Commodity Classifications in NFPA 13

Commodity classifications are used to categorize the contents of storage occupancies so that the appropriate sprinkler system design can be identified. Commodity classifications are determined by not only the product but also the packaging of that product, the container those packaged products are in, and even the pallet type. This can get a little complicated, so I’ll run through a quick example. We have glass jars stored in a double layered carboard box with cardboard dividers and it is sitting on a reinforced plastic pallet. Even though the glass jars are only a Class I commodity, the cardboard box and plastic pallet increases the fuel load so that it should be considered a Class IV.

Commodity Classifications are broken down into Classes I through IV and Group A though C plastics with Class I being the lowest hazard level and Group A expanded plastics being the highest hazard level.

Class I:

A Class I commodity is defined as a noncombustible product that meets one of the following criteria:

  • Placed directly on wood pallets
  • Placed in single-layer corrugated cardboard boxes, with or without single-thickness cardboard dividers
  • Shrink-wrapped or paper-wrapped as a unit load

Class II:

A Class II commodity is defined as a noncombustible product that is in slatted wooden crates, solid wood boxes, multiple-layered corrugated cardboard box, or equivalent combustible packaging material.

Class III:

A Class III commodity is defined as a product fashioned from wood, paper, natural fibers, or Group C plastics with or without cartons, boxes, or crates.

A Class III commodity shall be permitted to contain a limited amount (5 percent or less by weight of nonexpanded plastic or 5 percent or less by volume of expanded plastic) of Group A or Group B plastics.

Class IV:

A Class IV commodity is defined as a product that meets one of the following criteria:

  1. Constructed partially or totally of Group B plastics
  2. Consists of free-flowing Group A plastic materials
  3. Cartoned, or within a wooden container, that contains greater than 5 percent and up to 15 percent by weight of Group A nonexpanded plastic
  4. Cartoned, or within a wooden container, that contains greater than 5 percent and up to 25 percent by volume of expanded Group A plastics
  5. Cartoned, or within a wooden container, that contains a mix of Group A expanded and nonexpanded plastics and complies with the graph section at the end of the blog
  6. Exposed, that contains greater than 5 percent and up to 15 percent by weight of Group A nonexpanded plastic
  7. Exposed, that contains a mix of Group A expanded and nonexpanded plastics and complies with the graph section at the end of the blog

PLASTICS

Plastics are a little more straightforward since there is a specific list of what each group contains. Classifying plastics gets complicated when the commodity being stored is a combination of different groups of plastics, but the graphs at the end of this blog should be able to help alleviate some of that work.

Group C Plastics: Group C plastics are treated as Class III Commodities and consist of the following:

  • Fluoroplastics (PCTFE — polychlorotrifluoroethylene; PTFE — polytetrafluoroethylene)
  • Melamine (melamine formaldehyde)
  • Phenolic
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride — flexible — PVCs with plasticizer content up to 20 percent)
  • PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride)
  • PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride)
  • Urea (urea formaldehyde)

Group B Plastics: Group B plastics are treated as Class IV Commodities and consist of the following:

  • Chloroprene rubber
  • Fluoroplastics (ECTFE — ethylene-chlorotrifluoro-ethylene copolymer; ETFE — ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene-copolymer; FEP — fluorinated ethylene-propylene copolymer)
  • Silicone rubber

Group A Plastic: Group A plastics are further subdivided into expanded and nonexpanded Group A plastics and consist of all of the plastics listed in the table below.

  • ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene copolymer)
  • FRP (fiberglass-reinforced polyester)
  • Polycarbonate
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride — highly plasticized, with plasticizer content greater than 20 percent) (rarely found)
  • Acetal (polyformaldehyde)
  • Natural rubber
  • Polyester elastomer
  • Acrylic (polymethyl methacrylate)
  • Nitrile-rubber (acrylonitrile-butadiene-rubber)
  • Polyethylene
  • Butyl rubber
  • Nylon (nylon 6, nylon 6/6)
  • Polypropylene
  • PVF (polyvinyl fluoride)
  • Cellulosics (cellulose acetate, cellulose acetate butyrate, ethyl cellulose)
  • PET (thermoplastic polyester)
  • Polystyrene
  • SAN (styrene acrylonitrile)
  • EPDM (ethylene-propylene rubber)
  • Polybutadiene
  • Polyurethane
  • SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber)

HELPFUL DEFINITIONS

One of the biggest issues I see when people are starting to learn about sprinkler design for storage occupancies is that they don’t know the terminology. It is important to fully understand the definitions for the terms used in the storage chapters of NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. I recommend looking at the definition chapter of NFPA 13 to make sure you understand exactly what a term means because oftentimes it means something different than what you would expect. Here are a couple of definitions that are important to understanding this blog.

Expanded Group A Plastics: Those plastics, the density of which is reduced by the presence of air pockets dispersed throughout their mass. Some examples include packing peanuts or acoustic foam. Nonexpanded is everything else that is not covered under the definition of expanded.

Free Flowing Group A Plastics (protect as Class IV): Those plastics that fall out of their containers during a fire, fill flue spaces, and create a smothering effect on the fire. Examples include powder, pellets, flakes or random-packed small objects.

Free flowing plastics are those small objects that fill a box or a subdivision within the box without restraint. The theory is that during a fire. The objects will freely fall out of the box and either smother the fire or fall away from it, removing themselves as fuel. Since the burning rate is reduced and fuel load has been lessened, free-flowing plastics are permitted to be treated as a Class IV commodity.

Exposed: Commodities not in packaging or coverings that absorb water. For example, a cardboard box or wooden container can both absorb water so they would not be considered exposed. However, something that is wrapped in plastic sheeting could be considered exposed since plastic sheeting doesn’t absorb water.

Cartoned - A method of storage consisting of corrugated cardboard or paperboard containers fully enclosing the commodity.

GRAPHS

The following tables come from NFPA 13 to help with navigating how a commodity should be classified when it contains Group A plastics. Note that the X axis is percentage by volume while the Y axis is percentage be weight.  The first graph addresses exposed commodities while the second graph addresses commodities that are cartoned or within a wooden container (non-exposed).

PALLETS

When commodities are tested, they are tested on wooden pallets. This means that wooden pallets are assumed to be used in commodity classifications, however if plastic pallets are used, they increase the commodity classification by two classes. Although, if the plastic pallet is made of polypropylene or high-density polyethylene and marked as “nonreinforced” then the commodity classification only needs to be increased by one classification.

Plastic Pallet Increase (+2)

  • Class I --> Class III
  • Class II --> Class IV
  • Class III --> Group A Plastics
  • Class IV --> Cartoned nonexpanded Group A plastic
  • Group A Plastics --> Group A Plastics (No increase)

 Unreinforced Polypropylene or High-Density Polyethylene Plastic Pallet Increase (+1)

  • Class I --> Class II
  • Class II --> Class III
  • Class III --> Class IV
  • Class IV --> Cartoned nonexpanded Group A plastic
  • Group A Plastics --> Group A Plastics (No increase)

Determining the classification for commodities in storage occupancies can get complicated at times but I can not stress how important of a step this is during the sprinkler design process. It is also imperative that the owner understands what the building is designed to handle as well as what can and can not be stored in the facility once it is built. I hope you enjoyed the blog. Comment below if you have questions and be sure to share this with friends and colleagues who might find it helpful.

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Brian O'Connor
Technical Services Engineer , passionate about all things fire protection.

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