Warehouse Racking Permits In California - Know Before You Buy

Many California cities (Folsom, San Jose, West Sacramento, Dublin, Richmond and others) require a permit for warehouse racks taller than 5’ 9”. The state of California also requires warehouse pallet racks meet seismic (earthquake) code. Before you buy pallet racks from the east coast, Canada, or elsewhere, find out what you need to know about installing pallet racks, or other warehouse shelving.

Warehouse Storage Rack Permits

When applying for a permit, the fire department will always be involved. They need to sign off on your racking system for your safety and theirs. A large job may require a separate analysis by a licensed fire engineer to ensure there is adequate fire protection within the building.

Generally speaking, storage racks taller than 5’ 9” require a permit. Storing products in concentrated small spaces is by creates the potential for a fire hazard. Anything over 12 feet is considered high pile because of the increased amount of material that can burn and because certain storage methods impact fire behavior.

The fire department looks at several factors before granting approval. Considerations vary by area, but here are a few common ones to know

– The maximum storage height (top of beam plus the pallet)
– Is there at least 18” clearance below the sprinkler head?  Greater clearance may be required depending on the products being stored.
– How densely is the product being stored? In-rack sprinklers are sometimes required.
– How combustible is the product? For example, Class III plastics  are more volatile than: Groups A, B (class IV) or C .
– How many sprinkler heads are there?
– What is the temperature at the sprinkler head? At the ceiling?
– What other features does the building have: smoke vents, draft curtains, smoke detection systems?

A properly-designed system will include flue space between pallet loads. This space allows heat from a fire to vent upwards, cueing the sprinkler system to activate sooner. Solid deck systems typically require in-rack sprinklers, but wire decks may not as water and other suppressants can flow through and around them.

This is in addition to the seismic engineering required for the building department. They need to make sure the rack you’re placing in the warehouse will hold the weight of the product.

Pallet Racks and California Seismic Code

There are plenty of racks produced on the east coast (and elsewhere) for California. The manufacturers are aware of the extra bracing, larger footplates, stronger uprights and load beams needed. However, there are also a lot of rack dealers that sell rack by the piece or truckload for a price that is too good to be true….it generally is.

Some won’t tell you their rack doesn’t meet CA standards, some will. Some companies purchase sub-standard rack anyway because it’s less money. But, will it pass inspection? More importantly, how much will it end up costing you to fix?

When purchasing rack, spend a little time upfront and ask for the seismic calculations for your address. This will save you a boatload of headaches as you move forward.

There was a company that purchased a mezzanine system along with rack from a vendor in Canada. It was a good product, well built, and the price was 25% less than what they were quoted in California. The local building department looked over the plans with the engineered drawings provided by the manufacturer and the plans were rejected do to the lack of seismic details required for California. Not only that, the cost to bring the material up to code was twice the cost of what it would have cost to buy the racks in California to begin with.

The customer was out the original dollars, plus shipping and had to spend the money to purchase all new product from the correct vendor. Needless to say, the purchasing agent was no longer with the company.

Can You Install Warehouse Racking Without a Permit?

Can you? Yes. Should you? We don’t recommend it. Installing without a permit sets the stage for a lot of headache and heartache. Unfortunately, some businesses take the chance and do it anyway. Ultimately, you are responsible for the permitting for the rack.

Worse case: the city can make you take it all down, fine you,  have you apply for a permit and prove the rack you purchased will be adequate for the product you’re storing. It will also have to pass the fire department’s regulations. Also, you’d better hope there isn’t an earthquake or a fire.

Getting a permit can time-consuming and labor-intensive, but it’s better than having the city close you down.  At Total Industries, our experienced team can help you find the right pallet rack and provide a permit package for approval.

What’s Required for a Pallet Racking Permit?

Requirements differ from city to city, but generally the municipality wants to see the configuration for your pallet racks to make sure they don’t create a safety hazard by blocking doors, or creating dead-end aisles. Some cities require detailed drawings of the attachments for the columns and posts along with the method and type of anchors used. You’ll also be asked to provide engineering/seismic calculations for anything weight-bearing or bolted to the floor.

One Last Thing:  another common mistake buyers make is not buying enough racking. Consider buying a racking system with a few extra bays (if your facility has room for them). Your future self will thank you.

The Bottom Line: an inexpensive rack that seems too good to be true – probably is. Do your homework and prevent delays and lost time and money down the road. Work with experienced professionals who can ensure things are done right the first time.

CLICK HERE to request a free pallet racking safety assessment. 


Further Reading:
Overview of Pallet Racking Systems
What to Do When You Run Out of Warehouse Space 
High-Speed Doors – A Simple Way to Save Time and Money