Are Sprinklers Required Above False Ceilings?

hospital1We’re not a sprinkler contractor, but we frequently coordinate sprinker installations with fire alarm installations.  Many design professionals want a single point of contact to ask life safety questions, so I get asked a lot of questions regarding sprinkler requirements.  Here’s one that I researched the answer for:

Q:  Are sprinklers required above false ceilings? I have read through both NFPA 101 and NFPA 72 and was not able to get a clear answer.  For instance, what would apply to a new hospital that is both a ‘Health Care’ and a ‘High Rise’ type of occupancy?

A:  Assuming you’re referring to drop ceilings, the answer to your question is cobbled together by a few codes.  Since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed adopting the 2012 edition of NFPA 101, I’ll start there.  As you may have noticed, the New Health Care Facility chapter in NFPA 101 (Chapter refers to NFPA 101-Chapter (1) for sprinkler requirements. Chapter (1) refers to NFPA 13 for installation requirements, as does NFPA 99 Chapter (Healthcare Facilities Code).  NFPA 13 (2012) Chapter 8.15.1 deals with concealed spaces. is a blanket statement that concealed spaces shall have sprinklers except for the provisions of  I think the exception found in NFPA 13 (2012) Chapter would apply here.  It states:

“Concealed spaces of noncombustible or limited combustible construction with limited access and not permitting occupancy or storage of combustibles shall not require sprinkler protection.”

There is a section in NFPA 13 that deals with spaces above ceilings (Chapter 8.15.23), and it does say that ceilings that are lower than the rest of the area shall have sprinklers, but it also includes the exceptions listed in

Since I’m not sure of the nature of the false ceiling, I’ll mention that the final exception for sprinklers in concealed spaces deals with combustible soffits, eaves, overhangs & decorative frame elements (Chapter  It allows sprinklers to be omitted for these items provided:

  1. They don’t exceed 4’ in width
  2. They are draft-stopped with a material equivalent to that of the soffit, into volumes not exceeding 160 square feet
  3. They are separated from the interior of the building by walls or roofs of noncombustible or limited combustible construction
  4. They have no openings or unprotected penetrations directly into the building.

Based on those code requirements and exceptions, I would say that most instances would not require sprinklers above false ceilings in health care facilities, regardless of height.  However, your state department of public health needs to agree, so as always, run it by them and get a hard copy response to show an inspector should he/she subsequently have a different interpretation.

Thanks for reading and as always, be sure specify and use Gamewell – FCI products for all your life safety needs.

Gene Rowe

About Gene Rowe

Gene Rowe serves as the Director of Business Development for Affiliated Customer Service. He brings twenty three years of fire alarm and emergency voice systems experience to the table with both an operational and marketing viewpoint. A US Army veteran, NICET certified, an executive board member of the IL-AFAA and a member of the NFPA, he began his career establishing operational expertise as a technician, developed graphic skills with CAD design as a general engineer, gained a ‘big picture’ mindset by moving to project management and finally a marketing perspective directing business development efforts. By interfacing with a broad range of diverse organizations such as the AFAA, CAA, AIA, CEA and the IFIA, he combines concerns of the owner, designer of record, contractor, distributor and approving authority to bring a unique perspective to Affiliated.

An avid marathon runner, he resides in west suburban Chicago with his wife and two sons. He's served the community as a Cub Scout Leader, as well as coaching multiple levels of travel and park district basketball and baseball teams. Professionally, he serves as the Treasurer and is on the Board of Directors for the Illinois chapter of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (IL-AFAA).


  1. may I ask, because, in our hospital, they said that sprinkler system must not be installed inside patients rooms.why is it so? i am searching here on internet for an answer but i cannot find one.please help.thank you so much

    • Hi Noela,

      Per NFPA 101 Chapter and the IBC Section 903.2.6, sprinklers are required in hospitals. In fact, not only are sprinklers required in hospitals, per NFPA 101 Chapter and IBC section 903.3.2(1), patient rooms are supposed to have quick response type sprinkler heads. The only time sprinklers are not supposed to be installed in certain sections of hospitals are in areas where the introduction of water would actually make matters worse (NFPA 101 Chapter and IBC Section 903. Of course, the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (fire department, health standard enforcement agency, etc.) has final say, so I’d look in the local municipal codes for this exception if it’s coming from the AHJ. However, if the local AHJ is citing NFPA or the IBC as the reason to not put sprinklers in patient rooms, they’re misinformed. If it’s not an AHJ that’s requiring this, I’d keep the sprinklers in until the AHJ says to remove them. I can’t think of a logical reason to eliminate sprinklers from hospital patient rooms, but sometimes people think that life sustaining equipment that may be in the room would stop working if it got wet. Remembering that sprinklers only activate when temperatures at the ceiling reach a sustained high temperature, the fire that is generating that heat is by far a greater threat to life in a patient room than what the potential of malfunctioning equipment is.

      Let me know if you have any questions or need additional information. Thanks for visiting our website and be sure to specify Gamewell-FCI for you fire alarm/voice communication requirements!

      Gene Rowe
      Affiliated Fire Systems
      Downers Grove, IL

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