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Author(s): Matt Klaus. Published on January 2, 2018.

In Compliance | NFPA 4

Clarifying the scope of NFPA 4 as it is referenced in major codes


Excitement, confusion, fear—those are just a few of the emotions experienced by people in the sprinkler industry over the news that the new editions of several major codes have added references to NFPA 4, Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing. The move comes following actions taken at recent committee meetings and hearings for NFPA 1, Fire Code; NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code; the International Building Code; and the International Fire Code.

The catalyst for this welter of emotions is uncertainty over the scope of NFPA 4 and how it will impact acceptance testing, budgeting time on site, who will be responsible for what part of which system, and project completion. To understand the potential impact of NFPA 4, it is important to understand the origin and scope of the standard.

NFPA 4 was developed to address a hole in the codes and standards process dealing with confirmation of system integration. While individual system design and installation standards such as NFPA 13, NFPA 72, NFPA 14, and NFPA 96 have long provided acceptance testing requirements that these individual systems will perform as intended, there was no “code mandated” test to confirm that these systems will interact appropriately with each other. Some states have required this for buildings with smoke management systems through a “special inspector” requirement, but this applies only to a small percentage of buildings in a limited number of jurisdictions. NFPA 4 aims to fill this gap by providing the methodology for conducting a test to address the performance of an integrated network of systems.

The critical aspect of NFPA 4 that should allow individual system designers and contractors to breathe easier is that its scope focuses on the performance of the system integration, not the performance of the individual system. The standard is not reassigning acceptance testing requirements and responsibilities to a new project entity, known as the integrated testing agent, or ITa. Individual system acceptance testing will occur as it always has, followed by a test to confirm that the systems intended to be integrated—whether physically wired connections or wireless—perform as outlined in the sequence of operations matrix.

To do this, the ITa is required to create a test plan that may require the sprinkler contractor to be on-site for additional testing, which is where some of the excitement and fear comes in. Integrated system testing may ultimately increase the amount of time the contractor is on-site before the building is turned over to the owner. This can result in additional hours on the job site for contractors, meaning more revenue. The more complex the integrated system is, the more testing that may be required. This “found revenue” is exciting to contractors who understand how this process works and who may have been through an integrated system test in the past.

At the same time, though, contractors fear the possibility that the time associated with integrated system testing is not considered in the fee for services. This makes the contract language for any project that will have integrated system testing critically important. Generic contract language such as “includes all testing” could increase the contractor’s liability for time on-site to complete integrated system testing. Contractors should break out fees for pre-functional testing, acceptance testing, and integrated system testing so there is a clear delineation for the amount of time budgeted for each activity.

In many cases, the integrated testing plan will not be available for the contractor to budget against, so the individual system contractors may need to address their fees for this service under “additional services” in the contract. In cases where the request for proposal doesn’t address integrated system testing, the contractor should confirm this up front with their client or address this under their limitation of services clause.

Whether you see NFPA 4 as a great opportunity to increase revenue or just another thing to worry about on the job site, the key is to educate yourself on the purpose and scope of this new document. Understanding the hows and whys of NFPA 4 could be a game changer and set you apart from your competition if you are willing to embrace it.

MATT KLAUS is NFPA technical services lead for fire protection engineering.