July 10, 2009 | | Comments 14
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NFPA reference that allows wall storage within 18 inches of sprinklers

Hi everyone, it’s Scott Wallask, and I was just on the ASHE e-mail group talking about 18-inch clearance requirements for sprinklers in storage areas. The question of storage along walls seems to come up a lot.

As many of you know, there is an exception for perimeter walls that allows you to forgo the 18-inch clearance between the top of storage shelves and the bottom of sprinkler pendants as long as the perimeter storage isn’t directly below a sprinkler.

The NFPA reference isn’t in the Life Safety Code, though — it’s in NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems. I’ll use the 1999 edition of NFPA 13 because it’s what The Joint Commission currently recognizes.

Under that edition, look at annex note A-5-6.6:

The 18-inch dimension is not intended to limit the height of shelving on a wall or shelving against a wall in accordance with 5-6.6. Where shelving is installed on a wall and is not directly below sprinklers, the shelves, including storage thereon, can extend above the level of a plane located 18 inches below ceiling sprinkler deflectors. Shelving, and any storage thereon, directly below the sprinklers cannot extend above a plane located 18 inches below the ceiling sprinkler deflectors.

Also, if you’re Joint Commission accredited, check out LS.02.01.35, EP 6, as this also mentions the perimeter exception. EP 6 notes section 5- as the reference in NFPA 13, which also talks about clearance below sprinklers but doesn’t directly mention wall storage.

The theory behind permitting wall storage to extend above the 18-inch plane is that the wall will already obstruct sprinkler spray discharge patterns, so shelving along a wall isn’t going to make that situation worse. In the center of a storage room, however, storage that is too close to a sprinkler pendant could indeed alter discharge patterns, thus the 18-inch clearance requirements.

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Filed Under: Life Safety Code

Scott Wallask About the Author: Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for HCPro's Hospital Safety Center (www.hospitalsafetycenter.com) and the award-winning newsletters, Briefings on Hospital Safety and Healthcare Life Safety Compliance. He has written about healthcare for HCPro since 1998, with a focus on occupational and building safety, emergency management, fire protection, and infection control. Prior to joining HCPro, he worked as a reporter for several newspapers in eastern Massachusetts. He holds a BA in print journalism, magna cum laude, from Northeastern University in Boston. Contact Scott at swallask@hcpro.com.

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  1. So if we have storage that the shelf and contents are below 18″, yet the posts to the shelving are less than 18″ clearnace, are the posts to the shelves considered in violation??

  2. I believe that it has to be a clear area below the sprinklers, and it seems that posts could still obstruct sprinkler discharge. My unofficial opinion would be that yes, the posts would be in violation unless they were against a perimeter wall. You could always ask the Joint Commission’s standards interpretations group for its take. Thanks…Scott Wallask, HCPro

  3. The California Uniform Fire Code does not mention any allowances for storage against the wall past the 18-inch plane. Does that mean the 18-inch plane applies throughout the room in California buildings? Thanks.

  4. 10’x10′ storage one sprinklerhead ,20’x 20′ two sprinkler heads.Product around perimeter .1″ vertically. This is ok ??
    Does the shelving have too beable to alow water to flow ?
    Or can they be solid
    application in retail enverioment
    thank you

  5. California Code says the following:
    *Title 24 California Fire Code (2010)

    315.2.1 Ceiling clearance. Storage shall be maintained 2 feet (610 mm) or more below the ceiling in nonsprinklered areas of buildings or a minimum of 18 inches (457 mm) below sprinkler head deflectors in sprinklered areas of buildings.
    (no exceptions noted). I enforce the requirement in our hospital

  6. Hello, I was wondering if a 2″x 4″frame and drywall wall could be placed directly under a sprinkler head. I wanted to divide a room in two with a security door in that wall and not have to have a plumber add another sprinkler to the original room. I realize that if it were possible that some clearance would be needed below the head to the top of the wall. Any ideas? Thanks, Mike

  7. Does the 18″ rule apply in a walk-in freezer? Shelves are on each side of freezer, nothing in middle.

  8. Hello, Not sure if too late to ask a question, but Im new to California and am getting 2 stories to an issue. Is the code 18″ from the ceiling for dry storage or 18″ from sprinkler head? Long term care facility.

  9. Hi Brian,

    It’s never too late to ask a question; while there may be some variation based on the interpretation of your Authority having Jurisdiction (AHJ), strictly from a code perspective (and the code reference for this one lives in NFPA 13-2010:;; ) is for 18 inches of clearance below the sprinkler deflector. So, depending on what kind of sprinkler you have (pendant, concealed, etc.), you would measure 18 inches from the deflector. Again, there are some AHJ’s that might let you run with 18 inches from the ceiling, but it really should be from the deflector – and that’s good for all occupancy classifications.

    Hope this helps; please let me know if you have further questions.

  10. Hi Steve,
    Hope all is well with you. Thanks for all the great articles.

  11. Long term care facility built in the 60’s. We just added built-in closets that are about five inches from the ceiling and 20″ or so inches from a sprinkler head. Will this pass inspection? Please refer to code so I will have that if I have a need in the future.

  12. Hey Steve – I understand the exemption to the 18″ clearance requirement for perimeter wall shelving…can this/is this commonly interpreted to mean any storage against a wall? For example, what about a stack of boxes to the ceiling (along a perimeter wall). Or material stored on top of a refrigerator along a wall…why the emphasis on the word(s) shelf/shelving. Thanks for your thoughts.

  13. Question we have mobile carts along the parameter with locking wheels we are within 6 inches of the ceiling with supplies in clean cores. I cannot find references on carts not being used, the code does not directly identify stationary or movable. Is there any you know of?

  14. Hi
    Small or large residential closet or open area. One sprinkler head.

    When building shelving in a home/condo, I was under the impression you could not build 18″ in all directions.

    Does the 18″ only apply to the shelving directly below or also to the system adjacent if it’s within a 18″ radius? For example, could you have a shelving start 3″ to the right that is 6″ under?

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