Codes They Are a-Changin': The 2018 NFPA 101, Life Safety Code

By Thomas P. Hammerberg | Mar 15, 2018
2018 NFPA 101, Life Safety Code

In the January issue, we discussed changes to the fire alarm requirements in the 2018 International Building and Fire Codes. This month, let’s look at changes in the 2018 NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that NFPA has altered the way changes are identified. The 2015 and 2016 editions of many NFPA documents were the most difficult to use because the “change lines”—the vertical bars in the column next to paragraphs with changes—were eliminated. Instead, changes were shown in the handbooks. However, not everyone uses those because of their increased cost. In 2018, NFPA identifies changes with shading of paragraphs or words, much like in the National Electrical Code. It also used three symbols next to changed paragraphs: a Delta triangle to indicate deleted text or modified figures and tables, a bullet point to indicate deleted sections, and an “N” to indicate next text.

Like the International Building and Fire Codes, a significant change to fire alarm requirements in the NFPA 101, 2018 edition was the addition of a reference to NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing.

During code development, the resulting language in NFPA 101 ended up quite different than in the IBC/IFC. A reference to NFPA 4 was added in Section 911.4, under Fire Protection System Operating Features, that included testing in accordance with NFPA 4 for all integrated systems, and it was left to the other chapters to choose whether or not to reference NFPA 4 or make modifications to the requirements.

There were many concerns about the conflicting requirements, mainly because the thresholds for when to use NFPA 4 were not the same in NFPA 101 as in the I-Codes. This led to numerous NITMAMs (notice of intent to make a motion) submitted to NFPA to delete the reference in 2018. Fortunately, a number of dedicated individuals worked together to rework the language and introduce some tentative interim amendments (TIAs) to change the language and thresholds to be similar to the language in the IBC/IFC. Thankfully, these TIAs passed.

Other than for healthcare occupancies, NFPA 101 is not adopted in many states. The 2012 edition of the code is being used now, so many of the changes in 2018 won’t have significant impact. Obviously, the 2018 NFPA 101 will reference newer versions of other codes and standards. 

For instance, the 2016 NFPA 72, and any of its changes, will be referenced in jurisdictions that adopt the 2018 Life Safety Code. As usual, many changes are made to use new and hopefully improved terminology. For instance, “Fire Safety Control Functions” has been changed to “Emergency Control Functions” in NFPA 72 and 101 since all interconnections are not for fire alarm purposes. Interestingly, the IBC/IFC did not accept that change.

One change not directly related to fire alarm requirements is for Enclosure Pressurization in Section There is quite a bit of new text that expands on the existing language. Since pressurization is usually controlled by the fire alarm system, I wanted to point this out.

NFPA is no longer spelling out the full title of referenced documents. For example, paragraphs will now say “NFPA 72” instead of “NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.” If you don’t know what a referenced document is, you will have to go to Chapter 2 to look it up.

One of the more significant changes added “Risk Analysis for Mass Notification Systems,” where required by another chapter. The original goal for this addition was for education facilities and universities, but that expanded somewhat during the code development cycle. For example, in Section 11.8 for High-Rise buildings, this would only be required if the total occupant load is 5,000 or more or if an occupiable floor is greater than 420 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access. A number of other chapters added language with specific thresholds for each occupancy type.

In Chapter 11, a change was made to clarify that Section 11.8 applies to new high-rise buildings and existing high-rise buildings where specifically required by Chapters 12 through 42 only.

In a number of the occupancy chapters, a new section for carbon monoxide (CO) detection was added. CO detection requirements continue to grow in the codes, so check for new requirements on future installations.

A significant number of important changes were made for fire alarms, though not many were major. For instance, it is great the change indications are back!

About The Author

HAMMERBERG, SET, CFPS, is an independent fire alarm presenter and consultant currently residing in The Villages, Fla. Tom represented the Automatic Fire Alarm Association on multiple NFPA technical committees as well as actively participating in the ICC code making process for many years. He is NICET Level IV certified in fire alarm systems and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist. He can be reached at [email protected]






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