Updated Illinois kitchen exhaust fire code plus some common violations

Every three or four years, the National Fire Prevention Association updates its publication “NFPA 96:  Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations.”  The Illinois Fire Marshal’s office generally adopts this publication as the fire code for these operations in the state, usually a few years behind in order to allow facilities to catch up.

There are not a lot of major changes in the new version of the standard.  It is a worth recalling, though, what the standard is trying to accomplish and what the most common and dangerous violations are. 

What the standard is trying to accomplish

The authors might feel that this is an oversimplification and want to add more detail, but to a large degree the purpose of the standard could be described as:

  • Recognize that commercial cooking puts fuel in the form of grease vapor that sticks to the exhaust system right above a heat source, namely the cooking surface, and minimize the risk from that
  • Reduce the chances of a fire starting by setting standards that limit the fuel load and make it more difficult for the fuel that is there to ignite
  • Ensure that fire suppression and fire extinguishing systems are in place and functional
  • Limit the damage from any fire that might ignite, also by limiting the fuel load, and by setting standards for the integrity of the system and the distance from the system to combustibles outside the system
  • Ensuring that the system is accessible for regular cleaning, and that the cleaning happens

The most common/dangerous violations

  • Poor system integrity.  HVAC systems can be made of sheet metal, but kitchen grease exhaust systems need to be able to contain a fire.  Ductwork must be made of carbon steel or stainless steel, and joints must be continuously welded.  Access panels must be greasetight with a gasket rated up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, it is too easy for flames to escape.
  • Poor system access.  Unless a system is crawlable, the standard says that there must be access every 12 feet on horizontal ductwork and on every floor for vertical ductwork.  If a cleaner can’t get to it, they can’t clean it, and the grease is just going to keep building up.
  • Lack of hinge kits on rooftop fans.  This makes it difficult to impossible for the cleaning crew to clean the whole fan, and if they are able to remove it to clean it, over time the metal is going to get bent and it will fit in place progressively more poorly. Fans without hinge kits have a shorter life.  Read more about hinge kits here.  We can get them an install them for you, or you can have your HVAC contractor do it.  Just don’t ask us to do it in the current zero-degree temperatures!

How to see the NFPA 96 2021 standard

You can buy a paper copy of the standard at www.nfpa.org for $149 but you can also see it online for free if you’re willing to create a free account by giving your email and creating a password.  From the homepage, click “For Professionals” and then choose “List of Codes and Standards”.  Enter NFPA 96 in the search bar, and when it shows you the 2024 edition, click the red “Read More” oval under the picture of it.  Then scroll down under “Current and Prior Editions” and look under the Editions header for a dropdown menu that’s currently set for the 2024 edition. Click on the little down arrow at the right to open a dropdown menu and select the 2021 edition.  Click on the red “Free Access” oval to the right and that’s when you’ll probably be asked to create an account and accept the terms. From there, you’re in! 

Got questions?

Give us a call at 630-595-4242, or call your Airways salesperson directly.