As fire sprinkler designers, most of our time looking up codes is spent reading through NFPA-13, the fire sprinkler designers bible. However, after a short amount of time reading through 13, we notice that not everything we need to know about a sprinkler system is contained in the book. Standpipe systems need to be designed according to NFPA-14. Fire pumps needs to be designed according to NFPA-20. Many times it is often necessary to reference NFPA-101 for life safety purposes. We could go on and on with water tanks, foam systems, residential systems, etc, etc. This is just a brief list of NFPA references and I haven’t even touched on building codes and local ordinances. Before we know it, we have a reference list of code books that is longer then we care for it to be and the costs of all those books would break the bank of many design department’s budget.
Usually, adhering to the budget out weights the desire for a well stocked reference library. So what is a designer to do? I have learned some tips and tricks over the years that I think may help.
First, buy the critical references. Make a list of the reference books you use most often and buy them. In my opinion, you should buy the handbook versions rather then the standard version. The handbooks cost more then the standard version but they also include notes and explanations that help clarify how the committees arrived at their decision to write the code as they did. This will help you learn how to apply the code in different scenarios since not every circumstance is black and white. So, what are my critical references? NFPA-13, 13R, and 13D (you don’t need 13D but it came with 13R as a package deal). I am referencing NFPA-13 every day, so much so that the binding has broken on my 2010 version!
Second, use the internet for the rest! Did you know that NFPA offers free online versions of all their references? Talk about a great resource for the budget tight design department! However, you will need to know that NFPA allows access to one version of each of it’s standards, usually the newest. So, for example, you wanted to reference NFPA-20 to design a fire pump. NFPA allows you free access to the 2016 version. But what if your current jurisdiction has adopted the 2013 version of 20, not 2016? Fortunately these codes change very little over time, so when you reference something in the 2016 version, you can almost be sure that it will be the same in 2013. If I begin to question whether it’s the same or not, I google the reference and make sure to specify 2013. The majority of time, I will find what I am looking for.
What about local ordinances or state building codes? The majority of them are online these days for free and as the current adopted version for the jurisdiction. For example, if I want to reference the latest Florida Building Code, the state of Florida has it posted at this link, Florida Building Code. If I wanted to reference the most current Florida Fire Prevention Code, the state of Florida has is posted at this line, Florida Fire Prevention Code.
Finding codes online for free these days are easier then ever and there is no need for frustration. Like I said, buy the hard copies of the critical references you need, and let the internet provide you with the rest for free!!
Do you have any recommendations for free resources online that you would like to share? If so, please comment in the comments areas below. I look forward to hearing form you.