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Micro-distilleries are a rapidly emerging industry that is creating a lot of concern among fire safety officials due to the unique fire risks they bring to the communities in which they are located. The potential causes of fire and explosion at a micro-distillery are no different than those associated with a large distillery. However, unlike large distilleries, which are typically located in rural areas, micro-distilleries pose additional safety risks due to their proximity to populated areas and other structures nearby.

In addition to the fire hazards one would expect in any distillery operation, micro-distilleries in more populated areas pose additional risks including:

  • Damage to neighboring buildings.
  • Injury to people walking, working, or driving near the distillery.
  • Injury to larger numbers of people within the distillery who are taking tours, visiting tasting rooms, and shopping in on-premises stores.

good safety practices

In addition to good safety practices, sprinklers are the first line of defense against a fire spreading through a distillery

Given these risks and the fact that many micro-distilleries are opening up in buildings not originally designed to address them, Koorsen Fire & Security is taking a deeper dive into the sprinkler requirements for micro-distilleries. This is because, in addition to good safety practices, sprinklers are the first line of defense against a fire spreading through the distillery, potentially destroying the business or worse - causing injury or fatalities.

  • How can one know if sprinklers are required?

One of the most common questions the company gets from micro-distilleries is where in their facility they need to install sprinklers and what types of systems they need. The craft distilling industry has grown so quickly in recent years that it has outpaced the ability of regulations to keep up. This does not mean that there are no applicable regulations. It just means there are few codes that specifically address the risks posed by micro-distilleries.

International Building Code

In the absence of clear regulations pertaining to micro-distilleries, most jurisdictions will rely in large part on Chapter 9 of the International Building Code (IBC) to determine whether automatic sprinklers are required. Occupancy and commodity classifications provide the basis for regulatory decisions regarding sprinkler requirements and design.

Micro-distilleries are often more complex because they typically involve multiple occupancies - distillery operations combined with tasting rooms, on-premises stores, etc. These activities may require different types of sprinkler systems to ensure you have the right kind of protection for all areas of their operation.

local fire regulations

  • Tasting Rooms and Distillery Tours - While the IBC classifies these activities as two different occupancies, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety Code classifies them as one. Under the IBC, a tasting room would require a sprinkler system if the space will hold 100 or more people. Any area along a distillery tour would require sprinklers if the tour includes 300 or more people at one time.

In contrast, The Life Safety Code classifies both of these activities as an assembly, which would require a sprinkler system if either the tasting room and tour involves more than 50 people. This difference illustrates why it is important to determine what codes the state and local fire regulations are based on.

  • On-Premises Store - One of the key requirements determining whether this space requires a sprinkler system is how large it is. While the term “micro-distillery” suggests a very small operation, this is not always the case. Micro-distilleries are defined not based on their physical size but rather based on their annual production volume and the different types of business activities they engage in.

If the operation includes a store in an area bigger than 12,000 square feet, it will require a sprinkler system.

  • Business Office - Under the IBC, sprinklers are required whenever the floor areas exceed the permitted allowable areas for a non-sprinklered building based on the occupancy classification and the type of construction. Based on the areas provided in the table below and given the likely small size of the office area relative to the rest of the operations, sprinkler system protection would probably not be required for this area alone.

However, by virtue of being part of a multiple occupancy, it would probably have to be included in any system installed to protect the operations.

  • Distillery Operation - As a whole, the distillery operation will likely be considered a High Hazard Industrial Occupancy, which is defined as the use of a building or space within a building for industrial operations that include the use of high hazard materials, processes, or contents. Given this, the entire distillery area must be fully covered by automatic sprinklers.
  • Storage Areas - In addition to the requirements in the IBC, the regulations contained in Chapter 16 of the NFPA 30 Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code will almost certainly apply to any distillery, particularly in storage areas because this is where the greatest risk of fire and explosion resides.

Types of Sprinklers Required

Depending on what codes the state and local regulations are based on, requirements might differ

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to provide a simple summary of the requirements regarding the specific types of sprinklers required in micro-distilleries because each operation is unique in terms of its location, building characteristics, and the types of business activities it engages in. Also, depending on what codes the state and local regulations are based on, requirements might differ from location to location.

If one is planning to locate their distillery in an existing building, they should conduct a thorough analysis that considers all the factors that could impact fire safety, including:

  • How old is the building and how is it constructed?
  • Are there sprinklers already installed in one/more areas and if so, what type are they? When was the last time they were tested?
  • Will the distillery operation be more hazardous than the prior use it is replacing?
  • Will any part of the operation require a change in occupancy classification?

fire safety systems

These questions are important because if the building is divided into different fire areas with the barriers necessary to prevent a fire from spreading from one area to the next (e.g. firewalls), they may be able to install different systems tailored to the fire risk in each. Most often, the requirements regarding the types of sprinklers needed will be based on the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Generally, these can be either wet or dry sprinkler systems, but wet systems are preferred.

Requirements for their installation will in most cases be based on NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. While the regulatory landscape with regard to fire safety requirements specific to micro-distilleries remains unclear, there are three important steps they can take now to ensure the distillery is well poised to be in compliance when new codes that may be developed for this burgeoning industry:

  • Analyze the risks - Understand what type(s) of fire safety systems one has in the building where they are considering or already operating the distillery.
  • Consult the local authority having jurisdiction (AJH) to see if there are any specific requirements locally and what requirements they will need to meet.
  • Consult with a professional to ensure that any existing fire safety systems you have in place are in compliance with current codes and fully functional.

Koorsen's Expert Navigation

Whether one is considering opening a new micro-distillery or are already in operation, Koorsen has experts ready to help one navigate the complex maze of regulations - including the gray areas - to understand which ones apply to the user’s unique operation.

The company can help them ensure their micro-distillery will not only be in compliance with all applicable fire codes but will provide the fire protection they need to keep their employees and customers safe.

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