Smoke control system testing

Special inspectors must know how to test and commission fire systems, sprinklers, dampers, and alarms. A discussion of relevant codes and standards is included.


Learning objectives

  • Learn about the roles and responsibilities of a special inspector as they relate to smoke control systems
  • Understand the smoke control testing and inspection process used by special inspectors as it relates to smoke control testing systems.
  • Know smoke control equipment listing requirements.

This article has been peer-reviewed.The role of a special inspector as it pertains to the International Building Code for the inspection and testing of fire/life safety systems shall be performed by a qualified person who demonstrates competence, to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)’s satisfaction, for the inspection of the particular type of construction or operation. This article will discuss the process special inspectors use for testing a new smoke control system.

Special inspectors wear two separate but equally important hats. One hat represents the owner who has retained the special inspector services per International Code Council Section 909.3 and Section 1704.16 to ensure that the system(s) installed within the building are installed and function per the record documents. The special inspector is a representation of the building official. The owner is responsible for the fees associated with the special inspector, but the special inspector is obligated to the AHJ by acting as an extension of the AHJ to ensure that the smoke control system(s) installed within the building are installed and function per the record documents.

Figure 1: The fan is attached to the section of ductwork that requires the duct leakage testing. Once the fan is attached to the ductwork, the fan is started and introduces air into the sealed ductwork. A gauge is attached to the ductwork to measure the static pressure within it. This test is critical to ensure that the ductwork will not leak smoke-laden air into areas that the ductwork passes through. Courtesy: Rolf Jensen & AssociatesThe testing process does not begin until approved documentation has been provided to the special inspector. Documentation includes the rational analysis, fire alarm drawings, mechanical drawings, automatic fire suppression system drawings, electrical drawings, and architectural drawings. Included within these documents should be the control diagrams.

Per Section 909.15, control diagrams are to indicate all devices in the system and identify their location and function. These documents must be approved prior to starting the testing process. The typical documentation reviewed includes the fire alarm sequence of operations and smoke control mechanical matrices. The control diagrams should detail how the rational analysis is to be incorporated into the building design.

Per Section 909.4, the rational analysis supports the types of smoke control systems to be employed, their methods of operation, and the systems supporting the method of construction to be used by providing performance-based language. This document typically contains the pass/fail criteria of the smoke control systems. These systems include the pressurization method, airflow design method, and exhaust method.

If the special inspector discovers conflicts between the record documents and the applicable codes, he or she should alert the owner, design team, and construction teams by issuing a noncompliance report. The report should detail the documents used for the testing and/or inspection, and include a brief description of the discrepancy as well as its location.

During the review process of the automatic suppression system drawings, the special inspector should verify if the automatic fire suppression system is cross zoned. Cross zoning occurs when an automatic fire suppression system serving one smoke zone also provides sprinkler protection to a separate smoke zone.

Once the review of the approved documentation is completed and any issues or conflicts resolved, the special inspector or design team may prepare a smoke control test plan.

The smoke control test plan should detail the integrated procedures to check, inspect, and test every operational component of the smoke control system, from the function of a specific piece of equipment to the overall system performance. The test plan should be distributed to all parties involved with the project, including the building official. This will ensure that all parties involved understand the testing process.

Typically, the initial request for inspection and testing of the smoke control system is to inspect the ductwork that is associated with the smoke control system and to witness the associated duct leakage testing. The ductwork associated with a smoke control system is as critical as the equipment attached to the ductwork. It is important that this ductwork be capable of exhausting or supplying the air without contaminating adjacent smoke zones that the ductwork crosses.

Per Section 909.10.2, duct leakage testing is required for any smoke control exhaust or supply ductwork. Some jurisdictions may not require the special inspector to witness duct leakage testing of ductwork contained within the smoke zone(s). The theory is to verify that the supply or exhaust inlets are provided with the required design air to properly balance the smoke control system. The pass/fail criteria for the duct leakage test should be provided by the mechanical engineer of record and may be detailed in the rational analysis.

The ductwork should be pressure tested to 1.5 times the maximum design pressure, and leakage is not to exceed 5% of the design flow per Section 909.10.2. The special inspector also should inspect the installation of the ductwork. Per Section 909.10.2, the ductwork shall be supported directly from fire resistance rated structural elements of the building. During this inspection, ductwork joints should be checked for proper installation of joint compound materials. This joint compound material will help prevent smoke-contaminated air from leaking out of the ductwork.

It is essential that the construction team understand the special inspector’s role schedule his or her inspection accordingly. There are critical inspections and tests that must occur at specific points of construction to ensure code compliance. Examples of these critical inspections and tests are the verification of smoke barriers, verification of cross sprinkler zoning, and damper installation inspections. If the contractor fails to schedule accordingly, the budget and schedule may impact the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.

Per Section 710, smoke barriers shall form an effective membrane continuous from outside wall to outside wall and from the top of the foundation or floor/ceiling assembly below to the underside of the floor or roof sheathing. The special inspector should visually inspect all smoke zone boundaries to confirm smoke barrier continuity. He or she should check that required opening protection is installed. Opening protection consists of doors, dampers, fire shutters, accordion folding doors, and so forth. All through penetrations shall be protected by an approved penetration firestop system. The inspector should review the through penetration firestop system data sheet to confirm the material used complies with and is installed in accordance with the UL listing requirements.

All doors located in smoke barriers should be visually inspected to confirm the proper fire protection rating and “S” rating is provided per the approved record documentation, and should be inspected for proper functionality. Doors provided with magnetic hold-open devices within the zone should be functionally tested to confirm proper release, closure, latching, and re-latching upon local detection and overall smoke zone activation. When a door coordinator is provided, he or she should test to ensure that the doors properly close and latch.

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Michael , TX, United States, 07/16/14 10:41 AM:

Informative article, however I would like to clarify your statements regarding UL Classification. A UL555S rated Smoke Damper does NOT maintain the fire rating of a wall, a UL 555S rating is only an indication of the damper's ability to restrict the spread of smoke or assist with the control of pressure differentials. A Fire/Smoke Damper with both a UL555 and UL555S rating will maintain the fire rating of a barrier and restrict the spread of smoke or assist with control of pressure differentials as part of an engineered smoke control system. Chapter 7 of the IBC (2012) permits exceptions to requiring fire dampers at penetrations of fire barriers when the duct is part of an approved smoke control system in accordance with Section 909 where the use of the fire damper would interfere with the operation of a smoke control system. In this instance, as a best practice a UL 555/UL 555S rated Combination Fire/Smoke Damper can be utilized.
MAHENDRAKUMAR , IA, India, 07/22/14 09:50 AM:

Excellent information.
Very useful for Safety personnel engaged in Maintenance of Big Offices ,Shopping Malls,Public Cinema Halls.
Mike , FL, United States, 07/23/14 05:46 PM:

Thank you gentlemen, this was a great review of Special Inspectors duties and engagements in smoke control systems.
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