Many building owners struggle with the concept of fire safety protection on structures built before the 1970’s. Back then, facilities were not required to have sprinkler systems installed at construction. Now they feel the cost of installing or retrofitting a building with adequate systems would be too cost prohibitive and outweigh any potential benefits.
But technology is changing that perception with new advances allowing many more buildings to be equipped with sprinkler systems. The availability of more flexible piping systems has helped bring water into a building with greater ease. Thirty years ago, only unforgivingly rigid steel pipes were used and were much more difficult to maneuver around an existing building. Extended coverage sprinklers have also made the task of retrofitting a building much easier as well.
Costs per square foot are actually much higher in smaller buildings than larger ones like warehouses. Basically any building that is separated by partitions or where the pipes will need to go through walls to install the system will be more expensive. In some older buildings with hard ceilings that could require asbestos abatement the cost might be 500-600% of the cost of installation during construction.
But the benefits of having a fire safety system far outweigh the negatives. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), damages resulting from fires cost 40-70% less in buildings with sprinklers installed. This does not take into account the incalculable cost of even a single life that could be lost in a fire.
There are also other benefits that come with installing a sprinkler system that are beyond life safety. Greenhouse gas emissions that are released in fires are cut by 98% in a building that is protected. Plus, the amount of water pollution that is released into the environment during the fighting of a fire is also lowered.
Insurance rates on a retrofitted building protected with sprinklers can cut costs by almost 50%. To reap these monetary benefits, the building must be up to date on all inspections and testing of the fire safety equipment. The results of those tests need to be sent to the insurance company in a timely fashion as well. Once the building is overdue on inspections, the rates will start to climb back toward the unsprinklered costs.
Unfortunately, most retrofits are undertaken by necessity and not by choice. Local jurisdictions will sometimes only pass retrofit laws after a catastrophic fire has occurred in the area. New York City became the first urban area to have retrofit language built into its building codes for high rise office buildings back in 1973. The law didn’t even take effect though until 1978 after a lengthy legal battle.
Another factor that may spur a retrofit is tenant demand. Building owners will often succumb to the threats of their tenants leaving because they do not feel their lives and property are safe in a building. Having unoccupied space in a facility is often more damaging to the bottom line than paying for a retrofit.
For more information on fire life safety protection systems, please check out our blog.