Fire Sprinkler Systems

13 Replies

I recently put an office building under contract at a good price.   The plan was to convert it from an office building to a 4 unit apartment building.  It had plenty of parking and the building was in decent shape.  Due to the great price it seemed that everything was coming together nicely.    

However a friend tipped me off that we were going to probably add a fire sprinkler system.     After digging some more we found out not only were we going to have to add a fire sprinkler system, we were also going to have to make one of the units handicap accessible.     

Obviously these added costs blew up the budget and killed what was looking to be a great deal.

I find myself pretty bitter at this.  I live in a 300k plus home, yet I don't have a sprinkler system.    Why should a tenant who is paying 750 a month have one?   Regulations like this create larger barrier to entries, hurt our local economies and keep a small guy from growing.

Has anyone had experience with this and has anyone found any good work around's?   I thought we had found a really good strategy but now see very little future in it knowing that building codes are such.

I have considered looking into taking classes and becoming certified in the systems, so I can do it myself.   Has anyone looked into this?

Any other advice  on get budgets to work with so many codes and regs.

@Gareth Fisher it cost us about 20k to install a sprinkler in a 4 unit. This included bringing in a larger service for it.

Basically by adding sqft or changing use from office to residential you are no longer grandfathered in. Commercial requires it but yet a project that brings a building down to a shell and requires everything but the brick walls is grandfathered in but you change the use of 500sft of space in a building and the whole thing requires sprinklers.

Originally posted by @Tyler Weaver :

@Gareth Fisher it cost us about 20k to install a sprinkler in a 4 unit. This included bringing in a larger service for it.

Basically by adding sqft or changing use from office to residential you are no longer grandfathered in. Commercial requires it but yet a project that brings a building down to a shell and requires everything but the brick walls is grandfathered in but you change the use of 500sft of space in a building and the whole thing requires sprinklers.

Yup that was the understanding that we came ttoo...smh

@Gareth Fisher   What are the cost drivers for the sprinkler system?  If it was $20k for 4 units would it be $40k for 8 or would it depend on something else?

I'm doing a conversion of a three floor building to six units.  I'm trying to get an estimate on the sprinklers.  Appreciate your insight.

Rick

Originally posted by @Rick Baggenstoss :

@Gareth Fisher  What are the cost drivers for the sprinkler system?  If it was $20k for 4 units would it be $40k for 8 or would it depend on something else?

I'm doing a conversion of a three floor building to six units.  I'm trying to get an estimate on the sprinklers.  Appreciate your insight.

Rick

I believe our qoute came in at about 8k a unit.  We ended up backing out of the deal.  A buddy told me they made him dig an extra water line for the system. Something else to keep in mind.

The idea behind it is life safety, its a cost of doing business unfortunately. The laws and codes could careless about your pockets. A work around option would be a fire alarm system with multiple smoke detectors throughout the property but then you have to involve an engineer, fire alarm/security company, in some places an electrician to install the work, local fire marshal, additional monthly service fees and/or contracts. Good luck with everything.

I built a two-unit, three-story property in Newark, NJ and had to have a sprinkler system installed.  It cost me $12,000.  The primary reason for having to install the system was because the property was designed with only one main entrance.  

I learned that per code as long as tenants have exclusive means of egress during a fire, no sprinkler system is required.  So I designed my next two-unit, three-story project in Newark with two main entrances.  I don't need to install a sprinkler system because each unit has its own main entrance.

It's about reducing risk and liability.  Most multi-unit properties have only one front entrance. A sprinkler system helps reduce the likelihood of casualties during a fire because it hopefully gives everyone an equal amount of time to get out and is connected to a central control service that alerts the fire department automatically.

I don't think installing dedicated entrances reduces your risk or liability. Especially for $12,000 which is not much in the costs of new construction. 

If you picture the worst case scenario, someone dies, it will be hard to convince a jury the "evil, rich developer" did the right thing by not installing a sprinkler system to save $12,000.  

The codes are definitely out of control but fire sprinklers help save lives by possibly extinguishing a fire and controlling smoke before a fire really gets out of control. IMHO.

We were required to design, install & then monitor 24/7 a complete Fire Sprinkler system (FSS). It's an old 6-plex, 3 floors with all the required egress windows, doors & separate staircases etc BUT they still insisted on the FSS. I was able to use the city water system as it met the min required PSI. The trick was to run the feeds throughout every nook & cranny in the old building to service every opening. Materials ran about $2,000 & they allowed me to do the complete installation. The final Inspection by the Fire Chief, our Commercial Architect & the Bldg Inspector passed.

What amazes me is that some cities only require the 3rd floor apartment to have such a system. So if the 1st floor burns what help is a 3rd floor FSS to that tenant.

I definitely appreciate the fire safety aspect of such a system & told my wife if we do another new build or rehab another multi I'd install one. 

@Pat L. I’m facing a similar issue with an old historic building I’m converting into 8 apartments. Also in central NY. Auburn to be exact. I was a little nervous when my architect told me I needed a sprinkler system. Did you have to do the whole building? What city are you in? What did you have to do to get code enforcement to allow you to do it yourself? What’s the sqft of your building? 

Originally posted by @Gareth Fisher :

I recently put an office building under contract at a good price.   The plan was to convert it from an office building to a 4 unit apartment building.  It had plenty of parking and the building was in decent shape.  Due to the great price it seemed that everything was coming together nicely.    

However a friend tipped me off that we were going to probably add a fire sprinkler system.     After digging some more we found out not only were we going to have to add a fire sprinkler system, we were also going to have to make one of the units handicap accessible.     

Obviously these added costs blew up the budget and killed what was looking to be a great deal.

I find myself pretty bitter at this.  I live in a 300k plus home, yet I don't have a sprinkler system.    Why should a tenant who is paying 750 a month have one?   Regulations like this create larger barrier to entries, hurt our local economies and keep a small guy from growing.

Has anyone had experience with this and has anyone found any good work around's?   I thought we had found a really good strategy but now see very little future in it knowing that building codes are such.

I have considered looking into taking classes and becoming certified in the systems, so I can do it myself.   Has anyone looked into this?

Any other advice  on get budgets to work with so many codes and regs.

Hi Gareth,

If you have ever seen one of these old brick structures go up in flames and the resents jumping out of windows to their deaths due to quickness of the fire spreading (due to old fashioned designs) you will appreciate what the sprinklers do. 

The sprinklers give them extra time to wait for the fire crew to come to rescue them from the windows before they panic and jump to their deaths due to flames burning their backs.

If the local government believes sprinklers are best and requires them--that's probably the reason. They buy some extra time for the fireman to get the jump nets and ladders to as many people (and pets) as possible. They can't help everyone at once. They need extra time to save as many of the residents lives as possible.

Firemen using a jump net: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjxQWkvgjNc

Good Luck!

This is why due diligence is so important. Would've been way worse had you gone an bought the place before finding this out. 

Sprinkler systems are required in any MF 4 units or more (some places its 3 units or more). Now, one way you can kind of get around this is by making them all separate stand alone dwellings.... i.e. Townhouse style construction. This also requires 2hr fire walls between each unit. Now depending on the local code will determine if you can keep them all as one building or (more than likely) have to make them all separate parcels, like a true Townhouse. BUT even if by code you dont have to insurance can be an over ruling factor as not all insurance companies see Townhouses differently than condos. So there could be a premium for both the building style and not having sprinklers. This isnt all condos and is a different topic. 

We are required to have a fire alarm (not hooked to the fire department- they still call 911) but not sprinklers. The apartments have 2 means of egress but they are about 4 feet apart. Although I want to install common area sprinklers to insure better egress in a fire I haven't mainly because I am afraid the town will get crazy on what they want when I bring it up or when they come for inspection.

For us they estimated retrofit in the apartments would add the most costs. Your costs may be better because you are putting it in when you are doing the reno. I am also told it supposedly decreases your insurance. The only way to avoid the costs is not do renovations.. I think the requirements are state specific.