I recently asked our Service Manager, Greg Brewer, about the importance of maintaining the sprinkler heads on your fire protection system. Quite often, we take these for granted and overlook some simple maintenance steps that will keep them in good working order:
Pauline: Today I am going to ask you about sprinkler head maintenance. What are the types of deficiencies that you see when you go on a service call or look at a job for one of our clients?
Greg: Painted heads. You would be surprised how many sprinkler heads end up with dried compounds resulting from someone working on the ceiling. We’ve seen it where the entire sprinkler head is covered in a compound.
Pauline: And why is that important for the sprinkler head to be free of any foreign material?
Greg: Here is how it works: There is a fusible link, or glass bulb, on the sprinkler head that’s supposed to disintegrate by high heat, but the debris creates a layer of insulation on the sprinkler head. When this happens, the sprinkler head will not activate in the event of a fire.
Pauline: So, in essence, this company spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a sprinkler system and the sprinkler head is not maintained properly. It could make the system fail because they’re not taking care sprinkler heads.
Greg: Absolutely. We also have customers that have working environments that can be potentially harmful to the sprinkler heads. Every two years we proactively replace the heads because of the environment there.
Pauline: Corrosive environment, right?
Greg: Yes, that’s right. We recently performed sprinkler head maintenance for a client, because of dust. We cleaned all the heads off. A lot of people are unaware of how the sprinkler head and piping actually work. And, oftentimes, we receive a call because the client’s insurance company did a walk-through and noticed the deficiency.
Pauline: When a technician goes into a client’s facility and he sees that he’s going to go up on the ladder. Do we have a vacuum cleaner or a blower that cleans the dust off the head?
Greg: Yes. It’s top secret (grin), but we have a device we use to remove the dust, so it makes it easier and it cleans it off. Clients are afraid that they are going to hit and break something. They often feel like they don’t know what they’re doing while cleaning off a head.
We do a lot of maintenance at nursing homes that are over 50 years old, we go through and replace all the heads.
Pauline: If the heads are over 50 years old, can’t we take a sampling of the heads to be tested? And if the sample is okay, is it acceptable to keep the heads as is? Is it really worthwhile doing that?
Greg: The thing is, preventive maintenance is less expensive in the long-run. If you replace some sprinkler heads this year and some next year, you put it in the budget and all of a sudden it’s done. If we pull a random six sprinkler heads, send them for testing, yes, those six could pass, but one head could actually fail. So, its just good preventative maintenance to budget for it.
Pauline: And while you have the sprinkler system shut down, you might as well replace as many heads you can in a day, because you have to put it back up and then shut it down the next time.
Greg: Of course, it’s Murphy’s Law: the sprinkler head lets go at the worse possible time. In some facilities, you’ll see people will actually hang stuff off the sprinkler heads. The first thing we tell them is it’s a no-no. You’re not even supposed to hang anything off a sprinkler line.
Pauline: So if someone was going to be doing some painting, what’s the best way to protect the sprinkle head?
Greg: A sandwich baggie…a very thin sandwich baggie. You just tape it over the head. You do your painting and then you pull the bag off. Very simple.
Pauline: Thank you, Greg. I think we all realize how important it is to take care of the sprinkler heads, so they can take care of the facility, if needed.