What Condominium Owners Should Know about Automatic Fire Sprinklers

With two high rise fires in London and Hawaii, there has been a lot of conversation about the importance of sprinkler systems in high rise buildings. 80 percent of the 2500 people killed in house fires annually in the United States would have survived had a sprinkler system been activated. These systems save lives, which is why it’s essential that the fire sprinkler systems are not only in place, but operating well.

As condominium owners, you are deeply invested in ensuring that your building is both safe and well maintained. This is your home.

When purchasing a new condo, most owners take the time to inspect the common areas such as the pool, party room and gym. However; have you asked for the maintenance records of their sprinkler systems?

Too many condo owners go into their buildings with little to no knowledge about their buildings and the systems that have been put into place to protect them. Sprinkler systems are probably the best example of this type of system. The majority of condo owners do not understand how the sprinkler system works nor how it is maintained.

Similar to an HVAC system, the sprinkler systems in your building need to be properly maintained to ensure that they are in good working order.  Water quality, environmental conditions, water bacteria, physical damage, extreme changes in temperature and piping system debris all have an impact on whether a system is working effectively. Regular inspection and maintenance of these systems is necessary to ensure that it is fully operational.

However, condo owners also play a major role in ensuring that their sprinkler system is working well. One of the biggest mistakes that owners make is painting their sprinkler heads. As a new owner, you may be tempted to give your condominium a coat of paint, including the sprinkler heads as well, so that they blend in with your ceiling. As tempting as this is, this is an extremely dangerous practice which will immediately compromise how your sprinkler system functions.

Why You Should Not Paint your Sprinkler System

When a fire occurs, the heat from the fire will activate the sprinkler head(s) in the area by the fire. One of the most critical pieces to the sprinkler is the glass bulb in the sprinkler head. When the temperature rises, the bulb breaks, which in turn, allows the plug to fall away and release water through the head. However, if the head is painted, the paint will act as a protective layer on the bulb preventing it from breaking at the right temperature and delaying the water being released. In fact, the paint could prevent the plug from dropping all together.

But what if you have a cover plate on your head? Could you paint this feature? Absolutely not, in fact the cover plates react very similarly to the glass bulb, reacting to a specific temperature to activate the sprinkler head. Painting this cover plate, once again changes the temperature that will be needed to have the system work properly.

If you have painted over your sprinkler head in error, do not try to remove the paint yourself. The system will need to be shut down, drained, and then new sprinkler heads installed. However; if you have made this error, do not ignore it, as preventing the sprinkler head replacement will put you and your loved ones, or your tenants, and property at risk.

As a condominium resident, before moving into your home, take the time to inspect each sprinkler head for rust or paint damage, and if there is any damage, ensure that the head is replaced.

Remember, that automatic fire sprinkler systems are in place to protect both the residents of condominiums and their property. Unlike the movies, neither smoke nor a fire alarm, will set the system off, these systems are designed to activate when the temperature rises to 155 to 165 degrees.

However, moving heavy furniture or hanging items on the sprinkler head can cause damage, potentially resulting in accidental discharge. To prevent this damage, become familiar with the location of the sprinkler heads and avoid any contact.

Although rare, accidents do happen, and when accidental discharge occurs the damage can be devastating. When a sprinkler head is accidentally activated, water is released at pressures as high as 170 psi and up to 75 gallons per minute. Fast shut off is critical to prevent extensive damage to your home.  Having the right tools in place, like the Shutgun Tool shut off system, will ensure that both condominium owners and property managers are equipped to quickly shut off the system in the case of accidental discharge.

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