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2 Posts authored by: kthorne Employee

A common question we hear is “why is the code handbook so much bigger than the code?” To really see the difference, let’s look at one specific section of a code and the corresponding material found in the handbook. Below is what you see when you look at 8.5.2 in NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (2016 edition):

In the Automatic Sprinkler Systems Handbook example shown below, commentary immediately follows the code to explain the requirement in greater detail and artwork illustrates it further:

And to give an even deeper understanding of the requirement, in the handbook this code section also has an NFPA 13 Lesson to explain how to determine sprinkler spacing and location:


While this example is specific to NFPA 13 and the 2016 edition of that handbook, every NFPA handbook is different and each one offers unique features and material to help you understand the code requirements. If you have thoughts on what you’d like to see in a future handbook, let us know! We’re developing these products as tools to help you do your job.

A lot of confusion exists around what makes an NFPA code or standard different from a handbook. While NFPA codes and standards provide the requirements, the handbooks take a deeper dive to understand the reasoning behind those requirements.


NFPA codes and standards impact almost every building, process, service, design, and system installation. More than 300 codes and standards are all available for free online access, and they are regularly updated to reflect changing industry needs and evolving technologies, supported by research and development, and practical experience.


One of the most notable features about NFPA’s code development process is that it is open and consensus-based. What that means is that anybody can participate in the development of these important documents. All NFPA codes and standards are periodically reviewed by more than 9,000 volunteer committee members with a wide range of professional expertise.


To assist the enforcer or user of the documents with better understanding how to apply the requirements, NFPA offers handbooks for some of these codes and standards.


The handbooks provide users with answers to the how and why questions surrounding the requirements that might not be easily found in the standard itself. The commentary and explanatory features give users the perspective of the technical committee and allows them to feel like they were in the committee meetings listening to the experts who develop the requirements. Gaining this understanding and perspective can provide users with the tools that they need to do their job and help give them a competitive edge to more efficiently and cost effectively navigate through the aspects of their jobs that are impacted by these requirements.


We hope this helps clear up the confusion! Take a look at NFPA's available codes and handbooks through the NFPA catalog.

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