Most often used in commercial buildings, fire sprinkler systems are intended to protect people and property in the event of a fire. However, they sometimes don’t work as they should. Knowing the common reasons for fire sprinkler failures can help property owners proactively address and prevent potential sprinkler system failures.
Delayed or Inadequate Maintenance or Inspections
Human error is a common source of sprinkler system failure. This includes failure to maintain the operational status of the system—delayed or inadequate maintenance can create problems such as corrosion or component failures. Sprinkler systems attach to city water supplies and rely on various valves to deliver water to the system when it’s needed. Regular inspections of the components of the system can prevent failures before they happen.
Faulty Exterior Connections
Fire sprinkler systems inside a building must connect to the municipal water system outside the building. Exterior components are subject to corrosion and deterioration, which will commonly result in a leaking pipe. In the event of a leaking fire sprinkler main, the roadway must be dug up on an emergency basis and repaired and inspected by the NYC DEP.
A malfunctioning curb valve, which is a required element of fire sprinkler systems in New York City, may be stuck in the closed position. If the pipe to which the valve is connected is in a healthy condition, a licensed plumber can remove the existing faulty valve and install a new curb valve as a direct replacement. In most cases, if the curb valve is not functioning, this is an indication that the entire system is old and that it should be replaced in its entirety. In some cases, the plumber may attempt to install a new curb valve on an old pipe only to discover this was a bad decision when the pipe begins leaking a short time later.
The valve that regulates the system just inside the foundation wall, called the OSY valve, may also be corroded and stuck in the closed position. The same principles apply when you’re comparing a curb valve to an OSY valve. If there’s any question about the future integrity of the pipe, it’s always best not to assume any risk and to replace the pipe as well as the valve.
The pipe that connects the sprinkler system to the water supply under the street may also be leaking. The inside of that water service pipe is subject to corrosion, and a corroded water sprinkler service pipe will not provide adequate pressure to protect against fire.
Fire sprinkler installation in New York City requires a licensed, experienced plumber familiar with city codes and requirements. Similarly, if the water service pipe to your fire sprinkler system is leaking, a plumber with expertise in excavation and repair must repair or replace it. In New York, this requires permits and review or inspection from the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The best protection against fire sprinkler system failure is proper and expert installation combined with regular inspections and maintenance.