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Zoning - commercial or industrial (Texas)


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Look for an un zoned, county (no city) or agricultural area that can still draw the crowd you want. I'm in a rural area where the only entity interested in me are the water and septic inspectors.

It does not have to be Industrial or Commercial to satisfy the Fed.

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I too am looking for a location for a distillery in the Houston area, but I'm up in Montgomery County, so the rules may be just a tad different.  At any rate, here's some of the things I've found:

Houston is the only major city without zoning.  There are restrictions on building within neighborhoods, but there are no commercial / industrial zones that I know of that are codified by the City of Houston.

Properties are more plentiful down in H-town compared to where I'm looking, so you may have more luck.  You should be able to find an industrial warehouse that suits your needs.  If you've got a TON of money, then you can build a place suited to your needs.

More stuff that I found:

Sprinklered or non-sprinklered?

Non-sprinklered buildings have a maximum allowable quantity of 120 gallons of class 1B flammable liquid (ethanol) per control area.  If you go over the maximum allowable quantity, then you're classified as H-3, which requires sprinklers and adequate ventilation.  Even though the International Fire Code (IFC) says there's a exception for alcohol in barrels, that exception does not exist in the International building code (IBC), thus the rule holds.  At any rate, if you cannot store more than 120 gallons, then that can make things difficult.  You can have up to 4 control areas per building, separated by walls with 1 hour fire resistance.  Still this maxes you out at 480 gallons, including tha which you have in process.

Another option is to store outside, provided of course that you can secure it.  To do this, there are limitations on how many gallons you can have in one "pile" (2200 gallons) but you have to be 50' from the property line and from buildings.  If you limit your piles to less than half (1100 gallons), then you can halve the distance (25').  Again, providing you have the property space for this.

The other option is sprinklered.  If you sprinkler a building, the WHOLE building must be sprinklered OR you have a 3 hour fire barrier (seriously heavy wall) to separate you from your neighbors.  The best option is to find a building that is already sprinklered.  Installation cost is ~$2.5/ft plus the cost of getting water to the building.  You have to be close to a fire line (water) that can supply a TON of water, in the neighborhood of 1000 gpm.  You'll also have to have a hydrant within 100' of the building where you put the Fire Department connection (FDC) or pay for a vault and remote FDC.  (expensive!)  Ethanol storage is considered "Extra Hazard - Group 2", requiring .40 gpm/sq.ft.

Again, find a building that's already sprinklered, it'll make your life a lot easier. 

Best of luck


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  • 2 weeks later...

This is a friend of my moms for several decades.   He used to own a chain of liquor stores and has done commercial real estate for a long time.

Bob Christy (713) 419-3824

He is a nice guy and can definitely help you find a building.


har Mls

These two sites will help you find Light industrial or Heavy Indistrial buildings.  I'd say close to all heavy industrial buildings are sprinkled.  Most newer light industrial will be as well.  H-3 occupancy pretty much makes it mandatory.  There are some exceptions but honestly it's best if you can afford it. 

I'd look around hardy toll Rd between spring and greenspoint or maybe even a little farther or off 290 maybe around beltway 8 so you can get into a really industrial area with good truck access and no one will complain about odors.

one other thing to consider... Use permits or allowed use for distillery being a right for that zoning and not having to wait for a public use hearing.  If zoning specifically allows it then you won't be obligated to appease neighbors complaints.  Obviously in Houston this is less concerning than Sonoma county California but still... Something to consider.

if you look really at the actual downtown area or midtown there may be some real nice spots for storefront sales if that is possible.  

I would say with midtown hipster explosion that I'd probably consider that area if I were ever to go back.  

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Man, all I can say is that you need to find locations, zoned or otherwise, sprinkled or not, that your local code enforcement people are square with you using.  If your occupancy use codes don't match up, if it's gonna be contentious, or if you have to install fire suppression or other hazard mitigation, this is going to affect your business planning significantly.  You need to talk to these people (at codes, zoning or permitting) in your county and feel them out.

Just a small note:

H-3 is great.  Find something stand-alone and sprinkled if you can. It'll make getting any subsequent permits (building or occupancy) easier. 

Granted the enforcement of usage code, permitting, zoning, etc is different for every municipality, but deserves a word of real caution.

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Don't hold me to these numbers or logic, i'm not an expert, rely on a fire engineer - just venting...

 I can't believe those sprinkler requirements.  That's an insane amount of water.  

I don't understand the logic.... ethanol isn't flammable below 100 proof (50%).  

  • Anything under 50% shouldn't count towards fire risk.  Do they have breweries count the 5% in their beer???   
  • Whiskey generally is stored at 125 proof or 65%.... if i spray the top of a fire with a little water it'll dilute the whiskey to 50% pretty quick....  
  • A fire on the ground the same thing - 65% alcohol when burned will burn at most 10% by volume...   if you put just a little water in it .2 gallons per gallon its below 50%....  .
  • If there is a fire from a spill it will be a flash fire then be out.... the sprinklers will be too late anyways.  its better to focus on fire control
  • Barrels are moist - i wouldn't imagine that they would start on fire from a flash fire - its got to be more sustained to catch the wood on fire. 

The math doesn't add up for the hazard.   I can see a sprinkler for the area around the still.

 But the idea that you need that much water for barrels or other areas seems more than a little excessive.....  

  • How do they imagine these fires will start and last long enough to burn through a barrel???
  • It seems like a good fire protection plan and minimizing the quantity of high proof spirits that can be spilled in one accident  or  the rate you pump it to keep it to a manageable level... along with  (electrical classification, strict no smoking policies, minimal storage of NGS) would be sufficient.  

Not saying your fire engineer is wrong - but did they do any math to help you solve your problem at all???  

None of this may matter to zoning people.... any experience making these arguments to the fire marshal?

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There are quite a few distilleries that have blown up, be warned.  This is not a joke and a few have died.  At ADI last year there was a member who survived an explosion and another who unfortunately did not who may have been his family member.  I know I always thought it would be cool to have my family around helping. I went to meet this crazy smart kinda quirky family who did everything together in Seattle and were very handy building their own stuff.  Made me happy seeing them doing everything that way:  not the same feeling in regard to explosion danger with my family.  H-3 is going to require sprinklers... So get used to that but the area with the liquor and stills are the required sprinklers do areas.  Not all have to be sprinkled if you had to be sparse.

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i'm not saying it is a joke - at all, i apologize if i made it seem that i thought so. I agree completely.  I appreciate caution and I agree, doing things right is absolutely required. Again, not an expert, seek your own advice, i'm just trying to work this out.

As you said - several have blown up.  I'm not sure how how a sprinkler, in itself, is going to prevent a still from exploding.  

from what i've read, again might be wrong, most explosions occur because of over pressure of vessels or vapor cloud ignition.    

  • Vapor cloud explosions require vapor - this is might be a concern around the still.   Do you turn sprinklers on when you detect vapor?? or do you use fans to change air?
  • Overpressure, from what i can tell, of a still has nothing to do with a sprinkler system.  This is about making sure the still relieves pressure to a safe location before it gets too high and limiting the amount of heat at the boiler.

vapor explosions from what i've read require limiting releases of vapor\spills and controlling ignition sources (area class).  Sprinkers could be used for vapor suppression = but i'm not sure that anyone uses them this way with their gas detectors - otherwise sprinkers seem better for fires not explosions or vapor cloud explosions. Air change outs around the still, limiting the amount of release around the still, keeping ignition sources and static hazards down\eliminated, properly designed relief on a still, and being very careful around NGS....

I guess the point was - it seems like lower proof liquids are closer to combustibles than flammables and seem like they would not provide the vapor required for an explosion or sustained fire. 

thanks again for bringing up safety.

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You guys have to quit trying to use logic.  The Fire Marshal could not care less about what you "think".  They follow the International Fire Code (IFC), the International Building Code (IBC), and the codes produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).  Many localities have their own local version of these codes, where they insert their own little modifications, but these are largely the rules we all have to follow.  If you happen to be in an unincorporated area of a rural county which has no fire marshal, then you can probably do whatever you think is right.  However, you do this at your own peril.  Also, if you do not follow these rules, you may also have issues getting insurance than if you do.

In short, as defined by "the codes" ethanol is a Class 1B Flammable liquid until you proof it down, then it's a Class 1C Flammable Liquid.  These classifications drive the building occupancy and how you design your plant.  Occupancy, sprinkler systems, storage limits, these all are interrelated and include the classification of the liquid you're storing.  And no, sprinklers won't do diddly for an explosion, but it will help keep that initial fire from turning into a complete loss of the property.

References:  These data can be found in many sources.

Flammable liquids shall be known as Class I liquids. Class I liquids are divided into three classes as follows:

(i) Class IA shall include liquids having flashpoints below 73 F (22.8 C) and having a boiling point below 100 F (37.8 C).

(ii) Class IB shall include liquids having flashpoints below 73 F (22.8 C) and having a boiling point at or above 100 F (37.8 C).

(iii) Class IC shall include liquids having flashpoints at or above 73 F (22.8 C) and below 100 F (37.8 C).  

Ethanol has a boiling point of  78.37 °C (173.07 °F) and its flash point is dependent on proof.  See table below.  

The flash points of ethanol wt % concentrations[103]
wt % Temperature
10% 49 °C (120 °F)
20% 36 °C (97 °F)
30% 29 °C (84 °F)
40% 26 °C (79 °F)
50% 24 °C (75 °F)
60% 22 °C (72 °F)
70% 21 °C (70 °F)
80% 20 °C (68 °F)
90% 17 °C (63 °F)
96% 17 °C (63 °F)

Stay Safe!


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+1 on that last contribution.  Set aside logic and what you think you know and believe, and be prepared to discuss knowledgably the issues of concern with the folks who issue occupancy/building/mechanical permits.  Get smart, listen to any concerns and address them, show them how you're going to stay congruent with the appropriate codes they detail.  Visit other distilleries, speak with the owners, and gather more data.

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About fire codes I know nothing.  About regulation in general I know a lot.  

Here is a rule that is in tune with the last couple of comments.  "It is because they say it is."  


Most times you will not win an argument; occasionally you can; but winning an argument can take a long time and a lot of effort that is not worth the victory.  Adages come tumbling out of my mind - "Win the battle and lose the war" and "Chose your fights"   are among them.  I can talk ideology, but when I'm working on behalf of a client I walk the pragmatic line.

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  • 2 months later...

Non-sprinklered buildings have a maximum allowable quantity of 120 gallons of class 1B flammable liquid (ethanol) per control area.  If you go over the maximum allowable quantity, then you're classified as H-3, which requires sprinklers and adequate ventilation.  Even though the International Fire Code (IFC) says there's a exception for alcohol in barrels, that exception does not exist in the International building code (IBC), thus the rule holds. 

The 2015 IBC, section 307.1 states that "Hazardous occupancies are classified in Groups H-1 ... and shall be in accordance with this section, the requirements of section 415, and the International Fire Code." My reading and others I have spoken to about this agree that the wooden barrel exemption is included here as this wording incorporates the IFC.

Has anyone been given a different interpretation?

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We are adrift in a sea of ignorance.  As others have pointed out, what you think about the codes does not matter.  Neither does what I think about it.  So, I won't comment on the substance of any of this, because I'm totally ignorant of the subject matter.  I don't know squat about it.  But some people with credentials on which you can rely do.

Some of you must have dealt with an expert who consults on matters like this.  If so, in the interest of the general good, perhaps you could convince them to post to this thread so that someone can pin it at the very top, where everyone from here forward has access to the basic information.  

From the tales my clients tell, some jurisdictions take the rules seriously and some don't give a hoot, but if someone who is an expert on the Model Fire and Building Codes could explain:

1.  What each requires for:

          a. The production and storage of alcohol.

         b..  For tasting rooms and similar public spaces within or adjacent to the building housing the DSP.

2.  How the two codes differ and how the differences are reconciled in practice.

3.   In practice, how the local codes are apt to differ from the model codes.

4.  In practice, how the enforcement of the codes differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

5.  The potential consequences of being out of code in an area where the code is not well enforced.

6.  How efforts to enforce code provisions in the future might affect an ongoing operation which was allowed to operate outside of the code requirements, if that is discovered.

7.  And finally, because I am by no means conversant with any of this, what questions you should be asking but are not asking.  That question is very important.  Always ask it of persons from whom you are seeking information.   For instance, if you ask about the fire code only and get your answers to that, if you then ask what other questions you should be asking, you may learn that you ought to be asking about they building code as well, as some who have posted here have found out.



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Zoning in Houston, what;s that?   Houston has no zoning or setbacks - unless it's an SOB, Liquor Store or Cell Tower over 59ft you can pretty much build whatever you want. Look at the State TABC regulations and check with the City regarding your on premise and setbacks from Churches and Schools.  The best bet is to build in the County or neighboring counties. No C.O.O. or other permits required with the exception of the County license. Most of the Houston area distilleries are located outside the City with the exception of three to my knowledge,  Grateful Dane, Yellow Rose and Buffalo Bayou Distillers. - Whitmeyers, Raelin, Still Creek, BJ Hookers and Dash will be on the outskirts. Unless you want to spend a bunch of cash locate on the outskirts.

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