVAC dampers, doors, hardware, and fire glazing that is required in a non-sprinklered building. In any event, non-sprinklered buildings will eventually be limited in their ability to successfully compete for tenant leasing, based on fewer space planning options and the additional construction costs.