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Seismic Design For Fire Sprinkler Systems – Part 2b: Couplings and Seismic Separation

January 27th, 2009

Part 2: The Fundamentals of Seismic Design and the Design Features Involved.

Continued from Seismic Design For Fire Sprinkler Systems – Part 2a: The Objective of Seismic Restraint

Couplings
The first element is couplings. The general idea is to provide rigid couplings throughout the system except at locations where the piping is installed vertically. In fact, if flexible couplings are installed on piping running horizontally, a lateral sway brace is required to be included within 24 inches of the coupling. (Please note that this applies only to piping that is 2½ inches and larger.) So it stands to reason that you do not want to install flexible couplings anywhere other than where they are required.

Following are the coupling requirements as listed in NFPA 13 (2003). (Nos. 2 and 4 are taken from the 2002 edition.)

1. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of the top and bottom of all risers, unless the following provisions are met:
a. In risers less than 3 feet (0.9 meter) in length, flexible couplings are permitted to be omitted.
b. In risers 3-7 feet (0.9-2.1 meters) in length, one flexible coupling is adequate.

2. Within 12 inches (305 millimeters) above and within 24 inches (610 millimeters) below the floor in multistory buildings. When the flexible coupling below the floor is above the tie-in main to the main supplying that floor, a flexible coupling shall be provided on the vertical portion of the tie-in piping.

3. On both sides of concrete or masonry walls within 1 foot (0.3 meter) of the wall surface, unless clearance is provided in accordance with Section 9.3.4.

4. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of building expansion joints.

5. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of the top and bottom of drops to hose lines, rack sprinklers, and mezzanines, regardless of pipe size.

6. Within 24 inches (610 millimeters) of the top of drops exceeding 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length to portions of systems supplying more than one sprinkler, regardless of pipe size.

7. Above and below any intermediate points of support for a riser or other vertical pipe.

It is the practice in my company to include a sheet note on the drawings that says, “All couplings shall be rigid type unless noted otherwise.” In the design of the system, we use some type of symbol designation to indicate that the couplings are to be flexible. The coupling requirements are usually stricter in inrack sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, systems that are multilevel, and riser assemblies.

Seismic Separation
The second element involved is seismic separation. Building separation is a critical aspect of design for structural engineers. The building codes require buildings to be structurally separated once they reach a specific length and/or square footage. Where a building is separated, no part of the structure is connected at that point. In other words, while the building may appear to be one complete structure, it is structurally separate such that the two parts move independently of each other.

You usually can identify this occurrence by reviewing the structural drawings. You will find two column grid bubbles that are very close together, usually 12 inches apart. You will see two beams or other structural members running side-by-side, parallel to each other for the entire width of the building. If you look at the details you will see that no part of the structure at that point is connected. From the foundation up through the roof, the two parts are completely separate. The only thing that makes the building appear whole is the siding and roof coating that are applied.

A separation should not be confused with a building expansion joint. While an expansion joint is designed to allow the building to move, it certainly does not provide the magnitude of movement that a separation is designed to allow. Expansion joints also have coupling requirements, but NFPA 13 requires a specific type of assembly to be used with building separation. Many contractors and designers have seen pictures of this assembly, but I have found that few have investigated its purpose or actually used it.

This section includes only one statement, but its effects are far reaching. In fact, this one requirement can completely dictate the type of piping configuration you will use for the system. If this section is overlooked during the estimating process, complying with
the requirement in the field most likely will use up most of the profit. This section requires that separation assemblies with flexible fittings be installed, regardless of size, where piping crosses building seismic separation joints.

Seismic Gridded System Figure 1

Figure 1 Gridded System

The magnitude of this requirement is best explained by considering a gridded system. This type of piping configuration involves the installation of a primary main on one side of the building and a secondary main on the opposite side. The mains are connected
with a series of branch lines that run perpendicular to each main (see Figure 1). Since seismic separation applies to all pipe sizes, a seismic separation assembly is required at every location that these grid branch lines cross a required separation. If you look at what this involves, you will better understand what is at stake (see Figure 2). Six 90-degree ells added to each branch line will be included in the hydraulic calculations, and their presence most likely will increase the branch-line size at least one size, making the system even more expensive.

Seismic Separation Assembly Figure 2

The only currently known alternative to this assembly is a fitting assembly called a Metraloop, which provides the same movement in a more feasible manner. While the NFPA 13 assembly can take out as much as 5 feet or more depending on size, the Metraloop provides a more compact and easy-to-install alternative. While a grid usually is considered the most cost-effective piping configuration, you also should consider a series of center-feed, tree-type systems requiring only the bulk feed main to cross the separation once, rather than several times as with a gridded system. Remember: If you use the Metraloop, flexible couplings are required for its connection to the piping.

Continued at Seismic Design For Fire Sprinkler Systems – Part 2c: Clearance and Sway Bracing