MARE Article Masthead: Sprinkler Monitoring 2.0 / Oct, 2020

The following was published in the Property Management section of the Mid Atlantic Real Estate Journal in October, 2020. 

Sprinkler Monitoring 2.0: More than just Tamper and Flow
by Jonathan Epstein, CCIM, JTJ Tech, LLC

Life safety fire sprinkler systems have been used for decades and are adapted to various building types geographies. Of all the fire sprinkler types, the majority are wet systems which are piped systems filled with pressurized water.

The next most common type are dry fire sprinkler systems. These are designed for areas unsuitable for water-filled systems because they are prone to pipe freeze in areas like parking garages, loading docks, and refrigerated areas. Pipes in these freeze-prone locations are filled with pressurized air or nitrogen. Dry systems still rely on water to extinguish a fire, so the wet portion of a dry system is housed in a different (heated) area where a device called a dry pipe valve separates the pressurized water from the pressurized air. In the event of a dry sprinkler head discharge, the clapper inside the dry pipe valve releases and water pushes air out of the system before the making its way to the opened head.

Buildings with fire sprinkler systems are required by code to be inspected regularly and monitored for water flow in wet systems and air pressure in dry systems. Both wet and dry systems require “tamper monitoring” of the control valves. These alerts are relayed to building owners and local fire departments via a system dialer. Flow switches are triggered whenever water flows through a system, regardless of whether a sprinkler head discharges or a pipe breaks. Unfortunately, the same water that is designed to save lives in dry systems is often the biggest cause of their compromises. Water can seep into the dry portions of these systems either as a result of a dry pipe valve failure, or from condensation due to changing weather conditions.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has established guidelines for dry system maintenance, including daily and subsequent physical draining of the system’s auxiliary drains (also called drum drips) which
should be installed at each low point in a dry system to collect moisture. Those periodic checks are critical to ensure that a dry fire sprinkler system is working as designed but is still prone to error. For example: what happens if there is a slow leak in the dry pipe valve in the summer months,  and there’s an unseasonable freezing morning in the fall? Or, if condensation builds up after draining auxiliary drain, but the next scheduled maintenance is a week or two away?

“The most common issues we see with dry pipe sprinkler systems is the failure to properly maintain the drum drip drains. Time and time again, this routine maintenance gets overlooked and becomes a big, dangerous, and costly problem for everyone,” says Ted Wills, Jr., Chair of the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) and president of Anchor Fire Protection in Perkiomenville, PA.

With the advent of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, building owners and managers can now be alerted to
moisture infiltration compromises before they become system failures. In addition to the requirements to monitor tamper and flow, we believe owners should be monitoring for moisture inside of dry sprinkler systems. Installing Salamander Reservoirs after a dry pipe valve and at drum drip locations enables owners to receive text and email alerts the moment that water is detected in system’s dry portions. These preventative maintenance measures will save time, money and guesswork enabling ownership and management to act on issues before the occupants – and system – are jeopardized. Salamander Reservoirs are approved, tested and cost-effective solutions designed to be easily installed in new and existing dry sprinkler systems as a supplement to proper maintenance procedures.

Jonathan Epstein, CCIM is a co-founder of JTJ Tech, LLC: the inventors and exclusive distributors of the Salamander Reservoir.

download a copy of the reprint here