If you are reading this, you are most likely looking to receive a permit to upgrade an older building and the city has told you that in order to do so, you must also upgrade your building’s fire safety system.
You have probably realized by now that you cannot just go in and start adding and removing walls for Tenant Improvements. By doing this, you have to install new Fire Alarm horn strobes throughout, a new fire panel, install a new fire sprinkler system in the building, etc. City officials are on top of these requirements!
For example, if you were to find a great deal on a historic building. Everything is going as planned and then you soon come to find out “Well now it’s going to cost me more now because I have to upgrade all my fire systems! I have to actually pay upward of $50,000 for this contractor to bring a line in from the street and then pay another contractor upward of $20,000 to install a new sprinkler system in the building.”
You ask yourself, “Is there anyway around this?” Can I avoid $50k – $100k in fire system upgrade costs?
Every fire safety system is different, so we will combine our more than 20 years of experience in the field with your knowledge to give you some insight as to why and when you need may need to make upgrades.
1. Know When The Last Time Your Building’s Fire Sprinkler Heads Were Replaced
With existing Fire Systems, first ask yourself if you know when the last time your building’s sprinkler heads were replaced. If you find that it has been more than 50 years, the NFPA code states that sprinklers over 50 years must be replaced, or you must have them tested. It is not uncommon for property owners and managers to opt to have them replaced. If you aren’t sure, you can have a Certified Technician inspect your fire sprinkler system . Or, check out our blog post about how to get your fire protection plan up to date.
At first, common sense tells you that you can save yourself some money and time by just getting your sprinklers tested. Except, if your system is over 50 years old, there is a high chance that erosion and other significant water-based damage has occurred. It also costs money to have your sprinkler’s tested. So, you’ll most often save time and money by opting for the initial replacement.
If you decide to test your sprinklers, here is what the process looks like:
1. Drain the system
2. Remove 1% of the sprinkler heads
3. Send them to a laboratory for testing ( UL / FM listed factory)
To save yourself the hassle of getting your fire sprinkler’s tested, there is one sure way of checking for corrosion which we discuss next.
2. Check the Water Motor Gong for Corrosion
Older buildings’ fire notification appliances used to be motorized and water-based, alerting the building of potential danger only when water from the street’s main line went through the system, spouting from an orifice, onto a propeller. The propeller would then ring a bell (a.k.a water motor gong) on on the wall outside the building. These types of fire notification appliances began being replaced with electronic monitoring equipment in the 1980s.
In order to find out to state of your system, one of the first things a certified fire safety system inspector will check is the buildings fire bells.
Why is this important?
Let’s picture an older building in Phoenix, Arizona that is more than 50 years old and still has the original fire safety system installed ( tumble weed blows by…). Fire systems in Arizona – and in other locations that are lower elevation- tend to have low water quality. This causes the orifice in the water motor gong to clog, so the bells no longer work.
Electronic monitoring equipment consistently works year after year, which is why CertiPro Fire and Life Safety always recommends replacing these old bells with new ones. If your local water is known for being of high-quality, and you are located in a mountain range, there is a chance that your bells in your older building still work.
Find a local fire protection company that offers a complimentary on-site analysis, that can assess whether your system has some damage (Side note: local contractors respond quicker and are able to offer this as a free service due to their leaner business models. )