life safety systems
BY THOMAS P. HAMMERBERG
Compare and Contrast
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE IBC AND NFPA 101
For healthcare facilities,
many states use only National Fire Protec-
tion Association (NFPA) 101, Life Safety Code,
because it is the code that the joint commis-
sion references. However, some states use the
International Building Code (IBC) with the fire
alarm requirements from NFPA 101 instead of
the International Fire Code.
What if the requirements conflict? The pre-
vailing method is to use the most restrictive
requirement, but that approach may not always
work. State laws regarding prom-
ulgation of the codes vary. For
example, Georgia (where I live) ad-
opted both the IBC and NFPA 101,
but through state law, the fire alarm
requirements adhere to NFPA 101.
Still, it is a good idea to be famil-
iar with the differences, and it is
always a good idea to verify the
requirements with the local au-
thorities having jurisdiction (AHJs).
Let’s review some significant
differences between the 2015
editions of the IBC and NFPA 101.
The document structures are com-
pletely different. For instance, the
IBC contains fire alarm require-
ments by occupancy in Chapter
9, Section 907. Also, Chapter 4 contains some
specific requirements for special occupancies,
such as high-rise buildings, covered malls, atri-
ums, underground buildings and institutional
occupancies. The IBC contains no requirements
for existing buildings. Those are in Chapter 11
of the International Fire Code.
In NFPA 101, each occupancy type has two
chapters—one for new and one for existing.
Modifying a fire alarm system or installing a
new system in an existing building will follow
the appropriate requirements. It is also helpful to
note that the fire alarm requirements are always
in paragraph 3. 4 of each occupancy chapter.
There are some significant differences in the
two documents’ fire alarm code requirements.
First, for assembly occupancies, the thresh-
old for installing an emergency voice alarm
communications system (EVACS) is an occupant
load of more than 1,000 for the IBC and more
than 300 for NFPA 101. Also note that, in the
IBC, all emergency messages must be broadcast
using an EVACS, while in NFPA 101, most occu-
pancies allow a paging system to be used.
Another significant change is the requirement for an EVACS in educational occupancies.
In the IBC, any educational occupancy over 100
people requires an EVACS. NFPA 101 contains
no similar requirement.
In hotels, the IBC (Group R- 1) requires smoke
detectors in sleeping-room corridors regardless
of whether a fire sprinkler system is installed.
NFPA 101 allows these smoke detectors to be
eliminated in fully sprinklered buildings.
In 2012, a new IBC requirement for college
or university dormitories specified that system
smoke detectors must be installed in common
spaces outside of dwelling units and sleeping
units, in laundry rooms, in equipment and stor-
age rooms, and in all corridors serving sleeping
units or dwelling units. This requirement is ex-
clusive to dorm buildings under the control of a
college or university, not all apartments, even
if the off-campus apartment houses students.
Again, NFPA 101 has no similar requirements.
The IBC references the International Me-
chanical Code for duct-detector installations. It
requires only duct detectors on the return side
of air handler units over 2,000 cubic feet per
minute (cfm). In contrast, NFPA 101 references
NFPA 90A, Standard for the Installation of HVAC
Systems, which requires a duct detector on the
supply side on air handlers over 2,000 cfm and
on the return side of units over
15,000 cfm and serving more
than one story.
NFPA 101 allows smoke
detectors used exclusively
for recalling elevators, closing dampers or shutting down
heating, ventilating and air
conditioning (HVAC) systems
to be supervisory signals and
not activate the building evacuation alarm. The IBC does not
have similar provisions.
For high-rise buildings,
NFPA 101 does not have any
special smoke detector requirements other than what
the occupancy chapters require.
The IBC requires additional smoke detectors in
mechanical, electrical, transformer and tele-
phone equipment or similar rooms not provided
The IBC and NFPA 101 began adding carbon-
monoxide requirements in the 2012 editions and
increased the requirements in 2015. The require-
ments are relatively the same.
The above covers most of the significant
changes between the two most used codes. It
is always best to be on the safe side and discuss
fire alarm requirements with your AHJ before
you submit a bid.
HAMMERBERG, SET, CFPS is president of Hammerberg & Associates Inc. He
serves as the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) Inc.’s technical director. Tom
represents AFAA on a number of NFPA committees. He is also a member of the ICC
Industry Advisory Committee. He can be reached TomHammerberg@gmail.com.