Emergency Repairs? What do I do?

In the lifetime of any fire protection or fire sprinkler system, emergency repairs are a reality and must be made. The recent weather events that have taken places in Texas are a case in point. Due to the unusual frigid temperatures, there have been many fire sprinkler systems that have frozen. While extremely frustrating for owners, they must be repaired, and put back into service as soon as possible. The model building codes and referenced maintenance standards, such as NFPA 25 that are adopted and enforced around the nation have taken emergency repairs into account. Developers realize that there would be instances where these repairs would need to be made and addressed them.

There are several questions that arise regarding the topic of emergency repairs. Do I need a permit? Can I make the repair before getting a permit? Am I required to have inspections? What materials am I permitted to use? These are just some of the questions that arise. The model codes address all of these questions.

Do codes address repairs in an emergency?

When there is an emergency situation that requires an immediate repair, both the International Building Code (IBC, 2018) and International Existing Building Code (IEBC, 2018)) state in Section 105.2.1 that a permit application is not needed at the time to make a repair. However, an application must be submitted the next business day to the code official or authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). This permits owners to remediate potentially dangerous circumstances; so that the structure and the life-safety of the occupants is preserved without waiting for a building department to go through their normal review process. The emergency does not authorize the work to be completed not in compliance with the adopted codes and standards. All equipment or appurtenances must be replaced or repaired to their original approved status. The International Residential Code (IRC) has the exact same requirements in Section 105.2.1. The scoping section of the IEBC (101.2) states that one- and two-family dwellings may comply with the IEBC or the IRC. So, it’s obvious to see that all of the model codes a harmonious when addressing emergency repairs.

What materials can be used to repair sprinkler systems?

This code provisions do not permit the individual making the repair to use inferior materials or processes that are not code compliant. Section 403.1 of the IEBC states that repairs to fire protection systems shall be done in a manner that maintains the level of fire protection provided. This means that whatever approved material or processes that were used previously may be used in like kind in the repair. It is permitted to use new materials as well. Section 302.4 and 302.5 of the IEBC state this clearly. Existing materials that were already in use in the building that were in compliance with the requirements or approvals in effect at the time of their erection or installation are permitted to remain in use unless they are deemed unsafe by the AHJ. Also, materials permitted by the current applicable code for new construction is permitted to be used.  Like material can be used for repairs as long as unsafe conditions are not created. All of these materials and processes must be approved by the AHJ.

Permits and inspections are required for repairs.

Once the permit is issued for the emergency repair, inspections must still be completed. Open communication with the AHJ is vital during this process. Most AHJs will often expedite the process due to the emergency to ensure that it is addressed promptly and safely. The AHJ will guide you in the necessary process to quickly abate the emergency.

Not all contractors are licensed or qualified.

Owners must be very wary during these widespread weather events. Many fraudulent and unlicensed contractors will be preying on the situation to take advantage of owners during difficult times. It is wise for an owner to properly vet all contractors and ensure they are complying with all applicable registration requirements for the state or municipality in which the work is being completed. NFPA 25 (applicable to NFPA 13 and NFPA 13R fire sprinkler systems) per Section, requires qualified contractors to make repairs to fire sprinkler systems. While NFPA 25 does not apply to NFPA 13D systems installed in single-family dwellings, the advice is notable. Repairs and putting systems back into service should only be done by licensed and qualified personnel.

To wrap up,

  1. The repair can be made without a permit, as long as a permit is applied for on the next business day.
  2. The repair must be code compliant with all applicable codes and standards.
  3. The existing materials or processes that were approved at the building’s erection may be used in the repair. New materials that are permitted for new construction may be used for the repair if unsafe conditions are not created.
  4. Inspections and other requirements are usually applicable. Maintaining an open line of communication with the AHJ is important.