Windowless Basement – Sprinkler or Supervised Automatic Fire Alarm

The Department has been receiving a great number of calls from property owners and contractors regarding the requirements for windowless basements. Many have been receiving citations for Uniform Fire Code (UFC) violations. All buildings regulated by Subchapter 4 of the UFC (those that received a construction permit to build before 01/01/77) have been required to install fire sprinklers in windowless basements and stories. Below is the fire retrofit code text (emphasis added) that allows a supervised low voltage automatic fire alarm system to be installed in lieu of the code required sprinklers when the basement space does not exceed 3,000 sq ft.

N.J.A.C. 5:70-4.7(h)6.
(h) In all buildings, any windowless basement or story located below the seventh story shall be equipped throughout with an automatic fire suppression system installed in accordance with the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code. 6. Windowless basements not exceeding 3,000 square feet in area shall be exempt from this automatic suppression requirement, provided a supervised automatic fire alarm system shall be installed in accordance with the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code.

The automatic fire alarm system allowed by number six above needs to be installed within the window basement in accordance with the Uniform Construction Code. Many callers are telling me that they are being told to install a full fire alarm system throughout the entire building that contains a windowless basement. This is incorrect; the code requires only the automatic fire alarm system in the basement. The basement detection system is required to be monitored so early notification is provided to the fire department so that they can respond quickly before the fire has a chance to compromise the floor/ceiling assembly.

Other sections of our codes do require the entire building to be protected; however, those sections specifically state that the system needs to be “installed throughout the building.” In this case, the sprinkler protection is only required for “any windowless basement” and it can be a limited area fire sprinkler system in most cases. The “equipped throughout with an automatic fire suppression system” is only referring to the basement space. So a 19 or fewer sprinkler head limited area sprinkler system can be used and does not need to be supervised; alternatively, if the basement space does not exceed 3,000 square feet, the owner of the building may opt to install a “supervised automatic fire alarm system.”

Source: Michael Whalen Code Assistance Unit

For additional information, please reference Bulletin 2006-02 at http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dfs/alerts/bulletins/bulletin_2006_2.pdf

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