Many people who work with NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, or any other building or life safety code, can understand finding themselves in a Goldilocks scenario, where the prescriptive requirements in the code just don’t fit. For this reason, the code offers several option for compliance:
In general, the core requirements in the code are prescriptive requirements. The code specifies that new stairs are required to have no more than a 7 in. rise and an 11 in. run, or that a new sprinklered office building is limited to an exit travel distance of 300 ft. The prescriptive requirements provide quantitative, measurable, and enforceable requirements. These requirements provide designers with clear guidance on minimum design requirements to achieve an acceptable level of life safety.
The code also offers an option for equivalent compliance in section 1.4. It is developed on a three-year cycle and several more years before being adopted by a jurisdiction. In a world where technology and innovation are changing rapids, there may be times that a technology is not specifically addressed in the code, or an edition of the code. It is not the intent of the code to exclude the use of new technologies based on the sole reason that it was developed or popularized after the code was published. Hence, section 1.4 provides an equivalency that allows the use systems, methods or devices of equivalent or superior quality.
It is the responsibility of the building owner or designer to provide technical documentation to the AHJ demonstrating that their technology, design, or method provides equivalent protection to the prescriptive requirements in the code. If it is determined by the AHJ that equivalent protection is provided, the alternate technology, design, or method is considered to be code compliant. Therefore, although I have broken it out as a separate option for compliance, it is really a subset of prescriptive compliance.
Finally, there is the performance-based option. Sometimes the design of a building is too specialized or a building designer wishes to incorporate a building element that is too unique to fully comply with the prescriptive requirements of the code. Then the use of the performance-based option in accordance with Chapter 5 may be necessary for a desired design.
The purpose of a performance-based design is to determine if a building or building element meets the fire and life safety goals and objectives of NFPA 101, without strictly complying with the prescriptive requirements. Performance-based designs are required to be completed by a registered design professional and can provide designers with a significant amount of flexibility in their designs. Similar to equivalencies, it is the final determination of the AHJ to determine if the performance objectives are met.
The design of a building does not need to take a singular approach. A designer can use a combination of prescriptive, equivalent, and performance-based approaches. Therefore, just like Goldilocks, through proper application of NFPA 101, you should be able to find a solution that is “just right” for most every design problem.
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Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to www.nfpa.org/101 and click on “FREE ACCESS.”