High Storage of Foam Bars in Unheated Spaces – Part 1 – Introduction

Author: Bishoy Awad, Ph.D

Foam Manufacturing Background

For over 40 years, foam and fibre manufacturing has been growing globally. Foam is integral to multiple commercial products, including furniture, bedding, rugs, insulation, and packaging. The rapidly growing market of foam manufacturing in North America was valued at USD 7.60 billion in 2021, as per Global Market Insights, 2022. As shown below, continuous foaming plants produce flexible polyurethane foam bars approximately 40 to 45 inches high and are produced in long runs for scrap reduction.

Foam Block Storage

For storage, those bars are stacked in high piles (Blocks), exposed, with storage heights reaching 40ft. For logistics purposes, storage areas are equipped with overhead travelling cranes for transporting the foam bars, which require additional clearance on top of the storage for the crane runway.

To expand the storage efficiency of buildings, facility management tends to increase the storage height of the foam blocks to heights exceeding 40ft. This comes at the cost of higher ceiling elevations and bigger warehouse capacity, which may often require unfeasible heating powers. Accordingly, fire protection of those facilities introduces a significant challenge for fire engineers. Although dry pipe sprinkler systems are a common fire protection technique for unheated areas, however, their application is limited in such commodities and storage heights.

Advancements in Fire Protection and their Limitations

Dry sprinkler systems are the most common solution for the protection of storage in cold spaces (i.e., areas where freezing is a concern). However, those systems are often limited to storage and ceiling heights, commodities, increased risk of corrosion and volume capacity. Alternatively, several protection technologies evolved in the fire protection industry over the past decade, such as Anti-freeze systems (e.g., Glycol/glycerin), early smoke detection (e.g., Vesda), heat tracing, special sprinkler system (e.g., Quell), etc. However, each technology has some limitations in terms of high installation and maintenance costs, application, and storage height. For instance, Glycol is ignitable, which limits its use in the system, and it requires extensive maintenance and inspection (NFPA 25). Quell system showed a great leap in storage protection in cold configuration, reaching 55ft of storage; however, it is limited to storage of cartoned group A plastics (Tyco, 2021).

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the Series on High Storage of Foam Bars in Unheated Spaces

If you have questions or want to learn more, contact one of our experts at LRI Engineering. 


  • NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.
  • Global Market Insights, 2022
  • Vesda product pamphlet, Xtrails 2022.
  • QUELL™ Cold Storage Fire Protection Flyer, Tyco 2021.
  • IPF – Ingeniería del Poliuretano Flexible brochure for storage and handling of long foam bars.
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