THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY A SPRINKLER might need to be removed from a sprinkler system. A contractor may need to relocate sprinklers, for example, because the owner has decided to repartition a portion of a building. In addition, damaged sprinklers may need to be replaced, sprinkler drops may need to be drained as part of routine maintenance, drops may need to be added to a newly installed suspended ceiling, internal piping conditions may have to be investigated, and so on. There are dozens of reasons a sprinkler may be removed from a system, but according to NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, once the sprinkler is removed, it cannot be reinstalled.
This requirement was added to the 2013 edition of NFPA 13 because of concerns that sprinklers could be damaged during the removal process. When a sprinkler is removed, damage could occur to the threading, water seal, or operating element — specifically, a glass bulb-type element — which might not be visible but could adversely affect the sprinkler’s performance.
While this new requirement seems straightforward, it is being interpreted in different ways. At the crux of these varying interpretations is the presence of a drop, riser nipple, or other fitting between the sprinkler and the branchline outlet. One argument is that, provided that the sprinkler is detached from the sprinkler system without touching the sprinkler, the potential for mechanical damage is eliminated and the sprinkler, along with the fitting it is attached to, can be reinstalled.
The other side of the argument is that it doesn’t matter whether the wrench is applied to the sprinkler itself or to some component attached to the sprinkler because the potential for mechanical damage still exists. This perspective considers not only the potential for damage when taking the sprinkler down, but also the potential for damage while the sprinkler is waiting to be reinstalled.
In many cases, sprinklers that have been taken down are put into a cardboard box and stored under a workbench or in a job site storage box. And on many job sites, especially one where other construction work is going on, the sprinklers or the containers they’re stored in could be kicked, dropped, have tools dropped on them, come in contact with construction debris, and more. Any number of things can compromise the sprinklers in their uninstalled state.
This is also the case for sprinklers on drops or armovers. These assemblies are often piled under a workbench or stacked in a corner where they can become damaged in a variety of ways.
When the Technical Committee on Sprinkler Systems Installation Criteria discussed this concept at its Report on Comments meeting last September, the discussion focused on situations when only the sprinkler itself was removed from the system. The wording that was selected for this new requirement, however, simply says “when a sprinkler has been removed,” which has resulted in the various interpretations. The requirement generated a considerable amount of debate during the development of the 2013 edition of NFPA 13, and I’m sure it will get a considerable amount of attention in the standard-development meetings for the 2016 edition. Public input was submitted on this section to help clarify the issue moving forward.
You can see how the technical committee addresses this topic by monitoring the NFPA 13 document information page at nfpa.org/13.
Matt Klaus is principal fire protection engineer at NFPA and staff liaison for NFPA 13, 13R, and 13D.