The new National Construction Code draft includes several important changes to fire safety, including residential sprinkler systems proposed by FPA Australia.
The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) released the Public Comment Draft of the National Construction Code (NCC) 2019 for feedback in February, incorporating a number of changes proposed by Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia).
The NCC 2019 draft, which closed for comment in April, includes several major developments. For the first time, it makes reference to two FPA Australia Technical Specifications, FPAA101D and FPAA101H, which cover cost-effective fire sprinkler system design and installation (Specification E1.5).
These Technical Specifications are part of a Proposal for Change to the NCC submitted by FPA Australia, Fire & Rescue NSW and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), which seeks to mandate sprinklers in residential buildings over three storeys and under 25 metres in effective height.
A number of other changes proposed by FPA Australia have also been included in the NCC 2019 Public Comment Draft, such as changes to penetration protection (Clause C3.15), sprinklers in lift motor rooms (Specification E1.5 Clause 13), and improvements to Clause A2.2 for evidence of suitability supported by the recently published ABCB Evidence of Suitability Handbook, which the Association has long championed.
Also included is the updated Fire Safety Verification Method, which was recently re-calibrated for the ABCB by a consortium led by FPA Australia.
“This NCC Public Comment Draft includes numerous changes to fire safety requirements, and the proposed referencing of the FPA Australia Technical Specifications for the first time is a significant reflection of the capability and industry partnerships we have developed,” said Matthew Wright, the Association’s General Manager of Technical Services/Deputy CEO.
“In collaboration with our members and industry partners, FPA Australia puts a huge amount of work into the constant development of Australia’s fire protection regulations, codes and standards. It’s rewarding to see this work progress nationally, but more importantly we’re excited by the potential for these developments to improve the industry and the community’s fire safety.”
“The NCC 2019 Public Comment Draft arguably includes the most significant fire safety related changes in a decade, coinciding with the re-confirmation of the community’s expectations for fire safety.”
Key changes in the NCC 2019 Public Comment Draft are:
- New quantified performance metrics and Verification Methods;
- Improved fire safety measures;
- New residential sprinklers requirements;
- Removing the ability to use bonded laminated material where a non-combustible material is required;
- Increased levels of energy efficiency for commercial buildings;
- Revised Acceptable Construction Practices (ACPs) in NCC Volume Two;
- New Acceptable Plumbing Practices (APPs) in NCC Volume Three; and
- Improved readability including standardised Governing Requirements across the NCC.
Proposal for Change includes new sprinkler designs
As feedback was being submitted for the NCC 2019 public comment draft, comment was also coming in on the two new sprinkler Technical Specifications the NCC draft makes reference to.
For the very first time, the NCC 2019 public comment draft references Technical Specifications developed by FPA Australia, FPAA101D and FPAA101H. Their inclusion is an important achievement for the Association, drawing on technical expertise from its staff and members, data from research partnerships and connections with regulators.
In 2017, FPA Australia submitted a Proposal for Change to NCC 2019 Volume One, made in partnership with Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC). The proposal seeks to amend the NCC’s deemed-to-satisfy (DtS) provisions in three ways:
- Mandate installation of an automatic sprinkler system in Class 2 and Class 3 buildings not more than 25 metres in effective height;
- Require the automatic fire sprinkler system to comply with either:
- AS 2118.1 or AS 2118.4, as applicable; or
- FPAA101D, except for residential care buildings; or
- FPAA101H, except for residential care buildings;
- Introduce consequential changes to other DtS provisions depending on the automatic sprinkler system standard adopted, delivering a package of reform reflecting a new strategic approach to improving life safety.
The proposal’s goals are to fill what is perceived as a significant gap in current fire protection of medium-rise residential buildings, but to do so in a way that is both reliable and affordable and, above all, meets the life safety objectives of the NCC. The proposal has been included as part of the NCC 2019 public comment draft, which will now undergo evaluation following the public comment period.
The proposal grew out of a research project conducted by FRNSW, FPA Australia, AFAC and the CSIRO, which evaluated the effectiveness two new residential sprinkler system designs in suppressing fires in modern residential buildings. Using a replica residence at the CSIRO North Ryde facility, the research found that without automatic suppression, a fire in a modern residential building can become untenable within 2 minutes and 45 seconds. That figure is eight times faster than 50 years ago, largely due to the synthetic materials used in modern furnishings. That narrow tenability period is a serious challenge for evacuation and well before fire services are able to respond. Average urban fire brigade response times in Australia from initial notification to attendance on site are seven to nine minutes.
In the same testing setup, however, sprinkler suppression was found to delay untenability to at least 12 minutes 43 seconds with an average of 22 minutes 47 seconds with bedroom doors open or 26 minutes 34 seconds with doors closed.
The research tested two new sprinkler designs which form the basis for the two FPA Australia Technical Specifications detailed in the Proposal for Change and referenced by the NCC 2019 draft.
The new FPAA101D Technical Specification specifies a sprinkler system integrated into the domestic water supply of a residential building. It provides sprinkler protection throughout the building and has been designed for use with currently listed and available products.
Use of the domestic water supply significantly reduces cost, while still providing enough water volume for the concurrent operation of the domestic supply and two sprinkler heads—enough to provide sufficient suppression at the point of fire origin to maintain tenability to the degree necessary for occupants to safely evacuate or until fire service intervention. Because the system is connected to the domestic supply, water availability is regularly monitored through residents’ use of other water fixtures (taps, showers, etc.).
The FPAA101H sprinkler system, meanwhile, is integrated with the conventional wet hydrant riser, which may already be required in the building. This system also provides protection throughout the building and has been designed for use with currently listed and available products. It similarly reduces the cost of the system (by combining pipework) but also provides suitable protection to maintain tenability to the degree necessary for occupants to safely evacuate or until fire service intervention
The proposal includes several amendments to DtS requirements for new buildings depending on which of the four sprinkler standards are used. The changes reflect the additional tenability time allowed by the sprinklers.
Key changes include increases in the maximum distance of travel to exits and the maximum length of public corridors, some alterations to external protection requirements and service penetration requirements in internal non-loadbearing walls, among others.
An independent cost benefit analysis considered the different systems and their accompanying DtS requirements, and compared them against current NCC DtS provisions without sprinklers. For a six-storey hotel test case, the analysis found total project construction costs would be 1.7% cheaper using FPAA101D compared to current DtS provisions, 3.2% dearer using FPAA101H, and 4.6% dearer using AS 2118.1 or AS 2118.4.
Most importantly, however, an independent fire engineering analysis determined that a sprinkler system reduced the risk level by 67% on the current status quo of no fire suppression in Class 2 and 3 buildings less than 25m in effective height. That pivotal figure demonstrates the significant increase in people’s fire safety the new proposal provides.
Further detail on FPAA101D and FPAA101H Technical Specifications are available at www.fpaa.com.au/technical/technical-specifications.aspx.
For more information, go to www.fpaa.com.au