The International Residential Code (IRC), responsible for identifying best practices in the construction industry, requires that all new single- and two-family dwellings have a residential sprinkler system installed. With plumbers already involved in the piping and flow of water in new home construction, this code offers plumbing businesses new opportunities.
Greg Mitchell, business manager for United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and HVAC Service Techs (Local 853) in Toronto, says regulations like this create a huge demand for market labor, and the plumbing and pipefitting professions can seize the chance for increased business.
“I think there’s a huge growth opportunity in the sprinkler/fire protection industry for a workforce,” he says. “This is a skilled trade, and it needs to be done by qualified personnel.”
How Plumbers Can Benefit from Sprinkler System Installations
Russ Leavitt, CEO of Telgian Corporation, an international fire and life safety company headquartered in Phoenix, says plumbers and contractors are in a prime position to gain business from the mandate due to their experience and the customers’ desire to pinch pennies.
“For efficiency, since plumbers already install these domestic water systems, it makes sense that they would also install fire sprinklers,” he says. “Secondly, if the plumber has the competency to install sprinklers, it all comes down to cost. In many situations, if you have to bring in a specific separate contractor, it’ll cost more.”
Learning to Install Fire Sprinkler Systems
In order to install fire sprinkler systems, you must become licensed, just as you need a gas license to install a home-heating furnace. Mitchell says it’s not only an issue of liability, but also of competency, which is especially important when it comes to life-saving devices. And because it’s such a complex system (he says there are more than 200 different classifications designed for occupancy), one must be prepared to adjust an entire design arrangement if need be.
Most contractor licensing falls under state law, Leavitt says. “It’s specifically targeting that limited license to plumbers,” he says. “It usually involves some training, an examination and a continuing education requirement for renewals.”
Training is necessary because most plumbers likely don’t have the experience needed to become immediately licensed, he says.
Steps to Take to Get Trained
Although training time varies by state requirements, Ryan Smith, president of Fire Smarts, says a good gauge is the American Society of Sanitary Engineering’s (ASSE) Series 7000 Professional Qualifications Standard for Plumbing-Based Residential Fire Protection Systems Installers. It requires at least five years of experience in the plumbing and/or sprinkler trade, a minimum of 40 approved training hours and then a completed certification exam.
Leavitt recommends contacting your state contracting licensing board or state fire marshal’s office to find out what you need to get licensed. If you belong to an association, such as the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), contact it or either the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) or the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) for more details. But whether the state requires it or not, he strongly encourages seeking out training. Both PHCC and AFSA also have training available, Leavitt says, which is good sign that a new market is in the making.
The costs associated with getting certified are more difficult to quantify, Smith says, because they depend on jurisdictional requirements. However, Smith believes that the likely required cost is worth it for the plumbers and contractors due to the increased business opportunities.
“Even if the training costs are high, the ongoing return from performing residential fire sprinkler installations should more than outweigh initial training costs,” he says.
In the end, Leavitt stresses the importance of certification: “A plumber that is interested in doing this really needs to seek out the opportunity to be trained,” he says. “It’s a unique system, but it’s not difficult. It’s specialized, and you’ll want the proper training.”
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