There are many different combinations of fire suppression systems that are used in different types of residential structures. Some are wet systems and some are dry. Some use antifreeze and some do not. There are a virtually limitless array of choices of different grades and types of pipe and sprinkler heads. The possibilities for errors in designing and constructing fire suppression systems are limitless. We have experience handling many types of fire suppression system claims including deficiencies in both design and installation.
Design claims–residential fire suppression systems are typically designed to conform with the NFPA 13 (standard for installation of fire sprinkler systems) or NFPA 13R (standard for installation of fire sprinkler systems in residential construction of more than 4 stories), as well as all other applicable building codes, ASTM requirements and manufacturer’s specifications. Claims against design professionals can be based on failure to comply with these technical requirements in a myriad of ways, including, among many others: failing to specify insulation of CPVC pipes that are to be installed inside the wall cavity in an unheated space in an attic or between the exterior wall and the interior sheathing of dwellings constructed in a building subject to sub-freezing temperatures knowing that untreated water is going to sit inside those pipes; failing to ensure that sprinkler heads mounted underneath balconies on buildings subject to salt air have been wax coated to protect against corrosion; and failing to specify use of glycerin antifreeze inside CPVC pipes. Any or all of these errors can cause severe damages.
Construction claims–we have seen an extensive array of installation deficiencies that have caused millions of dollars of damages to buildings, including, but not limited to: filling the CPVC (plastic) pipes of a fire suppression system with glycol-based antifreeze when the design specification and/or the specifications of the pipe manufacturer and/or the fire suppression system manufacturer require use of only glycerin-based antifreeze inside the CPVC pipes. Use of glycol-based antifreeze inside CPVC pipes often causes microfractures known as environmental stress cracks. These cracks are not visible to the eye but we have experts who have proven that they are readily visible under a microscope. They typically void manufacturer’s warranties. We have seen Construction Code Officials require establishment of a fire watch and replacement of such systems at a cost of millions of dollars out of concern that when the system pressurizes in a fire, the CPVC pipes that have unseen environmental stress cracks will burst. Other installation deficiencies include such things as failing to install insulation around CPVC pipes (or metal pipes leading through exterior walls to sprinkler heads mounted underneath balconies) in a system filled with water where the pipes are installed in unheated attics or unheated cavities of exterior walls. The water inside these pipes freezes, cracking the pipes. When the water inside finally melts, it causes massive damage to units below. Other types of errors include using improper couplings, failing to erect and secure hangers properly such that they cause stress cracks in CPVC pipes, failing to tighten connections, and failing to install a proper back-flow prevention valve thereby allowing the potable water supply to the building to be contaminated with the antifreeze-water solution that is supposed to be limited to just the fire suppression system pipes. We have also seen fire suppression systems constructed from pipes that were defectively manufactured and cannot withstand the stresses imposed upon them from operation of the system in the manner contemplated by the design professional responsible for specifying the pipes in the system. These pipes cracked and burst, causing massive damage to units below.
Fire suppression system claims have to be carefully documented by experts in design and installation of fire suppression systems and possibly by material science experts. A careful evaluation of your fire suppression system by a qualified expert is necessary in order for you to understand the condition of the system, the causes of any deficiencies in design, materials or construction methods, and the extent of the damages resulting therefrom. Once that information is compiled, counsel can help you determine what your options are for recovering your damages and getting your building fixed.