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This week is the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative's (FSI) Home Fire Sprinkler Week. So it's a good time to highlight the requirements in NFPA 101 pertaining to the protection of one- and two-family dwellings, and the importance of these requirements.

According to data published by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, fires in one- and two-family homes account for nearly half of all report fires in the United States. Between the years 2012 and 2016, more than 2,000 people were killed annually in fires in one- or two-family homes, accounting for nearly 80 percent of fire deaths in the United States during this time period.

Chapter 24 of NFPA 101 provides requirements for the design and protection of one- and two-family dwelling. Specifically, I will be focusing on fire sprinklers and smoke detection.

The Code requires all new one- and two-family homes to be sprinklered with an NFPA 13, NFPA 13D, or NFPA 13R system. According to FSI, fires are contained within the room of origin in 97 percent of fires in homes with sprinklers, and having a sprinkler system in a home reduces the risk of death by about 80 percent, compared to homes without fire sprinkler systems. The city of Scottsdale, Arizona adopted an ordinance requiring all new homes to be provided with sprinklers in 1986. During the first fifteen years that the ordinance was adopted there was not a single fatality in a sprinklered home.

In a January 2019 report published by the Foundation, it was found that in more than half of fatal home fires smoke alarms were either not present or failed to operate, and the presence of working smoke alarms in a home reduces the likelihood of death in a home fire by nearly 50 percent. Therefore, the presence of working smoke alarms in homes is an important factor to reducing home fire deaths.

NFPA 101 requires all new and existing homes to be provided with smoke alarms or smoke detection. Although the use of a fire alarm system with smoke detection is permitted, most home are provided with either single-station or multiple-station smoke alarms. All new homes are required to be provided with interconnected multiple-station smoke alarms, which will sound throughout the entire home upon activation of a single smoke alarm. The use of existing battery-operated single station smoke alarms is only permitted in existing homes. The Code requires the installation of both single-station and multiple-station smoke alarms to comply with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

The use of synthetic materials in home construction and home furnishing, in combination with construction trends, including larger areas and open floor plans, have resulted in significantly reduced safe egress time from homes. Working smoke detection and fire sprinklers have been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of death in fires in homes.

To learn more about the Home Fire Sprinkler Week, including access to public videos, data sheets, and infographics, visit the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative website.


Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “FREE ACCESS.”

Photo Credit:
By Bill Dickinson (websites [2][3]) - [1], CC BY-SA 3.0,


Generally when people walk into a building, they assume that the building will provide a reasonable degree of life safety. NFPA 101, along with other codes and standards, provide the road map to achieving the reasonable degree of life safety that is generally expected by the public. However, unless enforced, codes and standards do not have the ability to protect building occupants. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) plays a vital role in enforcement of the code for the entire lifetime of a building; during construction, occupancy, and rehabilitation.


The term AHJ can apply to many different people and groups. A single building may have multiple AHJs which can include federal, state, and local agencies such as a fire marshal, electrical inspector, or health department inspector. In addition to the public sector, an AHJ might also include an insurance company, listing agency, corporate safety officer, and even a property owner. The AHJ shall determine whether the provisions of this Code are met.


The role of the AHJ is to determine if a building, building component, or design meet the provisions and intent of the code. This can be a challenging task as the code has a very broad application including new and existing buildings and structures that can range from an existing single-family home to a new high-rise hospital. Paired with rapidly changing technology, innovation, operational needs, and design trends, it is not feasible to have the code address every possible design scenario. As a result, often times an AHJ is required to use the code requirements and their professional judgement on whether a design is code-compliant or meets the intent of the code.


In addition to determining compliance with the prescription requirements, there are many provisions which are left to discretion of the AHJ. For example, a hazardous area is defined as an area in a building that poses a degree of hazard greater than the general occupancy. The ambiguity to this definition is intentional to give the AHJ the ability to determine on a case-by-case basis if an area should be classified and protected as a hazardous area. While a storage room larger than 100 sq. ft. storing combustible materials would be required to be classified as a hazardous area in a new health care occupancy, the same storage room in an assembly occupancy would only be required to be classified as a hazardous area where the quantity of combustible supplies is “deemed hazardous” by the AHJ.


6.4.5 Modification Requirements for Existing Buildings. Where it is evident that a reasonable degree of safety is provided, the requirements for existing buildings shall be permitted to be modified if their application would be impractical in the judgement of the authority having jurisdiction.


The code also provides the AHJ with a degree of flexibility when applying the provisions of the code to existing buildings where “a reasonable degree of safety is provided.” It is not the intent of this section to make the requirements of NFPA 101 not applicable to existing buildings, but there are many times in existing buildings where modifications to the building would require significant effort and expense for minimal life safety benefit. For example, an AHJ may permit an existing non-compliant travel distance in an existing building that has been retrofitted with sprinklers, if they determine that a reasonable degree of life safety is provided.


Ultimately, the determination if a building, new or existing, is safe for occupancy is up to the AHJ. As NFPA 101 (4.6.9) indicates, a building shall be occupied only where “no serious life safety hazard exists as judged by the authority having jurisdiction.” It is also important to remember that each potential AHJ may have different goals and thresholds that they consider an acceptable level of life safety. For example, your local fire marshal may have a different goal than your insurance company, and so when enforcing the same code may have varying thresholds of what they consider acceptable.


To uphold the level of life safety that the public expects, it is important during the entire lifetime of a building, to understand the role and responsibilities of the AHJ, and their enforcement of the code in the interest of building occupant safety.


Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “FREE ACCESS.”

Photo Courtesy of Andysmith248 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]


As a staff engineer I often get the question through our technical question service (TQS) if a smoke control system is required. Although there are a few times where NFPA 101®  prescribes the use of a smoke control system, for the most part it is a choice by the building designer to comply with performance criteria in the Code.

Smoke control is an engineered system that is designed to modify the movement of smoke. Where the NFPA 101 requires a smoke control system, it is required to comply with NFPA 92, Standard for Smoke Control Systems. There are two main types of smoke control systems per NFPA 92: smoke containment systems and smoke management systems. The purpose of smoke containment system is contain smoke to a given area and prevent it from entering another area, such as with a stairwell pressurization system. The purpose smoke management system is maintain tenability of an area or means of egress and reduce migration of smoke between the fire area and adjacent spaces, such as with an atrium smoke control system.

There are several times in which NFPA 101 prescribes the use of smoke control:

  1. New underground buildings or portions of buildings that have an occupant load greater than 100 persons underground, has a human occupied level more than 30 ft. or more than one level below the lowest level of exist discharge, and has combustible contents, interior finish or construction, is required to be provided with an automatic smoke venting.
  2. The second is for levels in new assembly occupancies 30 ft. or more below the lowest level of exit discharge which are required to be divided into two smoke compartments, each provided with its own independent smoke control or smoke exhaust system.
  3. Enclosed mall concourses connecting more than two stories.

There are other times that a smoke control system may be required in order to meet a performance criterion. Such as new atria which require an engineering analysis to demonstrate that the smoke layer interface is maintained above the highest opening or at least 6 ft. above the highest floor level for a time period of 1.5 times the calculated egress time or at least 20 minutes. An atrium may be able to achieve this performance criteria without the use of a smoke control system, however, for some buildings the installation of a smoke control system may be necessary to achieve a desired atrium design.


Stairwell pressurization systems as a means to provide a smokeproof enclosure is another common example of smoke control systems. Smokeproof enclosures are required to be designed to limit the movement of smoke, this is permitted to be achieved through natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation incorporating a vestibule, or by enclosure pressurization.


In addition to atria and smokeproof enclosures, smoke control systems may be utilized to meet a design criterion for buildings and designs including underground and limited access buildings, smoke-protected assembly seating, stages in assembly occupancies, detention and correctional occupancies, mall concourses, as part of an engineered life safety system, or in performance-based designs in accordance with Chapter 5.


For most buildings and designs, with the exception of underground buildings and mall concourses, the Code will not prescribe the use of a smoke control system. However, based on the use and design of the building, the use of a smoke control system may be desired or necessary to meet the prescribed performance criteria in the Code.


Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access." 

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