A professional fire protection engineer has ample knowledge about the building systems that detect and control fire and smoke, as well as the alarms and communication devices that complement their function. Although these systems are often considered expensive, a building can have reliable fire protection without spending more than necessary.
Over-engineered fire protection systems do not always lead to improved protection. For example, there is no need to install 30 sprinkler heads in a building area that can be covered effectively with only 20 of them. The goal of design engineers should be to provide fire safety at an optimal cost while avoiding oversized installations that only add cost.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the industry authority in the USA, but their standards have achieved international recognition. Building codes for states and municipalities are modeled after NFPA standards, while adding specific requirements. These codes have extensive information and getting familiarized with them takes time and training; the best way to meet their requirements at an optimal cost is by working with qualified fire protection engineers.
How a Fire Protection Engineer Can Collaborate with Architects
The layout of fire protection systems is strongly determined by the architectural features of the building. For example, a complex design may increase the number of sprinkler heads needed for full coverage, requiring more pipes and pumping power. As a result, the installation becomes more expensive.
To optimize the design process, a fire protection engineer can collaborate with architects from the start, instead of waiting for the completed architectural drawings. Some building features can be modified to simplify the installation of fire protection systems, with little or no effect on the overall appearance of the project.
Modern design software allows the creation of 3D models for buildings, where architects and engineers can visualize how spaces are used by different building systems. This can be a powerful tool in fire protection design: the equipment and piping layout can be represented as it will be built, instead of using a simplified 2D drawing. Modeling software is smart enough to detect conflicting specifications, such as having a sprinkler pipe that intersects air ducts.
Cost Reduction Strategies Used by a Fire Protection Engineer
The fire protection requirements in NFPA standards and local codes are often based on meeting a series of conditions. For example, fire pumps are among the most expensive components of fire protection systems, but their use is not always mandatory. If a building is designed so that the conditions for a fire pump are not met, the project cost is reduced drastically.
Fire protection costs can also be reduced through close collaboration with other design teams. For example, the spaces above a suspended ceiling are shared with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. With advanced design software and effective communication, design teams can avoid location conflictions while optimizing the overall cost.
An added benefit of working with a professional fire protection engineer is speeding up the design and construction process. Considering that project delays and modifications are often expensive, avoiding them results in savings.