Do you have fire sprinklers in your Toronto business? Congratulations! Though it may have been required by code, it’s also a smart move that will help protect your building and its occupants for decades to come. If you are still exploring sprinkler options, you should know that fire sprinklers enjoy a strong safety performance record going back over a century — and are increasingly considered the most important fire protection asset available to prevent loss of life and minimize property damage. When sprinklers operate, they are effective 96% of the time.1 But installing them is only the first step.
Sprinkler system testing and maintenance tasks are not optional; their frequency and specific requirements are dictated by jurisdiction in fire and building codes. They may also be required by your insurance company, or even the sprinkler manufacturer’s recommendations. Testing and maintenance requirements are often based heavily on National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommendations, the industry standard for best practices.
Some components of a fire sprinkler system may be recommended or required to be checked as often as daily or weekly (such as verifying that control valves without electronic oversight are in the open position). Other items may need to be checked monthly, quarterly, biannually, or once a year, requiring an organized maintenance plan and record keeping system.
When properly maintained, a fire sprinkler system can last you for decades. Proper maintenance will help you extract the greatest value out of your investment.
A local Toronto condominium complex makes an initial investment of 15,000 sprinklered square feet at time of construction.
15,000 sq. ft. X $1.35 per sq. ft. = $20,250 upfront cost for sprinklers.*
- If the system is poorly maintained, let’s say that contributes to a shorter sprinkler system life span of 15 years. $20,250 divided by 15 years translates to a cost of $1,350/year for the life of the sprinkler system. (Not to mention a higher risk of fire damage, potential exposure to noncompliance fines and loss of insurance discount for fire safety – all the things you want to avoid by investing in fire safety in the first place!)
- Contrast that with a system that lasts 45 years as a result of proper maintenance (it may well last longer than that!). By spreading the cost of investment out over a much greater period of time, the annual cost drops to just $450/year over the life of the system. At that price, you may recoup much of your costs just by the savings you’ll see on your insurance premiums! (Many insurance companies lower your rate by 10-15% with fire sprinklers installed and maintained).
*Due to the highly variable conditions of every building and business’ needs, it’s impossible to give broad quotes. This is a generic ballpark figure based on the average cost per square foot for residential sprinklers during new construction as found in a 2013 study by NFPA affiliates.2 Sprinklered square feet is a measure of total area of spaces with sprinklers, not total square footage of building. There may be additional costs. Retrofitting, commercial sprinklers, special hazard systems, and historic buildings are among common factors that would elevate cost per square foot.
A recent study of fire sprinklers in English warehouses by BRE Global and the Business Sprinkler Alliance used a similar method to determine whole life cost savings over the life of a sprinkler system, based on a 45 year period of “lifetime expectancy.”3 Their study was not about maintenance, but it used a more accurate method of understanding sprinkler systems costs and value by factoring in insurance savings and spreading the cost of fire equipment over time, incorporating savings from reduced fire risk. The study could have gone even further by factoring in the savings from being in compliance (avoiding fines and legal costs) and avoiding business interruption, but it still found overwhelming savings ratios of 3.6 to 1 for medium sized warehouses and 3.7 to 1 for large warehouses.
Regular maintenance can catch any problems with your sprinkler system early on, saving tens of thousands of dollars in potential repair costs. For example, it’s easier to treat microbiological corrosion (MIC) early on rather than letting it spread and having to replace much of your system prematurely.4 The worst case scenario is making a significant investment in fire sprinklers, not properly maintaining them, and thinking you can rest easy with your property protected — when it’s not. That’s exactly what happens in cases where sprinklers fail to work in a fire because their water has been shut off. (The most common cause of sprinkler failure to operate – by far — is shutoff of system…avoidable human error).5
Fire sprinklers are a smart business investment. But failure to properly maintain them and train employees on how to take care of them is quick path to a lot of wasted money. If you’re familiar with shows like The Office and Workaholics, you can imagine why all employees need training on sprinkler maintenance basics such as not hanging things from sprinklers. Never underestimate the creativity of your building occupants.
To give you an idea of the scope of required maintenance just for your sprinkler system (exclusive of other components of your fire safety system), here are some of the items that may be checked at various intervals. It may be possible for some maintenance items to be performed by one of your employees with minimal training, but many of these items require the eye of a fire safety professional, in order to satisfy code and ensure safety.
Fire Sprinkler System Inspection Checklist:
- Check for leaks
- Check for gauge damage to interior and exterior gauges (are any gauges over 5 years old?)
- Check if gauge valve is turned off
- Are objects hanging from or draped on sprinkler piping?
- Are sprinklers, sprinkler heads or valves obstructed by shrubs, storage, cabinets, etc.?
- Check water pressure
- Check if control wheels/valves secured in open position
- Are sprinkler heads corroded, damaged, or painted over? Have any been in service over 30 years? 50?
- Have fast response sprinklers been in service over 20 years?
- Are spare sprinkler heads and sprinkler wrench available? Do any need to be replaced?
- Main drain test
- Inspect gravity tanks, reservoirs and pressure tanks
- Check for microbiological-related corrosion
- Test representative samples of sprinkler heads and sprinkler system.
- Re-evaluate efficacy of sprinkler system if building use has changed, or remodelling has occurred
- Check temperatures
- Check backflow preventers
- Is hydraulic nameplate securely attached to riser and legible?
- Are pipe hangers supporting pipes and free of damage?
- Is Fire Department Connection working and visible?
- Test water flow switch
- Test control valve tampers
- Test fire pump flow
- Test standpipe flow
- Test fire hydrant flow
- Fire sprinkler hydrotest
- Test antifreeze system (if applicable)
Ongoing maintenance can be effortless with a responsible fire safety partner to manage your maintenance schedules, tasks and records. With regular maintenance of your fire sprinklers by a trusted* fire safety professional, not only will you enjoy greater peace of mind, but also the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a smart business decision to protect your occupants and your investments.
*This being critical to avoid mishaps like water shutoff, which renders your sprinklers useless.
- You can find more tips on fire sprinkler maintenance here.
- Read our FAQs on fire sprinklers for business and property owners here.
- Learn more about different types of fire sprinklers here.
Have questions about fire sprinklers in the Greater Toronto Area? Contact Rohen here.
1. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report authored by John R. Hall, "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers." Published June, 2013. Available here.
2. Fire Protection Research Association (an NFPA affiliate) and Newport Partners report, " Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment - 5 Year Update." Published October, 2013. Available here.
3. BRE Global and the Business Sprinkler Alliance, study of whole-life cost benefit analysis for fire sprinkler installation in three ranges of warehouse sizes [in England]. Published January, 2014. Available here.
5. Hall's NFPA report, here.