QUESTION: Can a facility store items within 18-inches of the ceiling in a sprinklered building?
ANSWER: Yes, if the storage is along a wall and is not directly below a sprinkler head. Otherwise, No.
RATIONALE: In buildings equipped with automatic fire sprinklers, the storage must be kept at least 18 inches below the ceiling or the spray pattern issued from the sprinklers will be blocked by the storage, thus keeping water from reaching the fire.
QUESTION: Can a facility store items within 18-inches of the ceiling in a non-sprinklered building?
ANSWER: No, in non sprinklered areas, there must be 24 inches of clearance that spans across the ceiling in an invisible plane beneath the ceiling.
RATIONALE: By keeping storage at least 24 inches below the ceiling in non-sprinklered buildings, the fire department can direct water over the storage to reach the fire, and will also help to minimize the fire spread through the building.
The picture on the left shows incorrect storage for a sprinklered room and the picture on the right show the correct storage. One exception: storage on built-in fixtures/cabinets contiguous to walls may reach the ceiling as long is it does not interfere with sprinkler heads.
Although many facilities have been told that storage is not permitted within 18-inches of the ceiling in a sprinklered building, this is not totally correct. Some facilities have even been told to draw a line along the wall 18-inches below the ceiling and not to store above the line. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) require that shelves, furniture, and stacked materials not exceed the height of 18 inches below sprinkler heads.There are two exceptions though. You can store to the ceiling along the wall: (1) if the storage does not interfere with the spray from sidewall sprinkler heads; or (2) if the storage is not directly below a sprinkler head.
The purpose of the “18-inch rule” is to prevent storage or any other obstruction from interfering with the spray of water from a sprinkler head during a fire. It is intended to prevent a situation in which the obstruction is within 18-inches of the ceiling and might be between the sprinkler head and the fire. Since the only thing between storage to the ceiling along a wall and a sprinkler head is a wall itself, the Code allows storage to the ceiling. This would apply to storage on shelving units, wardrobes, etc.
Hazards to Avoid With Sprinklers
- Stacking materials closer than 18 inches below the sprinkler
- Blocking the full coverage of the sprinkler
- Surrounding the sprinkler with furniture or stacked materials that block its effective range; creating small openings around sprinklers is not an acceptable solution if the materials are still closer than 18 inches below a sprinkler head.
Code Requirements Regarding Obstruction of Fire Sprinklers
- Creating fire sprinkler obstructions with shelves, furniture, and stacked materials is a violation of code because it nullifies a sprinkler’s full coverage
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) require that shelves and stacked materials not exceed the height of 18 inches below sprinkler heads [29CFR1910.37(a)(4); 29CFR1910.159(c)(10); NFPA 101, §22.214.171.124, §126.96.36.199, and §9.7.5; NFPA 13, §8.6.6; NFPA 25, §2-2.1.2]
Courtesy of American Health Care Association; US Office of Compliance Safety and Health; University of Southern California