How to Introduce Fire Sprinkler Systems into Old Buildings

  • November 6, 2023
fire sprinkler installation

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire sprinklers control roughly 96 percent of incidents when activated. But despite this successful track record, many older structures don’t have fire sprinklers. While modern constructions are required to install these mechanisms, historic buildings often lack that same protection, increasing the risk of fire damage—or even death. 

Fortunately, you can solve this problem with retroactive fire sprinkler installation. From spatial design to installation logistics, here’s what you need to know about introducing a new fire sprinkler system into an older building:

Fire Sprinkler Installation in Old Buildings

A fire sprinkler system is a vital component of any building’s fire safety plan. These mechanisms can detect and control fires, minimizing the spread of flames—and ultimately, lowering the risk of structural damage or fatalities. Let’s dive into the fire sprinkler installation process and how it differs in an old existing structure versus a new construction project:

  • Structural Adaptations: New construction requires that fire sprinkler systems are in the original design and build plan. These systems perfectly complement the structure they’re a part of. However, some older buildings will require design or layout modifications to ensure smooth fire sprinkler installation. For example, a building might have delicate, historic features you’ll need to reinforce to accommodate a sprinkler system’s weight.
  • Compliance Issues: Older structures might not adhere to the latest fire safety codes, which can result in regulatory issues. So, before you move forward with the fire sprinkler installation process, familiarize yourself with the local construction ordinances. This effort will help you maintain rigorous compliance and thorough protection. 
  • Aesthetic Preservations: Many historic buildings have architectural significance, so be sure to handle the installation with care. Doing so will require creative, discreet solutions to integrate fire sprinklers in a way that preserves structural integrity and aesthetics. For instance, you’ll want to use concealed sprinkler heads or choose a paint coating that matches the existing interior features for a cohesive, inconspicuous look.
  • Electrical Upgrades: The building’s current electrical circuitry might also require upgrades to ensure optimal functionality and compatibility with the various fire sprinkler attachments. It’s vital to check for compliance with alarm systems, fire pump motors, and other electrical system parts associated with the fire sprinkler installation.   
  • Water Supply Challenges: Some old structures need adequate water for the fire sprinkler system to activate. To resolve this issue, you must retrofit the space with extra water storage tanks and booster pumps.

Planning for the Installation Process

Retroactive fire sprinkler installation inside a historic building is a complex, multi-stage process that will require various considerations you don’t have to think about in a new construction. Let’s break down a few of the steps involved so you can establish a secure, robust, and comprehensive fire safety plan:  

  • Perform a careful evaluation of the building. Inspect the electrical wiring, structural integrity, and other features to ensure an accessible fire sprinkler installation. Check for hazards or obstructions that can affect the system’s performance as well. 
  • Maintain compliance with code regulations. Make sure the details of your installation plan adhere to local, state, and national fire protection codes. This process will often require meticulously reviewing the building’s current layout and specifications.
  • Guarantee access to a viable water supply. Evaluate water source availability, water pressure, and internal plumbing system to determine if the structure can handle a fire sprinkler installation or if you need to change the water supply.
  • Make necessary adaptations to the design. Look at both the structural and aesthetic features. Reconfigure the layout, eliminate fire hazards or other obtrusive components, maximize occupant safety, and preserve historic and architectural significance. 
  • Choose the most practical sprinkler model. Select a fire sprinkler system based on the building’s specific needs, fire risks, and structural or design requirements. You can choose from wet or dry pipe, deluge, or pre-action systems—but for an old building, wet lines are often the most preferable due to their simple, reliable functionality.   
  • Install the sprinklers with delicate precision. Once all these considerations are taken care of, the installation can begin—place valves, pipes, and sprinkler heads throughout the interior following spacing requirements. Inspect the system at regular intervals to maintain optimal function and prevent corrosion.

Protect an Old Building with Successful Fire Sprinkler Installation  

Installing a fire sprinkler system in an older building can be difficult, but it’s also essential—and life-saving. The process requires in-depth evaluation, strict code compliance, and thorough consideration of all the unique challenges a historic structure can pose. Contact A&A Fire Protection and trust the fire sprinkler installation experts to handle each stage of the operation for you.