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    Building Safety Inspections and Sprinkler Systems

    By Mark Conroy

    There is no doubt that automatic sprinkler systems are an important life safety and property protection component for occupied buildings. The next time you do a service call for portable fire extinguishers…look up, it might save someone’s life.

    Most buildings in the US are not inspected for safety on a regular basis. Fire inspectors are overworked and most often have staffing issues. It is nearly impossible for them to visit every building in their jurisdiction on an annual basis. Rather than doing regular service calls on the extinguishers, turn them into safety inspections of the building, which could include a visual inspection of the automatic sprinkler system for obvious problems.

    Problematic Sprinklers

    NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, requires that sprinklers be visually inspected from the floor level annually. The sprinklers are checked for the following conditions:

    1. Signs of leakage, foreign materials or physical damage
    2. Sprinklers painted by someone other than the manufacturer
    3. Sprinklers are corroded, loaded or contaminated
    4. Sprinklers installed in an improper orientation
    5. Glass bulb sprinklers bulbs that are empty

    When one of these conditions is identified, NFPA 25 requires that the sprinklers must be replaced by new, listed sprinklers of the same style, orifice, size, temperature range, thermal response characteristics, deflector type (e.g., upright, pendent and sidewall) and K-factor. Next time you notice one of these conditions, notify the property owner. The building maintenance personnel may be permitted to do routine maintenance such as replacing sprinklers.

    Spare Sprinklers
    While you’re at it, make sure the building has the required number of spare sprinklers. Per NFPA 25, spare sprinklers must be stored on the premises, allowing any sprinklers to be replaced expediently. The reserve supply must correspond to the types and temperature ratings of those they will be replacing. While they are not in use, keep them in a spare sprinkler storage cabinet. The minimum number, per NFPA 25, of spare sprinklers that must be on hand for facilities are:

    • 6 with less than 300 sprinklers
    • 12 with 300 to 1,000 sprinklers
    • 24 with those over 1,000 sprinklers

    Sprinkler System Gauges

    According to NFPA 25, every five years sprinkler system gauges must be either replaced or tested by comparing the gauge with a calibrated one. Gauges must be accurate to within 3% of their full scale. If not, they must be replaced or recalibrated.


    NFPA 25 requires that a sprinkler wrench designed specifically for each type of spare sprinkler be installed on the premises and kept in the spare sprinkler storage cabinet. During the annual inspection, a review is conducted to ensure at least one correct sprinkler wrench for each type of spare sprinkler is available. These wrenches are necessary to expediently remove and install sprinklers that operate or are found to be damaged.


    Check out the signage for the sprinkler system. According to NFPA 13, signs, with raised or engraved letters, must be provided for all fire department connections. The letters need to be at least 1” (25.4 mm) high on a plate providing a reference to the service of the fire department connection. A few examples that would comply with the requirements include AUTOSPKR, STANDPIPE, and OPEN SPKR.

    Performing annual visual inspections of the items mentioned in this article will help ensure that this important life safety and property protection system complies with the essential requirements in the NFPA standards.

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