The End of Antifreeze in Fire Sprinkler Systems
Posted on March 25, 2018
Glycol is a combustible liquid that has a history of being used as an antifreeze solution for freeze protection in fire sprinkler systems. Traditionally, the combustibility of glycol was offset by mixing it with water. The solution of glycol and water was thought to be safe, until 2009 when a fire intensified by the activation of a sprinkler system using antifreeze. Afterwards, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) that was incorporated into the following codes: The Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (NFPA 13), The Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes (NFPA 13D), the Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies (NFPA 13R), and the Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems (NFPA 25). As a result, new sprinkler systems are required to use listed antifreeze solutions. To date, antifreeze solutions are not listed for such use. Thus, NFPA has effectively banned the use of antifreeze solutions in new fire sprinkler systems. In addition, NFPA 25 was updated to give an expiration date to antifreeze solutions in existing fire sprinkler systems. By September 30, 2022, existing antifreeze solutions must be replaced by alternative means of freeze protection. This marks the end of antifreeze in fire sprinkler systems. Thus, designers must use alternative means to continue protecting fire sprinklers in unheated spaces.
The following are alternative means of freeze protection:
Insulate and apply heat to maintain spaces above 40 degrees Fahrenheit,
- Install special scenario (dry) heads from a wet-pipe system,
- Install a dry-pipe system,
- Wrap pipe with listed heat trace, or
Per NFPA 25, the property owner or designated representative shall ensure that water-filled piping is maintained at a minimum 40 degrees Fahrenheit, unless an approved antifreeze solution is utilized. Thus, freeze protection can be accomplished by eliminating unheated spaces. This can be an appropriate solution for indoor areas (such as attics). However, it cannot be used to protect exterior canopies or similar building features.
Special scenario (dry) heads are fed from a wet-pipe system that’s located in a heated space. They can be a cost-efficient method to protect unheated spaces, including exterior canopies. However, these heads must be installed in accordance with manufacturer specifications. Generally, special scenario (dry) heads are manufactured with sprig lengths not exceeding four feet. Thus, their range of protection is limited.
The use of a dry-pipe system is a reliable way to provide freeze protection. A dry-pipe system keeps water out of a piping network, until needed in a fire scenario. Periodic flow tests require a dry-pipe system to be filled with water and emptied (reference Section 126.96.36.199.2.2 in NFPA 25-2011). Rust requires iron, oxygen, and water to form. The oscillating of water in and out of a system accelerates corrosion since pipes are never completely dry. Thus, dry-pipe systems use internally galvanized stainless steel, or another corrosion-resistant pipe, to prevent the onset of rust. Corrosion is unwanted as it can lead to blockages and system failure. Generally, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe is not listed for systems using compressed gases. Therefore, its not used in dry-pipe systems. Converting an existing wet-pipe system to dry would require the following actions:
- Replace black-iron pipe with corrosion resistant pipe, as applicable.
- Replace CPVC pipe with corrosion resistant pipe, as applicable.
- Install a dry valve, quick opening devices (if required), and compressor, as well as any other applicable piping and appurtenances. The location of the dry valve would depend on the scope of the dry-pipe system install. Ensure the existing fire department connection is piped to the wet side of the dry valve.
- Install a reliable source of inert gas (reference Section 188.8.131.52 in NFPA 13-2013).
- Replace wet heads with listed dry heads. Dry heads must be tested or replaced more frequently than wet heads (every 10 years per Section 184.108.40.206.1.6 in NFPA 25-2011).
- Remove piping and apparatus associated with the existing antifreeze system. This includes, but is not limited to, fill cup, expansion chambers, etc.
- Verify all parts of the system can be properly drained. Piping must be properly pitched, low points must be equipped with auxiliary drains, etc. If installed correctly, the existing system should be able to be completely drained.
- In a wet-pipe system, water is immediately available upon the activation of a sprinkler head. In dry-pipe systems, it takes longer for water to reach a fire as it must travel throughout the system to reach its destination. Thus, a 30% safety factor (reference Section 220.127.116.11.5 in NFPA 13-2013) is required to be incorporated into the design of any dry-pipe system. The original system would not have included this safety factor. Therefore, hydraulic calculations must be performed to verify the new system demand.
Wet to dry-pipe system conversions are cumbersome. Instead of a conversion, it’s likely easier to install a new dry-pipe system. Either way, a designer must obtain site specific information, including hydrant flow data.
Listed heat trace can be used to protect wet-pipe systems in unheated spaces. However, it’s not the most reliable solution. Heat trace can be faulty or stop operating with loss of power, allowing pipes to freeze. Nortech does not suggests using heat trace unless other protection schemes are unavailable or cost prohibitive, and the owner understands all risks involved.
In conclusion, existing antifreeze solutions must soon be replaced by alternative means of freeze protection. Multiple methods of freeze protection exist. However, none are always appropriate. Designers must evaluate each scenario to determine the most reliable, cost-efficient solution to ensure the proper operation of fire sprinklers in unheated spaces.
CDT as Certification Transition
by Aaron Robbins Wiseman, M.S.
Manager, Certifications, CSI
The CDT certificate is the cornerstone of CSI’s credentialing programs, providing a comprehensive overview for anyone who writes, interprets, enforces, or manages construction documents. I am writing to communicate some important and upcoming changes to the program. After several years, and following the lead of volunteer leadership, CSI is about to complete several steps toward elevating the CDT to a certification.
While the CDT certificate has many features of a certification, including encouragement to use CDT after one’s name and “lifetime” validity, it is not. In fact, the norm for certificates is that they also have a finite period of validity—not lifetime—and certificate letters are not used after one’s name. In the interest of increasing the professional standing of the CDT and reconcile these issues. beginning on July 1, 2018, the CDT certification program will include eligibility prerequisites and ongoing professional learning hours for renewal. This provides assurance to the public that CDT holders are tested on and will maintain contemporary knowledge.
There are no required actions by CDT certificate holders at this time.
Beginning on July 1, 2018, the CDT certification will renew on a three-year cycle and carry with it the following renewal requirements:
- 24-hours of Continuing Education
- Renewal Application including Attestation to Current Terms & Conditions
Current CDT holders may continue to use CDT as a post-nominal until June 30, 2021. To continue using “CDT” following their name after June 30, 2021, CDT certificants must meet the requirements for renewal.
CDT certifications issued after June 30, 2018 are renewed on a 3-year cycle based on the year the credential is obtained (Ex: a CDT certification obtained in 2019 renews June 30, 2022.)
This information will be communicated to the broader membership and updated on the CSI website.
Of particular note is the potential benefit to regions and chapters, as this change should add additional value to the continuing education you offer.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me or email email@example.com for assistance.
What Does the Future Hold for Specifiers?
In the last few years, it has been proposed that owners might benefit from hiring specifiers directly; it has even been suggested that specifiers might help owners choose architects. Specific aspects of these ideas, and of related issues, were addressed by member presentations at the Construction Specifications Institute's annual convention over the last handful of years. (Read More)
Specifications Risk Management
by David Stutzman
There are many risks in construction projects, and specifications alone cannot mitigate construction risk in all areas. Good specifications, however, provide valuable benefits to architect/engineer (A/E) design team, owners, and other construction project stakeholders for managing, reducing, and mitigating many risks. By engaging well-qualified professional specifiers to create project specifications, project teams will realize inevitable risk benefit. (Read More)
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Construction documents - are they worse than ever?
By Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS
Two women operating ENIAC; Wikipedia Commons
One of the presentations at the 2017 convention in Providence was a panel discussion titled Hot Topics and Emerging Trends, which included comments about the decline in the quality of construction documents. I found this to be an interesting subject, as I had seen many attacks on document quality over the years. Not only that, but I had made presentations on the subject.
In 1997, Michael Chambers and I presented “Document Coordination” for the Minnesota chapter of AIA. We discussed the roles of drawings and specifications, document quality, coordination techniques, short-form specifications, and MasterFormat 1995. Our handout included reprints of several articles about document quality; some, with scary titles, tried to prove that construction documents were atrocious and getting worse, while others how quality depended on coordination of construction documents.*
The frequency of problems in construction documents makes it easy to accept claims that they are getting worse. In 1997 I believed those claims, but I now believe the opposite. I would argue that overall, construction documents are better than ever before.
Since the presentation Michael and I made in 1997, I have continued to collect articles about the quality of construction documents. Most of the articles address current document quality, but a few discuss a change in quality. The main difference is, while the first group of articles describe specific problems, the articles that talk about changes of quality lack specificity. Rather than explain how documents have changed, they rely vague expressions of individual perception.
For example, the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) has published several annual reports, often in conjunction with the Facility Management Institute (FMI). These reports frequently refer to a decline in the quality of documents, with conclusions based on comments obtained by surveying facility owners, but they do not include supporting information. I have seen thirteen of these reports, going back to 2000.
The reports consistently claim that quality of construction is a major concern, and sometimes say there has been a decline in the quality of documents. The 2003 survey report was the first to assert that “there is a general decline in document quality,” along with declining skill levels. There is no support for the claim, but the report does include an interesting exploration of reasons for that decline.
The 2004 survey asked, “Have you experienced a decline in the quality of design documents?” More than 70% of responders said yes. Even so, it’s worth noting that about 30% said documents at the beginning of construction were adequate or excellent.
From then until the 2010 survey, survey reports mentioned document quality only tangentially, noting that quality is always a concern, but making no specific reference to a change in quality.
From FMI/CMAA Eleventh Annual Survey of Owners
The 2010 report states about 30% of owners report that the quality of design documents worsened in the previous two years. That sounds bad, but the graph provides additional information.
Even though about 30% of owners said document quality had declined, more than 35% said there had been no change in quality, and 25% said they were better!
While we should know of problems with construction documents, cherry-picking statistics is unnecessary and unjustified.
The most recent CMAA report, published in 2015, states, “as major challenges, the poor quality of documents tops the list.” It goes on to say, “This finding is consistent with … the 2010 study, i.e., 34 percent said the quality of design documents had declined … and 33 percent made the same claim about construction documents. … as long ago as  more than 70 percent of respondents had cited a decline in the quality of design documents.” Again, the report uses only some of the information; it uses its own reports as sources but adds nothing new. The only other reference to document quality appears in a graph that shows poor document quality is an urgent challenge for owners.
One of the articles Michael Chambers and I used as a handout, “Contractor Survey Finds That Specs Don’t Measure Up,” was based on a survey conducted by Engineering News Record (ENR) and the School of Building Construction at the University of Florida.
ENR sent surveys to 500 contractors and received responses from 120 of them. Asked about the quality of specifications, 37% were rated good, 35% were rated fair, and 17% were rated poor. Compared to drawings, 85% of respondents said specifications were “sometimes or even more often” of lower quality. They reported that more than 84% of specifications “sometimes, often or generally have major omissions.” Contractors complained that specifications are boilerplate and contained irrelevant information. As was the case with the CMAA reports, the ENR survey summary expressed only subjective opinions.
How can this be?
In 1997, I accepted both claims about construction documents - that they had many errors and that they were getting worse. I had seen enough of them to know that defects were common, and because all I had heard about the change in quality was negative, I believed what I had read. In the time since then, I have noticed that every few years, the decline in construction document quality again becomes a popular topic. But, if document quality was declining twenty years ago, and has continued to decline since then, how is it that we can build facilities today that are more complex than they were in the ‘90s?
In a sense, this is the opposite of what we often seen in advertising. Every time a product is changed - and, I suspect, sometimes when it hasn’t changed - it is promoted as “New! Improved!” If laundry detergent, for example, has been improved many times since it was introduced, it should be perfect by now, but it’s not. And chances are, within the next year or two we’ll see more “improved” versions of many common products.
I contend that the quality of construction documents not only is not declining, but is, in fact, improving. Some of the improvement can be attributed to our tools. As software evolves, it makes it easier to avoid many types of mistakes. Both graphic and text processing programs now incorporate features that eliminate some problems, reduce the frequency of others, and help the user make correct choices. Also, the basic data used by computers has improved by becoming more standardized, and by being continually revised to incorporate real-world information. Many design firms have libraries of proven details and specifications that can be used as-is in many cases, and that can be easily modified to meet project-specific requirements. Building models now can incorporate complete, actual dimensions of structural elements, mechanical systems, and many products, allowing generation of more accurate dimensions, and software can analyze models to find conflicts.
I’m not saying documents are perfect. I continue to see mistakes in both drawings and specifications, and it’s likely they will never be eliminated. There will always be new employees who need to learn the correct way of creating drawings and specifications, there will always be new contractors and subcontractors who must learn how to use construction documents, and there will always be new products and processes that will challenge designer and contractor alike.
I see the problem as one of perception. Assume a typical project has 10,000 items. If 100 of them present problems, it’s likely that the 9,900 - or 99% - that were not a problem will be forgotten, and the one percent that didn’t work will be the ones that are remembered.
A word about boilerplate
As noted above, contractors and suppliers frequently complain about text that is repeated many times with little or no change. What they don't seem to understand is that some requirements do not change much from one project to another. Specifications aren't prose; they're documents that define products and processes used in construction. If a given window is used in two projects the specifications may well be identical because that particular window is required in both projects. Similarly, the general conditions may be identical in multiple projects, and even the supplementary conditions may vary only slightly from one to another.
Boilerplate isn't bad; it's necessary. However, the amount of boilerplate can be minimized by proper use of Division 01 and industry standards, and by elimination of redundancies and nonessential text.
What have you seen? Are contract documents getting worse? If you think so, please post a comment (below) to explain why, and provide evidence!
* Partial list of articles reprinted for 1997 AIA presentation: "Contractor Survey Finds That Specs Don't Measure Up,” “Contractors seek more detailed drawings, greater coordination,” “Field Interpretation and Enforcement of Specifications,” “Avoiding Liability in the Preparation of Specifications,” “Sum of the Parts: Complementary Documents,” “The Standard of Care,” “When Drawings and Specifications Conflict,” “Study pinpoints reasons for building problems.