ARE Live: Sprinkler Color Codes

Marc Teer

May 26, 2016

ARE Live: Sprinkler Color Codes

You don't need to memorize the colors. Just understand what they mean.

In this episode of the ARE Live, Black Spectacles founder Marc Teer was joined by Mike Newman, who is an instructor for the AIA ARE Prep Curriculum powered by Black Spectacles, to answer listener’s questions about the Architect Registration Exam (ARE), the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and the process. In Part 4 of this podcast, they answer one listener’s question about the significance behind the sprinkler color coding system.

Watch the entire podcast here:
You’re Probably Overthinking It – A Q&A Session with Mike Newman

Our next listener question was "Why do fire sprinklers have different color systems for the bulb than the color code?" The bulb is the little part of the sprinkler head where it breaks open and the water actually comes out.

There are a lot of different types of sprinklers. There's sprinklers that, for example, are in a server space, in a computer room. Obviously you wouldn't want to have a water-based sprinkler system here. It would trash all the servers, and the whole point of that room is to protect the servers. Instead, you would use some sort of chemical-based system that would actually take away the oxygen. So that's a different kind of sprinkler system.

With most sprinklers, the individual heads are going to go off when there's a problem, but in certain places, when there's a problem anywhere, all the heads go off. So that would be in a place like an airplane hangar. They just don't want to take the chance that one fire would get out of control, there's all that fuel around, things like that. So all the heads would go off all at once. Those are deluge systems.

There's lots of different kinds of systems of sprinklers. But even within each of those systems, there are different temperature ratings. So you can imagine that if you're in, let's say, an office building, and in that office building there was a big elevator mechanical room, where in that one spot, for various reasons, you get a spike of heat, but it's not really a spike of heat that is meaningful. It's not actually saying there's really a problem, then you wouldn't want to use a sprinkler head that went off at the same heat level as you would in the ones that are just in a general office space.

In a general office space, if I get a spike of heat of 180 degrees or something like that, well, that's really hot, and that means something weird is happening, and you want something to respond. Whereas if I'm in the elevator machine room, or a place that generates a lot of heat and it has systems for dissipating it. But you could easily have something, at the end of an event, and suddenly the elevators are all getting used constantly, and it generates some unexpected level of heat, but it dissipates out and it's actually okay.

So there are different kinds and they're color coded for the level of heat they can tolerate before they would go off. I wouldn't worry about it beyond that. I don't think you need to memorize the specific colors. Feel free if you want to. I certainly haven't and won't. There's no huge advantage. That's a level of detail that's just going to start to drive you crazy.

Because it's not just worth memorizing that kind of stuff, but it's interesting to know that it exists, that there are different types, but then there's also different temperature ranges within each type, and that makes sense. You wouldn't want to have a commercial kitchen have the system go off at the same temperature as you would in a bedroom or in an office space or something. Because a commercial kitchen, you could easily imagine spikes of heat that would be inappropriate in those other spaces.

Also, it's worth noting here, most of the time when you are walking through a building and you see all the exposed mechanicals, you can always tell the basic sprinkler pipes because they're unpainted. They tend to be black pipe. Different locations possibly might have slightly different rules about that, but generally they don't want you to paint the pipes and they use black pipes. That's so the fire marshals can very easily and quickly see everything to test it.

You can actually get approval to paint them if you really need to for some reason, but for the most part, they don't want you to do that, mostly because they don't want you spray painting near the heads, it gets clogged up, it starts causing troubles. It can make it so that the sprinklers don't actually work anymore, but also so that they can track it as they're moving through a building that's under construction and make sure that you're not doing something that's going to cause trouble.

When we use the word valve in this context, there's lots and lots and lots of different ways that that word gets used. It’s any time there's something that can alter the flow of the water. It's a place you can turn it off, it's a place you can open it up, it's a place that you can connect to a fire hydrant or a pumper truck. Any time you have that ability to move something to change the flow, that's a valve.

There is the dedicated standpipe valve, the combination standpipe, and sprinkler valve.

The word there to know is standpipe. Standpipe is that vertical pipe. Generally, it's located by the stairs because it needs to go from the first floor, all the way up the building. So if you have a five or six-story building, the one place that you know will be continuously running all the way up is going to be the stair, and so you have the standpipe going right up by that. Imagine firefighters running into a building in an emergency, and if they tie their fire hose to a hydrant out on the street and then they're carrying a full fire hose up the stairs, you can imagine how messy that would be. Water everywhere, people slipping and sliding. There's going to be more people in the hospital from slipping on all the water than from the smoke or the fire. They're running through people who are trying to exit in a panic.

It’s much easier to attach to what's usually referred to as a Siamese Connection on the street. It’s called a Siamese Connection because it comes out of the front of the building and then splits into two.

But when you hear the standpipe valve, that's what you're talking about. That's where the firefighters can show up, attach a hose to a hydrant or to their pumper truck, and then attach the other end to the standpipe, and then that pipe can fill with water running all the way right up next to the stairs. The firefighters can run up with an empty hose over their shoulders, they run up to the floor where the fire is, they can attach to the standpipe at that floor, and then fight the fire so that standpipe becomes part of that fire hose, if you will. It allows them to not have the fire hose tripping people in the stairwell.

So it's by the stairs as a way to get it up vertically because you know the stairs are going to be going all the way vertically, but it's also by the stairs so that when the firefighters jump out of the stairs, bang, there's the standpipe right there. They don't have to find it somewhere in the floor plan. Standpipes will be referred to in lots of different ways, but that idea is that you can attach at the street front and then it takes water vertically all the way through.

The tricky one is the combination.

Sometimes standpipes also work with the sprinkler systems. That's when you have this combination sprinkler-standpipe situation. You will occasionally see very complicated standpipe valves out on the street front where it will say, "This one is associated just for the standpipe. This one's a sprinkler standpipe." and it might have five, six, or seven different ones, especially for complicated buildings, like a school. You could easily have multiples for different types of uses through the building.

Again, don’t spend time memorizing the colors. Just know that there are these differences.

You may be interested in the fact that hydrants are also different colors, and those are different colors not from a temperature standpoint, but in terms of gallons per minute that they can produce. So if you see different fire hydrant colors around the city, that's just referring to how much water they have the capacity to pump out.

That way when the firefighters show up, they can make a quick decision about how much water is literally going to be able to be brought to bear, and whether they need to attach to multiple hydrants or something along those lines. Again, don’t worry about the specific colors. Just know that this concept exists.


Watch the video here:

Photo by mhx / CC BY-SA 2.0

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