Sprinkler water is transported to fire via a system of fixed pipes and fittings. Piping material options include various steel alloys, copper, and fire resistant plastics. Steel is the traditional material with copper and plastics utilized in many sensitive applications.
Primary considerations for selection of pipe materials include:
- Ease of installation – The easier the material is installed, the less disruption is imposed on the institution’s operations and mission. The ability to install a system with the least amount of disturbance is an important consideration, especially in sprinkler retrofit applications where building use will continue during construction.
- Cost of material versus cost of protected area – Piping typically represents the greatest single cost item in a sprinkler system. Often there is a temptation to reduce costs by utilizing less expensive piping materials which may be perfectly acceptable in certain instances, i.e. office or commercial environs. However, in museum applications where the value of contents may be far beyond sprinkler costs, appropriateness of the piping should be the deciding factor.
- Contractor familiarity with materials – A mistake to be avoided is one in which the contractor and pipe materials have been selected, only to find out that the contractor is inexperienced with the pipe. This can lead to installation difficulties, added expense, and increased failure potential. A contractor must demonstrate familiarity with the desired material before selection.
- Prefabrication requirements or other installation constraints – In some instances requirements may be imposed to limit the amount of work time in the space. This will often require extensive prefabrication work outside of the work area. Some materials are easily adapted to prefabrication.
- Material cleanliness – Some pipe materials are cleaner to install than others. Various materials are also resistant to accumulation in the system water. Cleanliness of installation and discharge should be a consideration.
- Labor requirements – Some pipe materials are heavier or more cumbersome to work with than others. Consequently additional workers are needed to install pipes which can add to installation costs. If the number of construction workers allowed into the building is a factor, lighter materials may be beneficial.