My question is, do loading dock overhead doors require sprinkler protection when door is opened. The door is 8feet by 10feet and obstructs the sprinkler heads above when opened. The building was built in 1979/1980. Do the current nfpa 13 codes apply, or does the building fall under past nfpa codes, or can the building be grandfathered in not to install more sprinkler heads.
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This is a great question (and one I'll add to our FAQ as well).
First off, every modern Building Code will reference the latest Standards, NFPA or otherwise (it may not be the newest one owing to the time it takes for the Code to actually get reviewed, commented on, and published but usually you'll find it's only out by one "issue" at best). The current Standard (and several precursors) requires sprinkler protection on both sides of overhead doors (that happen to open across a ceiling). Some warehouses have sufficient clearance for the door to open right along the wall above the actual door opening so sprinkler heads are rarely obstructed. This could be a viable option for you if there aren't any space restrictions.
If the overhead door is a NEW installation (i.e. a tenant improvement where a new door has been fitted into the structure where there was none before), then you would likely have to meet the requirements of the current Standard (the local Jurisdictional Authority will likely ensure that it's included when you pull your permit). Not-withstanding, you may be required to retrofit sprinklers to any adjacent door as well (in for a penny, in for a pound).
If the door REPLACES an existing door, then, in most cases, a building permit won't be required as it's considered a "maintenance issue", so what was there before will likely "serve" and the status quo can be maintained.
However - and there's always one of those - INSURERS are starting to have a good deal more clout than almost any jurisdictional authority. It may be that additional sprinkler protection could form part of the risk assessment on the building in which case, if the owner wants insurance, he'll have no choice but to upgrade.
The best answer I can provide is one that will suggest that you to check with BOTH the local jurisdictional authority and the insurance company(ies) involved. If neither requires it, then make sure you get that IN WRITING to cover your butt.
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