Normally, when we talk about permits in our industry, we are talking about permits for shelving racks. Specifically, high-piled pallet racking is when the product storage is above 12 feet high. That’s when many regulations kick-in. Typically, that’s when we get involved.
When the product racks are below 12 feet high, we usually aren’t concerned and don’t normally worry about permits. This might be changing.
Recently, we had a case where a customer had some high-piled storage racking in one area of their building. They also had some shorter racking, with solid steel shelves, in another area. We thought that since the product was going to stay below 12 feet, we didn’t have to worry about anything in the permitting process for the area with shorter shelving.
The fire marshal inspected the project and failed it because the rack shelving had solid shelves. We were shocked. This had not happened previously.
We asked the inspector for more information. He actually sent a really nice, detailed response that explained the areas of the code that applied in this case. Here is a summary of his response:
Section 2302.1 of the North Carolina Fire Code defines Shelf Storage as “Storage on shelves less than 30 inches deep with the distance between shelves not exceeding 3 feet vertically. For other shelving arrangements, see the requirements for rack storage.”
Basically, the North Carolina Fire Code is defining anything 30 inches or deeper as rack storage, not shelf storage. This brings other issues into play. In the case mentioned earlier, the shelves were 36 inches deep, making it rack shelving.
The North Carolina Fire Code defines solid shelving as “Shelving that is solid, slatted, or of other construction located in racks and which obstructs sprinkler discharge down into the racks.”
Most warehouses are equipped with early suppression, fast response (ESFR ) sprinkler systems. These systems dump a lot of water on a fire, very quickly.
The City of Charlotte follows National Fire Protection Association 13 (NFPA 13) regulations on high rise warehouse storage and pallet racks. Section 126.96.36.199 says,
“ESFR sprinklers shall not be permitted to protect storage on solid shelf racks unless the solid shelves are protected in accordance with 16.1.6 or 17.1.5 as applicable to the type of storage.”
(Note: 16.1.6 references protecting Class I-IV Commodities with in-rack sprinklers. 17.1.5 references in-rack sprinkler protection for rubber and plastics.)
Essentially, this says that you can’t have solid shelves in pallet racks in a building with ESFR sprinklers. To comply with NFPA 13, you must add in-rack sprinklers, which can be very expensive.
The new edition of the NFPA code will have the same wording. It will also expand this requirement to buildings with traditional, or “wet”, sprinklers systems. This means that you won’t be able to have pallet racks with solid shelves or shelves that do not meet NFPA 13 standards in any building.
In our customer’s case, they are going to have to replace all of the solid shelves. They will be changed out to be wire mesh shelves or some perforated shelving that will allow sprinkler penetration.
As you can see, the new regulations will affect almost everyone who has rack storage in their facilities.