High Storage of Foam Bars in Unheated Spaces – Part 2 – Limitations

Author: Bishoy Awad, Ph.D


In the realm of warehouse management and fire protection engineering, the storage of foam bars in high-piled configurations within unheated spaces is a common challenge. Foam manufacturing is essential in various industries, attributed to a combination of unique properties and advantages that make it highly desirable. In the quest for maximizing storage efficiency and operational convenience, warehouses often utilize high-ceiling warehouses equipped with overhead travelling cranes. These cranes play a pivotal role in the handling and storage of foam bars, enhancing the logistical capabilities of warehouses while ensuring the accessibility and organization of these crucial fire protection assets. Simultaneously, the decision to maintain these warehouse areas unheated is often made to reduce operational costs.

Travelling crane runway typical section

However, the interplay of factors such as unheated spaces, high storage configurations, lofty ceiling heights, and the intrinsic nature of foam bars as exposed plastics significantly complicates the realm of fire protection considerations for these warehouses. These factors introduce a multitude of challenges that demand innovative and tailored fire protection solutions to ensure the safety and security of both assets and personnel within these unique storage environments.

Block Storage Facility Illustration (Photo Coutrsey IPF)

What is the problem?

A thorough review of the applicable codes, including the Building Codes, NFPA 13, and FM Global DS 8-9, has revealed a notable gap in technical substantiation and guidance concerning dry and pre-action sprinkler protection systems for the specific commodity and storage configurations in question. This gap becomes particularly significant due to the prohibition of Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) heads on dry systems, thereby limiting the choice of sprinkler heads to either the Control Mode Density Area (CMDA) or the Control Mode Special Application (CMSA) heads.

Regarding NFPA 13, which outlines the installation standards for sprinkler systems, the options for safeguarding exposed expanded plastics are currently confined to wet systems exclusively for CMSA applications and, in the case of CMDA applications, storage heights up to 35 feet. Similarly, Factory Mutual (FM) Global’s data sheet 8-9, which pertains to the storage of Class 1, 2, 3, 4, and plastic commodities, provides limited design criteria, allowing for uncartoned (i.e., exposed) expanded Group A plastics to be stored up to 25 feet in height and with a ceiling height of 35 feet.

These findings underscore the pressing need for further research, development, and refinement of fire protection standards and practices in the specific context of dry and pre-action sprinkler systems for storage configurations involving exposed expanded plastics. Addressing these gaps in guidance is paramount to ensuring the safety and fire protection of such storage facilities effectively.


  • IPF – Ingeniería del Poliuretano Flexible brochure for storage and handling of long foam bars.
  • NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.
  • OBC, Ontario Building Code 2012
  • FM Global Data Sheet 8-9 (Storage of Class 1, 2, 3, 4 and Plastic Commodities)
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