To Insure or Not to Insure: A Question for Fire Protection Projects

by Mike Lehner, P.E.

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

Fire sprinklers are in the insurance business. How? They are a tool that helps reduce the chance and severity of a fire in a building. Many property insurance companies are on the hook to repair or replace buildings that have been damaged or destroyed by fire. It follows that many of them have a vested interest in the performance of the fire sprinkler system, and therefore may offer reduced rates for building owners that add and maintain fire sprinkler systems in their building(s).

Before we can realize this savings, we have to meet a few other criteria. First, let’s consider building codes. From a code standpoint, the International Building Code requires compliance with NFPA-13, the standard for installation of sprinkler systems developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA formed over 120 years ago and produces copyrighted standards, such as NFPA-13, that many government entities can adopt. In addition, most municipalities require that fire protection equipment bears a UL label, which indicates that the product has been tested by Underwriters Laboratories, a safety organization that performs safety testing on various pieces of equipment. Many products have a UL label on them, especially electrical/electronic devices, as well as fire protection equipment. By adopting these standards, municipalities can rest easy knowing that the fire sprinkler system will operate as intended. There’s also the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), who is usually the fire marshal or other code official; they verify that building and fire codes are met in project designs and construction.

Enter the insurance companies

FM Global is a commercial property insurance company that also develops standards and performs product testing. The benefit of the standards and product testing is reduced insurance rates for their policy holders when their properties meet the standards. Insurance companies may also rely on an underwriter/rating agency to determine additional requirements. In Washington State, the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau (WSRB) also specifies requirements for fire suppression systems.

If you want a break on insurance rates for your building, compliance with the insurance company’s requirements is necessary. In most cases, the insurance company requirements are more restrictive than the building/fire code requirements. In certain cases, some or all of the requirements may be mandatory just to obtain insurance coverage. If you have a project, it is important that you determine if there are insurance requirements in addition to the code requirements. Otherwise, your building could fall into the “gotcha” category during construction with increased costs and schedule delays.

The FM Global Difference

With FM Global insurance, fire protection system products like sprinkler heads, valves, and such must be “FM approved,” and labeled as such. FM Global also develops data sheets (evidence-based standards), which increase the level of protection from fire. Most fire sprinklers and equipment are labeled FM approved as well as UL listed.

Insurance standards may require sprinkler protection in some areas where code does not and require a higher level of protection. Usually, the requirements affect sprinkler-piping sizing, mandating a larger area of sprinklers flowing and possibly a higher water flow (density). This may require larger piping in the sprinkler system. In high-piled storage applications, FM Global has developed a different approach from NFPA-13. They use ceiling sprinkler height above the storage to determine requirements. As a result, there are some instances where in-rack sprinklers may be required.


While some insurance companies simply require compliance with local municipal codes, others may have additional requirements. As a designer, it is important to know who the insurance underwriter is and if they have special requirements to ensure the project is built correctly and meets Owner requirements. As an owner, compliance with insurance company requirements is essential to secure the best insurance rate as well as the safety of your building and its occupants.

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