Combustible materials that are being stored in small, tightly packed spaces, whether inside or outside, fall under the fire code as high piled storage under certain commodity classification and height ranges. High piled storage can be a small or severe fire hazard, depending on the combustibility of the materials being stored and how dense the storage space is. Adhering to fire code lessens the chance of a fire breaking out, or if it does, of spreading.
Anyone who is storing high piled storage needs a permit to do so. If a building is being constructed and will be used to store combustible materials, its design needs to fall under the IBC, or International Building Code. Older buildings that are being used for high pile storage also need to be inspected and certified. High piled storage certificates are owner-specific, and if a business is sold the new owner will need to apply for a new permit.
Means of egress is an important factor to consider in relation to high piled storage. The means of egress is how personnel will enter and exit the building. High piled storage that is hindering means of egress is considered a major fire hazard. Outside storage is no exception, since firemen will need to have clear and easy access to water valves and doorways, and any outside storage that is in their path is a fire code violation. Pallets need to be stored in such as way as they provide clean and clear paths into and out of the building.
As a general rule, high piled materials should be stored on pallets that are arranged in neat and tidy piles. Pallets should always be stored on flat surfaces and never on an edge. The pallets should be stable and free from any damage. The pallet storage areas should be separated from other storage areas and stored far away from compressed gas cylinders and other flammable tanks. They should avoid structural supports as much as possible. When stored outside, pallets should be in a place where they are protected from unauthorized access. They might also be required to maintain a distance between 10 to 50 feet from the main building and other storage units, depending on the number of pallets involved, the wall type, and types of openings.
As a general rule, high piled storage should not exceed 12 feet in height, although only 6 feet is allowed for high hazard materials. Any high piled storage exceeding either criteria needs to be protected by an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with NFPA 13. The high-piled storage area itself is the area within a building that is designated, purposed, or used for high-piled storage.
The regulations vary depending on the material that is being stored. If it is a highly combustible or hazardous material, there are more regulations to consider. It is important to evaluate the material that is being stored and determine its proper classification. If it is a plastic, then find out which group it falls under to determine the specs on how it can be stored as high piled storage. It is better to be safe than sorry and take more precautions than too few, as non-compliant high pile storage could end in major fire damage or a major fine from the fire marshal come inspection time.
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The contents of this page is not a substitute for professional high piled storage advice for your particular situation. Under no circumstances does the content contained herein create an attorney-client relationship nor is it a solicitation to offer high piled storage advice. Additionally, there may be other issues that can have a significant effect on your storage configuration and permit that are relevant to your building that are not discussed on this page. If you ignore this warning and act on any of the content written on this page that may affect your high piled storage permit without consulting Triad Fire Consultants, Inc. for your particular case, it will be done solely and completely at your own risk.