Building codes nickle and dime server room cooling and me
August 3, 2007 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone help or point me in the right direction as regards CA building codes in relation to server rooms and cooling or how do you accommodate this if you are too small to need the big company solution.

Our servers are stored in a closet room rather than a dedicated server space, which runs off the main AC. The building AC is switched off during the weekend, which even with the server closet door open, results in temps that a little high for my liking.
Now the simple solution would be to drop in a standalone AC unit in there, however my boss knows 'something' about building codes as it relates to enclosed spaces which require separate or dedicated cooling (i.e. server rooms) and even shoving in a small portable AC unit would officially send us down this this path, ergo big time costs around all that a big company server room would entail, i.e. fire suppression etc.
Can anyone point me in the direction of the code or where to get started to understand this? We are in California, and it is not an option to get the owners to leave the AC running in our space. Thanks all!
posted by clarkie666 to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
 
It sounds like your boss is talking about the server room being classified as a different occupancy type than the rest of the office, and thus requiring some sort of area separation wall between the spaces. I can do some research, but I've never seen any instance where the code cares about where you have air conditioning. I'll check, though. For reference, I'll be checking the 2001 CBC (which is current in the state of California). Local codes and code interpretations will also apply. But I'll come back to this later.
posted by LionIndex at 9:44 AM on August 3, 2007


"California" may not be specific enough. Your profile says San Francisco, is that where this property is? SF has their own building ordinance. Note: I edit the building ordinances for Chicago which are also available at the American Legal site. Comparing what we publish and what American Legal has, their's are woefully incomplete. I'm obviously biased in this regard, but just giving you a heads up that what you're looking for may not be there. You may want to purchase a print copy or see if the main branch of the SF library system has a municipal code section. Go ahead and ask them.

Skimming Chicago's building code, it looks like mechanical refrigeration/cooling does not require ventilation to outside for areas not intended for human occupancy. But you should obviously check with the SF or other applicable building ordinance first.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:59 AM on August 3, 2007


Stand-alone air conditioners may not work quite as well in a closet as you think they will. They do blow cold air out the front, but they pipe hot air out the back. In order to get the hot air out of the room, you need to have a well-insulated vent connected from the air conditioner to a location outside of the room (up into a drop ceiling, or into a vent to the outside). If that venting isn't well sealed or well insulated, the heat just goes right out the vent back into the room and the temperature stabilizes.

If you're talking a few degrees, you can get it to work. If you need to drop the temperature 25 degrees on weekends (our server closet was going up to *110* without HVAC on the weekends when I joined the company I worked for), on the other hand, it'd likely pay to have it professionally done.

Faced with this same problem, we had a smallish split-unit air conditioner installed in our closet, which has dedicated piping to a condenser on the roof. We hired a reputable code consultant to assist us with code issues, as the code is as complex as the legal code, based on a large number of variables, and is best left to the professionals.

In this room, we turned out to not face code issues, as the closet had been built out as a telco/electric room already, with the appropriate fire suppression (which often is necessary in a server closet in CA). Our split-unit works great. Assume it'll cost $15-20k or so to do it completely right.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 10:09 AM on August 3, 2007


A decent skim of the code didn't turn up anything for me, either by going through the index looking for electrical cabinets or computer rooms, or by going through the occupancy classes in chapter 3 (typically an office would be a B occupancy, while the best I can figure for a server closet would be a Type S, Division 1). But looking at the other answers here, it seems there's something to your boss' concern.

Generally speaking though, the code doesn't worry about air conditioning at all, so having that trigger whatever conditions your boss is worried about would be a new situation to me. Generally, requirements are triggered by floor area or volume, or what's being stored or done in a room (hazmats and manufacturing and the like). Of course, I'm looking in the Building Code, not the Electrical or Fire Code.
posted by LionIndex at 12:31 PM on August 3, 2007


Some clues on where to look may be found in this article.
posted by LionIndex at 12:34 PM on August 3, 2007


When I built out a five-rack server room in downtown SF 5 years ago, the only code requirement for the room was to have an emergency electrical killswitch. We had about 20K BTU A/C in the ceiling, which worked pretty well.
posted by rhizome at 12:41 PM on August 3, 2007


I know my university has no problems with using a single-room air conditioner for some of their small switching rooms. It's one of the floor units that connects to the outside via a tube through the window, and works great for situations like this. They're cheap and easy to install. You do need to have a nearby window to vent the heat though.

Otherwise, there are small single-room air conditioners that work just like a home air conditioner with a compressor outside. That's what they use for network rooms that don't have easy access to the outside.

And none of these rooms have fire supression or anything fancy, but that's in Ohio.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:48 PM on August 3, 2007


Thanks for the responses all - very useful, I appreciate it. We are in SF as you guessed TV.

Hey IE TAPAS - do you know what they use to define server closet, or what constitutes an electric room or telco room that requires special infrastructure? I will go search the code, but if you know beforehand...we have seven rack servers, 2x UPS, PBX and associated switches, etc. Is it subjective based on an inspection?
posted by clarkie666 at 5:46 PM on August 3, 2007


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