With the ever-increasing trend of modular phone booths, meeting pods and private workspaces in open-plan office environments, a common question that gets asked is: “What about sprinkler heads?”.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been clear direction on this from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or the International Building Code (IBC), both of which develop fire and sprinkler codes followed by most local jurisdictions. This has ultimately left what we call a “gray area” for most building inspectors and fire marshals’ inspections and decisions.
Before modular booths and pods were mainstream in offices, the NFPA had guidance that stated that modular furniture did not require sprinkler heads installed in them. This guidance worked for a while with many jurisdictions accepting fully enclosed phone booths and meeting pods as “modular furniture” that did not require sprinkler heads.
In recent years, most jurisdictions and fire marshals have changed their opinion and now require sprinkler heads or fire suppression systems installed in modular pods.
In fact, the NFPA has posted a blog called “Navigating the sprinkler requirements for office pods.” In the blog, they say “NFPA doesn’t specifically address whether office pods should be sprinkled” however they do say “according to NFPA 13, the default answer is yes, unless permitted otherwise.” This would indicate that NFPA likely will revise its code making it clear that fire sprinklers are required in office pods.
IBC however does allow exemptions for the need of sprinkler heads when the booth does not exceed 4ft in width. IBC 903.3.3 states “Automatic sprinklers shall be installed in or under covered kiosks, displays, booths, concession stands, or equipment that exceeds 4 feet (1219 mm) in width.” This has allowed many jurisdictions to exempt smaller phone booths such as the Decibel Single phone booth which has an exterior size of 40”x40”.
With it becoming increasingly clear that any modular booths over 4ft wide require a sprinkler head or fire suppression, many companies are looking for cost-effective solutions to either retrofit existing booths or plan for the correct solutions for the installation of new booths. Listed below are the pros and cons of 3 primary available solutions to satisfy the building code requirements:
1. Install sprinkler heads in each pod.
The cost can range from $1,000- $3,000 per pod.
This is guaranteed to meet any building code requirements.
Time-consuming permitting process
Requires onsite construction work/trade professional contractor
Booths are no longer modular
2. Pods with open ceiling or baffles
Pods with open ceilings or baffles are increasingly the solution furniture manufacturers are turning to. Although this code allows existing building sprinkler systems to cover inside the pods, these are not completely acoustical privacy booths.
Meets building code requirements
Not a fully enclosed privacy booth
Not completely acoustical or soundproof