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Grant Hart Podcast: Chemical Storage Buildings

Grant Hart: Chemical Storage Buildings Transcript (Run Time: 22:49)

Grant Hart


Kristi: This is the CP Lab Safety Learning Center Podcast, I’m Kristi Brekhus

Kristi: Purchasing a chemical storage building can be a daunting task. There’s a lot of different elements to consider: Where should the building be located? How is it installed? How can I make sure it’s compliant? I reached out to Chemical Storage Building expert Grant Hart to shed some light on the purchasing process and what to expect when you’re in the market for a building. Grant has over 20 years of experience with outdoor chemical storage buildings and is the Principal Consultant at Chemical Storage Consulting LLC, let’s see what he had to say.


Kristi: Hi Grant, this is Kristi with CP Lab Safety. How are you today?

Grant: I’m delightful, how about yourself?

Kristi: I’m just the same! Okay, so let’s start off at the beginning. Why would I need a storage building?

Grant: There are a number of reasons why. Probably the first and foremost is that you have an amount of chemicals that are above what we call the maximum allowable quantity, or MAQ, that you can store in the area that you’re using them or inside where you’re storing them, then you would need to get them in a separate place in a chemical storage building. That building could either be inside your plant used as a room or it could be just outside your plant as a separate building.
The other reason that you might need one is if you buy chemicals in bulk, that would be in 3, 4, 5 or 6 IBCs at the same time, or several pallets of drums at the same time, and you may need to store those in a safe place, again away from the area of use, and under those conditions, under those circumstances, you would need a building or somewhere to store those chemicals. Also, if you store various chemicals, such as turf chemicals for a golf course, you might need to have chemical storage building to store all that material in.

Kristi: Alright, perfect. So, can you give me a quick rundown on the types of storage buildings?

Grant: Yeah, they fall into 2 basic types. One would be a storage building for material that’s moved with a forklift and that would be either drums on pallets or perhaps intermediate bulk containers or IBCs. That would lead you to need what we call, what some manufacturers call cabinets, the generic term in the industry is a rack storage building. And, essentially, it’s a large storage rack that’s surrounded by a building and there’s doors on it. So, it’s rack inside a structure. The other option would be if you had individual drums or you have 5 Gallon containers or gallons or bags then you would want… if your moving them individually, then you would want a walk-in style building that has a door that you can walk in and perhaps see shelving where you can store your materials.

Kristi: Okay, Do the walk-in ones tend to be larger?

Grant: No, they can be… I mean, a walk-in can be, you know, 6’ x 6’ inside or it can be 12’ x 50’.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: you know, they pretty much go from that small to… 12’ x 50’, the only real restriction there is anything over 12 feet is very difficult to ship over the highway. And second, 50 feet is about the length, with some overhang, of an over the road trailer. So, that’s really where that number comes from so it’s easy to ship.

Kristi: I understand, That makes sense. What does a fire rating mean and how would I know which one I need?

Grant: The fire rating is the… the rated fire resistance time of the wall and typically it’s either a 2 hour or 4 hour and the way you find out what you need is really to answer a number of the other questions that we’ll talk about down the road, and without jumping ahead too far, they are chemical and placement specific. In other words, what are you going to put in there and where on your property are you going to put the building… and the answers to those questions plus how much you have will define which fire rating you’ll need, if any.

Kristi: Okay, So what is the difference between a 2-hour and 4-hour fire rating?

Grant: The structural difference is that there’s more fire rated material. Typically, within the industry, we use dry-wall or sheetrock.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: And the answer lies in how much drywall or sheetrock is in the wall, how many layers of what thickness.

Kristi: Alright, cool, I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting.

Grant: There’s actually, I mean, it isn’t theoretical or prescription. It’s done by test and there’s a standard test, a standard temperature curve, that you use and the idea is that it takes… in the case of 2-hours, 120 minutes, for the fire to breach the wall. There is no what we call a temperature curve in that there is no requirement that the temperature on the other side of the wall, while it’s being tested, there’s no limit to how far the temperature can rise. There are some tests that are also involving temperature rise, in other words, not only can they [the fires] can’t breach for 2 hours or 4 hours but also the temperature cannot rise above a certain point before it breaches. And then in particular cases, the test we use there is no temperature requirement, just a burn through requirement.

Kristi: Okay. What are a few guidelines to follow to ensure my storage building is compliant?

Grant: The most important thing anyone can do is to talk to their local AHJ or Authority Having Jurisdiction and, in most cases, that’s going to be the local Fire Marshall or the Fire Marshall that’s responsible for your particular site. In some cases, it’s the state Fire Marshall and in some cases it’s the local Fire Marshall. That’s the individual that ultimately has to sign off on where you place the storage building and whether the quantities are compliant and the storage is compliant itself.

Kristi: Okay, so they would um, yeah, they would give you the kind of guidelines you would need to follow?

Grant: Yeah, Sometimes, this is a little off the track, but sometimes they’re better than others at saying “this has to happen,” but yeah, they will normally give you guidelines as to what you can store and where you can put it.

Kristi: Okay. And so, when someone, this is just a quick question that popped into my head, when someone purchases this and then it’s installed do they usually have the Fire Marshall come out and sign off on it?

Grant: That’s a good question. Usually the process works this way: The Fire Marshall will meet with the customer. We will work in conjunction with you, with the client, to determine to our best ability what it is that they need. Then they can either take the quote that we provide to their Fire Marshall so they can have a discussion but, also, we would supply a drawing when the order’s placed, before we do what we call “release for fabrication”, which means we’re starting to spend money by buying material and expending labor. So, we would send that drawing and we would ask that the customer sign off on that drawing before we release for fabrication. And what we always recommend is that drawing be part of their discussion with the Authority having Jurisdiction, with the Fire Marshall, “This is a picture of what I’m going to put in and is that all okay” and we generally recommend that those discussions take place before the customer signs off on the drawing and that way they have their approval before they ever spend any money.

Kristi: Yeah, that’s good. Okay.

Grant: and you know, in some cases, there’s other things that the Fire Marshall may want, questions they may want, certain parts of the drawing to be certified by a local engineer, things of that nature. And so, we’d rather have those things take place before the building gets on site.

Kristi: Yeah. It’s better to be safe. In case of a chemical spill, do the storage buildings have any features, for instance, a sump to meet EPA requirements?

Grant: Yes, That’s a general requirement. The standards, the NFPA 30, has a Chapter 14 that addresses hazardous material storage buildings, they call lockers. Factory Mutual has what they call, I don’t know if it’s a standard, I don’t know what they call it, but it’s a 6049 which also addresses a sump and most storage buildings minimum is 10 percent of the aggregate volume. If you have 20 drums you would have the capacity for 2 drums or 100% of the largest container so if it’s a 55 Gallon drum you would have 55 Gallons. Now there are other local standards that may require more than that and you need to follow those as well, need to know about them and make adjustments to the sump, and that’s a standard sump as it comes.

Kristi: Okay.

Grant: 10% of the aggregate volume or the largest container, whichever is the greater.

Kristi: Yeah, it makes sense. What accessories are offered for storage buildings?

Grant: Almost anything you can imagine. The standard, no really, seriously, I can’t tell ya all the different weird things I’ve done. The standard things are, really there’s probably about 5 or 6 of them. one of them is a fan, and that would be an explosion resistant fan, to draw air through the building, or to evacuate fumes. Second would be a light, which in most cases would be an explosion proof light, and obviously the number of lights varies as to the size of the building. And there is a fire suppression system typically an ABC dry chemical fire suppression system and the reason that we… that we use dry chemicals is that we don’t have to worry about containing sprinkler water, and also in a building put in an outside condition, there’s the potential for freezing. Freezing conditions and sprinkler systems just simply don’t get along. The things you have to do to make a sprinkler system not susceptible to freezing are very very complicated and expensive so especially when we put a building outdoors we always recommend a dry chemical fire suppression system when one is required or requested.

Kristi: Okay.

Grant: The other things you might find are liquid leak detector, where there is a detector in the sump that will alarm if the liquid level gets to a certain point. There is also a vapor detector that is set to respond to a certain level of hydrocarbon vapor. And those are typically designed, without getting too technical, every hydrocarbon has a limit, a vapor percentage limit, above which and below which it will not cause an explosion. In other words, if you have not enough vapor, below the explosive limit, a spark won’t cause an explosion because there’s not enough fuel there. If you get to the explosive limit where there’s a spark there would be an explosion if there’s vapor. Then you get above that it’s like the flooding of a gasoline engine, there’s too much fuel there, so you can’t get it to start, so there won’t be an explosion. That’s called the upper explosive limit or… or above where you can’t get an explosion and in between the lower and the upper is where you want to measure so if you have a vapor detector you’re going to want to set that vapor detector to alarm before you get into the explosive range is where I was going with this.

Kristi: Yeah

Grant: So, the vapor detector detects vapor, a liquid level detector actually detects the level of liquid so those are two different options and then beyond that, you might get a heater and an air conditioner and that’s pretty much the standard… and a ramp. That pretty much the standard set of options or accessories. Now we’ve done all kinds of things, sinks and desks, worktables …all kinds of things like that, the fan, the light, the heater, the air conditioner, the liquid level detector, the vapor detector, the fire suppression system, and the ramp are probably the most common.

Kristi: Okay. And these are all items that are usually added on to an order. But when someone orders a storage building what is usually included. Is it just he building itself? None of these other things like lights or anything?

Grant: Nope, you get a building and a door.

Kristi: Okay.

Grant: and a sump, obviously. A sump and a door, that’s all you get. And then you add the other stuff.

Kristi: Like the racks and all that will be added in after?

Grant: In a rack storage unit the rack come as a part of it.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: The shelving in the building would not come as part of the building. I forgot shelving. That would be a common option as well.

Kristi: Okay. So what information should I gather before reaching out to companies inquiring about quotations for buildings?

Grant: I have really, kind of, three things or four depending on how your building is: How, Where, What and How Much? How are you handling the material? Where do you plan to place the building? And what is the material you’re trying to store and how much do you have? So there you go.

Kristi: Well, thank you! That’s actually, that’s very very useful. I like it. It’s simple. Do they come pre-assembled?

Grant: Yes, with few exceptions. Perhaps assembly of shelving, the dry chemical system would need to be, what we call charged and armed, it has to be charged and armed, because you don’t want it to go off in shipment. So those are small thing, but in terms of piping and electrical, everything comes assembled the electrical is routed to a load center, a box with circuit breakers in it so the electrical service can be ran to the building, and everything else is pre-wired.

Kristi: Okay.

Grant: So, yes, pretty much pre-assembled.

Kristi: That’s Nice. How should a storage building be installed? Does it need to be anchored? And if yes, from what point?

Grant: A storage building, again, with few exceptions, needs to be installed on a level concrete slab. And the specification for the slab need to be obtained from the specific manufacturer of the building. Many have different weight loading requirements and how the bottoms of their buildings are constructed. But in general, you’re going to need to pour a concrete slab, it’s going to need to have footers that are compliant with the local weather conditions. Where here, in Minnesota, the footers may have to be 4 feet deep, in Arizona they might not have to be 4 feet deep, because of frost. So, you need to have… it’s going to be installed on a concrete pad, and yes it needs to be anchored, and there are anchoring points on every building typically there’s four two on each end. They’re typically anchored with what we call wedge bolts.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: The industry norm, if you will, is ¾“ wedge bolt with the length determined, usually the company that does the building will have calculations done and say,“Okay you’ll need ‘x’, if your going to use a cement slab for your specifications, you’re going to need a wedge bolt that’s ‘x’ inches long and you’ll have to drill it into the concrete to tighten it down.” That could vary, there’s two reasons: one, you don’t want it to go anywhere and two, if you in an area for potential high wind, such as the coastal areas from Roussel, TX to New York City or above, you know, the east coast coast or if you’re where the ground shakes occasionally, you need to make sure the thing is anchored down properly.

Kristi: Okay. How is it delivered and what do we need for delivery?

Grant: The typical delivery is the building will arrive on a flatbed truck. Depending upon the size of the building, the customer will either need a forklift or a crane to get it off the truck and set it in the appropriate place.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: And you’ll need to have, once it’s set in place, obviously you’ll need to anchor it, and if there’s electrical you’ll need to have an electrician come in and hook up the electrical. And usually the customer will have run the electrical out to the slab in preparation of the arrival.

Kristi: Okay. Good to know. How long does a storage building take to arrive?

Grant: That depends upon the loading at the particular factory where they’re built. The manufacturer in the industry try to keep a lead time in the 6 – 8 weeks range. When they get busy, they have limited capacity, so when they get busy that could go out to 8 to 10 to 12 weeks. So, a good lead time, I would say, is 8 to 10 weeks. It could be shorter.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: and then there are, if there is special engineering that’s required, the customer says, “I need special engineering drawings for my Fire Marshall, Building Inspector” or whatever the situation is, those tend to take a couple of weeks too. So, you would end up adding a couple of weeks to the lead time.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: Because you can’t build it until… if you have to have drawings done and stamped by an engineer, you can’t build the building until you have the stamped drawings, because if the engineer makes any minor changes past that phase of production it’s very expensive to go back.

Kristi: Yeah, I could see that. Is there anything I haven’t asked you but it’s important for me to know?

Grant: Yes, I did make a couple of notes. One of them is you need to ask them if they have any chemicals that are not compatible.

Kristi: Okay

Grant: And the most common case being acids and bases. We see a number of cases where production facilities will have acids and bases and they usually know not to store them together but we always ask. There’s two options there, one is to have a separate building for each, for the acids and the bases, and the second one is to have a building with a split sump.

Kristi: Oh, okay, yeah.

Grant: Where you store the acids on one side and the bases on the other. Back on accessories for a second, I should have mentioned that most manufacturers will offer, especially if they’re working with high pH or low pH chemicals, they will offer a special lining for the sump. Sometimes it’s a coating, sometimes it’s a polyethylene sheet lining. And they will also offer as a substitute, for a cost of course, the typical grating is going to be a galvanized material, usually galvanized steel, some of the more aggressive chemicals don’t play well with the galvanized, there’s chemicals that don’t play will with zinc. So, they will offer a fiberglass grating which is a substitution for the galvanized.

Kristi: Okay.

Grant: And it’s more expensive, that’s why it’s important for us to know what chemicals we’re working with.

Kristi: Yeah, compatibility is always an issue.

Grant: Right, right. And the other thing is, are the materials, especially in Livermore, California, or in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are the chemicals temperature sensitive? Are, yeah, are they sensitive to heat or the cold and what happens, you know. They say, “yeah we need to keep it below seventy degrees.” What happens when it gets above seventy degrees? Is, you know… is.. are we going to take out an entire city?

Kristi: Yeah, right.

Grant: or is it just, yeah, or is it just the chemicals spoil? You know… and can no longer be used. We use the answers to those type of questions to craft the type of cooling that we might provide. If there’s the possibility that we’re going to take out an entire city, then we may look at using redundant cooling which of course makes the cost go up. And if it’s just the chemical spoils we may not use as expensive a cooling system in an attempt to get within the customer’s budget.

Kristi: Yeah

Grant: And the same things for heating, you know. Does it freeze or does it spoil? I had a customer one time that had a solution that when the temperature got below a certain temperature, below a certain point, the solution precipitated and what they had to do then was warm it back up and mix it to get everything to re-dissolve. So those are just the little things that you would like to know going in so you craft the appropriate response.

Kristi: Yeah, definitely. Anything else you’d like to add?

Grant: I don’t think so… I think we really pretty much covered all the bases.

Kristi: Yeah, thank you for taking the time!

Grant: I very much appreciate you guys giving me the opportunity.

Kristi: Yeah, so have a great weekend!

Grant: And the same to you guys!

Kristi: You’ll be hearing from me soon.

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