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#72 -- The History of Life Safety Code: NFPA 101, NFPA 13, NFPA 13R, and NFPA 13D

Posted by Jason Hugo and Anna Hartenbach on 8/31/2017 to Fire Sprinkler Systems
Since their inception in 1872, the use and installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems has advanced drastically. Despite the advancement in technology, installing a fire sprinkler system goes more in depth than connecting pipes to sprinkler heads. While this is common knowledge to those within the industry, the dense and sometimes tedious codes associated with the practice might not be so obvious. The purpose of this article is to dive into an overview of the differences between NFPA 101, 13, 13R, and 13D.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) works to create standards and codes for use by state and local governments. While NFPA is not a governing body within the industry, they set guidelines that many Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) can put into practice or adapt to make them their own. Furthermore, many products are developed and installed according to their standards of practice. 

When it comes to fire sprinkler systems, “going by the book” holds especially true. But this is where it also gets a bit tricky. 

If you’ve ever searched for NFPA 13, it’s likely at some point in time you’ve come across NFPA 13R or NPFA 13D. 

Why are there so many versions of one code set? What’s the difference? That’s what we’re here to find out in this article! 

Before we begin, let’s take a little step back to look at the whole picture to understand how it all began.

NFPA 13 and the NFPA

The NFPA Logo (Photo Credit)

On March 18 and 19, 1896, a group of professionals gathered to discuss water, fire, and sprinklers in New York City. The discussions and decisions within this conference resulted in a set of installation rules called, “Report of Committee on Automatic Sprinkler Protection.” (1) This report is what we know as NFPA 13 today. 

From the meeting also came Articles for a new association. Among them was article one, which established the committee as the National Fire Protection Association – or the NFPA.  

NFPA 13: Automatic Sprinkler Systems Handbook is the most comprehensive NFPA manual associated with the standards of installation and design. It draws upon and utilizes the oldest standards to address property protection and life safety for various facilities. It sets some basic guidelines such as the need for an adequate and reliable water source, locating sprinklers in areas where a fire is likely, and conducting routine inspections, testing, and maintenance. 

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code

Life Safety Code was originally published in 1927. At the time of its development, insurance companies set the rules for the use and installation of fire sprinklers in North America because they saw them as property protection. 

Today, fire sprinkler systems are valued for their life safety and property protection abilities. It is notable that there is a 70% loss reduction in a home with fire sprinklers, according to the NFPA.

“NFPA has no record of a fire killing more than two people in a completely sprinklered building where the system was properly operating, except in an explosion or flash fire or where industrial fire brigade members or employees were killed during fire suppression operations,” the American Fire Sprinkler Association states (2).

This statement above speaks volumes for the capabilities of fire sprinkler systems within the home and commercial facilities. The advancements within the industry have generated a more effective and cost-efficient system. 

The developments and improvements we see today, in part, are due to the safety standards and protocol established in NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. Today, there are three standards for the design and installation of fire sprinkler systems – NFPA 13, NFPA 13D, and NFPA 13R. NFPA 101 still acts as an overview, touching on the three standards.


NFPA 13D: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes was originally published in 1975. The main purpose of this handbook is to provide a more cost-efficient home sprinkler system, while still placing the highest emphasis on maintaining the standards of life safety. 

Photo Caption: America Burning (photo credit)

In 1973, a report titled America Burning: The Report of the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control was written by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. The report intended to evaluate fire loss in the U.S. and present recommendations for improvement. 

Within the report, a startling fact emerged. Of the estimated 12,000 annual fire-related deaths, the majority occurred within the home. These findings sparked the need for cost-effective sprinkler systems within the home. Thus NFPA 13D was born. 

While older editions, including the first edition, drew upon technology existing at that time, it made more exceptions relating to necessary water supply and spray coverage. Although the use of standard spray sprinklers was effective in its purpose of reducing the loss of life in the interim, the development of the residential sprinkler system set a quicker response time (it has lower heat ratings) and water discharge patterns higher on the walls. The intent of residential sprinkler systems is to provide ample time for residents to escape.  Newer editions of NFPA 13D continue to incorporate and maintain these technology advancements.


The newest member of the NFPA 13 trio is NFPA 13R, which made its arrival roughly 30 years after NFPA 13D. NFPA 13R was first published in 1989, following the success of the residential fire sprinkler system.

NFPA 13R: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies places the focus on life safety, rather than the protection of property. It is limited to apartments, hotels, motels, select board and care facilities, and rooming houses that are four stories or less. 

At the time of its initial release, many of the facilities above were developing their own installation rules outside of those presented in NFPA 13. Their goal was to create cost-effective, workable solutions similar to those found in NFPA 13D. 

NFPA 13R allows omissions that NFPA 13 does not, however it’s not as pared down as NFPA 13D. It permits the exception of sprinklers in attics, balconies, porches, closets, certain bathrooms, and concealed spaces with certain combustible materials. The most notable of these is the attic since it generally requires a dry pipe or antifreeze system.

The biggest difference between the three versions of NFPA 13 is the audience they serve and the allowable omissions within 13D and 13R. NFPA 13 and 13D focus mainly on life safety and property protection, while NFPA 13R strictly focuses on the life safety aspect. 

At QRFS, we aim to put NFPA Code at the forefront of all we do. We strive to present industry best practices and extensive product knowledge in each article so that you have the information you need when you need it most. When you purchase from QRFS, you benefit from our quality customer service and forward-thinking practices. 

Do you have a question? Add a comment below and we’ll reply as soon as we can!

This blog was originally posted by Jason Hugo and Anna Hartenbach at QRFS.com/blog on August 31, 2017. If this article gave you a better understanding of NFPA code, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or on Twitter @QuickResponseFS.

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