When it comes to protecting the longevity of an attic dry fire system, there are many variables to consider in order to avoid excessive service calls, water damage, fire watch expenses, and the stress of a 2 a.m. call because the system has tripped.
Dry pipe systems have a limited lifespan as they are most often composed of a steel piping network sealed with compressed air. Pools of moisture collect within the steel piping causing oxidation and, ultimately, disintegration of the pipe walls and components. Moisture moves into the dry system each time the air compressor operates and with maintenance and testing, which requires water to fill the system. In time, corrosion, pinhole leaks, build-up and blockages in the system are guaranteed to cause service calls, damage, and a major headache! Per State Fire Marshall’s Office, in rare situations, replacements may be needed as early as 5 to 10 years after installation. A properly installed and well-maintained attic system can last 20-60 years without any major issues and is well worth the investment. Removal and replacement of a dry pipe system in an attic of an occupied building can be extremely costly.
How can you avoid these costly repairs? Partner with a savvy and collaborative architect who can leverage architectural and building code alternatives to avoid an exposed combustible attic space. When possible, you may want also want consider utilizing design criteria from NFPA 13R standards, which allow the omission of sprinkler coverage in the attic.
A tip from Lifesaver –
We guide our clients to use an alternative insulation method at the roof deck, allowing for wet system coverage in the attic space. The Lifesaver team works closely with architects and owners early in the design phase of the project and pre-construction planning to avoid attic systems when possible. If a dry attic system is required, here are some key things to consider that may impact the longevity of the system:
· The schedule of piping used (minimum schedule 10, or 40 is recommended)
· The integrity and consistency of the piping wall construction (quality of the piping)
· Piping should be installed with proper pitch and draining that is accessible
· On-going maintenance, including drainage of low point drains
· Humidity can impact the system (ex: if the compressor is located in a damp room)
· Number of times the system is tripped. Each trip introduces more moisture into the network
· Microbiological elements in the city water supply can disintegrate the piping
While some of the aforementioned variables are out of your control, the following best practices may extend the lifespan of your system:
· Use minimum standards of schedule 10 piping in mains and schedule 40 for branch lines at installation. It’s also important that you source the piping from a reliable fabricator. If your budget and structure allows, use only schedule 40 piping.
· Make sure your design-build contractor designs an efficient piping system with adequate slopes and low point drains that are easily accessible and properly marked.
· Routinely maintain and drain the low point drains.
· Installing a Nitrogen generator can potentially double the lifespan of the system, but is a costly option. Nitrogen systems are not for every day application, but ideal where replacement or repair costs are substantial due to access or environmental factors.
· Proper communication with the building representative at project turnover will ensure proper understanding of system requirements.
The message? Attic dry pipe systems are installed too often in lieu of other alternatives and without standards that will ensure longevity. Your best bet is to collaborate with a trusted and competent partner who will collaborate in the planning phase, take the required time and resources to install correctly, and keep up with the required maintenance to help you avoid a great deal of pain and anguish in the years after installation.