Some Serious Sprinkler Hardware

I went by the house today and there were some serious sprinkler control valves in our cellar…

sprinkler valves in cellarHere’s another shot of it…

sprinkler controls in Harlem townhouseThat’s some seriously big valves for a two family home, but it will help me sleep a little better at night.

They also installed a siamese connection and a “clapper” in the “front yard”…

siamese connection and clapper for sprinkler systemI used to just think that siamese connections were for dry sprinkler systems. Our sprinkler system is a wet system (has water in the lines all the time). So the siamese connection is there in case there’s a problem with water pressure or some other water supply failure.

The clapper goes off if sprinklers go off in our house. That way if we’re not home people on the street will know and (hopefully) call 911.

The NYC DOB Is Completely Broken

Given all the grief the Department of Buildings has given us, I was a bit bowled over recently when a building in our neighborhood got a new C of O after a renovation that included ripping out the sprinkler system and not replacing it.

I’m sorry, but multiple people at DOB reviewed this project – a plan examiner, a C of O inspector and the DOB’s FDNY rep just to name a few. How did this happen? The information was right there staring the DOB folks in the face. A quick look at the “Actions” section for the building on the DOB’s own web site shows that there was an existing sprinkler system in the building…

Building actions section showing sprinklers existedThat shows that a sprinkler system existed in 1941 and 1945. But when the homeowner submitted the paperwork to the DOB they flat out lied and said they were not permanently removing sprinklers…

No permanent sprinkler removalNow, I don’t blame the homeowners. Having been through the process your architect hands you a pile of papers and tells you to sign at the X. If you find the paperwork overwhelming you might not look at what you’re signing. Ultimately I blame the architect – they signed the paperwork as well (and even stamped it). I think architects who lie about life/safety issues should have their licenses revoked.

Still, it’s the job of the DOB to find problems like that. If they’re not there to find life/safety issues like ripping out sprinkler systems, why do they exist? If multiple people can’t find a really obvious problem like that, then they’re just completely broken.

We Have Water! (and some sprinklers)

NYC street torn up for water main connectionBackhoe filling up a hole in the sidewalk

New water main connection

Today we stopped by the house and DEP was there, the street was blocked off and they were connecting us to the water main. The work was being done in a hole, so I couldn’t really get to see it happening – I could just hear welding going on. But right before we left the DEP guys came up and said “You now have water” – which was VERY good to hear.

Inside the house the pipe and the valve are pretty hardcore..

valve at water connection into brownstoneCompare that to what it looked like when we bought the place – much smaller and just a galvanized pipe (I assume now they’re using black pipe)…

old water main line into Harlem townhouse

Notice also the corroded, cracking gas pipe coming in at the top there – it’s a bit scary – lucky it was completely inactive.

So now there’s all these sprinkler control valves that get connected to main valve. They also need to put in the water meters. Apparently that’s a hot potato no one wants to be responsible for. The water main sub contractor is saying the plumber should pull the permit for it. The plumber is saying the water main sub contractor should do it. If it were easy it would be no big deal and either one would be OK with doing it, but as we’ve seen over and over – the biggest problem with renovation in this city is the city bureaucracy.


They’re also fleshing out the sprinkler system. A couple days ago the sprinkler supply risers were going in. Now they’re running pipe to the actual sprinkler head locations. When we went by they were done with the top two floors…

pipe for sprinklers installedLow voltage wiring

Low-voltage wiring

The low voltage / security guy also made a lot of progress. There is now lots of ethernet, cable TV, security, and even a little phone wiring in the building.

We’re getting a 6 camera security system. Three on the front of the house, two in the rear and one on the bulkhead/roof. We’ll be able to see any camera over the Internet with our iPhone – that’s sort of a cool feature that’s practical as well.


Finishing details on the stairs

There was also a guy in today doing welding on the stairs. There were a few finishing details to take care of, and they still need to do railings – but that will come a little later.

Continued work on the stoop

The masonry guy is continuing to work on the stoop. The under side of the stoop is looking pretty good and the opening for the grille is all cleaned up.

The fireplace surround

Dan’s been trying to figure out the fireplace surround. We’d like to do something nice, but don’t want it to be an upgrade / change order. I thought venetian plaster might be nice and not too expensive (since our contractor is really good with plaster work), but the foreman was pushing us to clad it in stone. Hopefully we can find a stone we like that’s not too expensive.


The next order of business is to get ConEd to connect the gas and electric. We need electric pretty desperately since we’ve been running on generators for months now. But with 170,000 customers without power ConEd has been busy with other things lately. Hopefully we can get them in soon.

Sprinklers Approved! (FINALLY)

The big item holding everything up lately has been approval for our sprinklers. The plans were submitted June 28th and the DOB was supposed to get them reviewed within 2 weeks. SEVEN weeks later they were approved. Just to put things in perspective – 5 weeks of mortgage payments is about $7,500. So a dud of a plan examiner just cost us $7,500. (Thank you DOB).

In the end there was nothing of any real substance wrong with the plans we submitted back on July 28. The plan examiner was just incompetent (IMHO – $7,500 later I feel I’ve paid enough to put it that bluntly). He didn’t seem to have the faintest idea of what he was actually looking at and he couldn’t even count – he insisted we had 68 heads when we had 38 heads and then gave us an objection for having too many heads on a 3″ water main connection when our sprinkler calculations are based on pressure – the number of heads and the size of the connection are irrelevant if the pressure is sufficient to support the load.

The ONLY thing that changed between the original filing and what was approved was the sprinkler schedule. Here’s what what originally submitted…

Sprinkler schedule submitted to DOB

And here is what what was approved…

Approved sprinkler schedule

Yes, there’s a bit more detail on the approved plans but the original one had the MEA number which is the unique identifier for the sprinkler head. That’s all that’s really important since the specs are based on the particular sprinkler head. If you have the unique identifier for the head there’s no real question about the specs. But I didn’t get the sense that the plan examiner understood the concept of a “unique identifier”. He was saying the inspectors in the field wanted to see things like flow rates. I can’t imagine that’s true – they’d just want to match the part number up to what was spec’d. It’s not like an inspector is going to sit there and do flow rate calculations in the field.

This is the problem with the DOB… Plan examiners need to specialize. Plan examiners for sprinkler systems should have degrees in mechanical or civil engineering. It does no one any good to have a plan examiner review something they don’t understand. If I didn’t trust our mechanical engineer I’d be wondering whether our sprinkler system will work properly when there’s a fire – it’s not like the plan examiner checked the substance of the plans and verified that it will work.

Oh, and on top of everything the plan examiner pads his time sheet. We had 20 minute appointments both times and at the end of everything he was there entering 1 hour into his time sheet. This time he didn’t even bother to discuss anything with Dan and our expediter. He just glanced at the formatting of the sprinkler schedule and then handed our expediter his stamp. Then he signed the sheets once they were stamped. For that he said he worked an hour. “Working” like that, he can get an 8 hour day done before lunchtime.

Now that the sprinklers are approved we can move ahead. The first thing that will get done is a new water main connection (we’ll be digging up the street). At that point we’ll have water, which will be a huge help. Once that’s done ConEd will put in gas and electric. The lack of electricity has been a big problem for our contractor – he’s been doing everything with generators – which gets expensive. Then there will be plumbing inspections and once those are done we can put in insulation. Once the windows are here (in 4-6 weeks) we can start on sheetrocking.

5 Stories & Big Bedrooms = More Expensive Sprinklers

There’s been a lot of uncertainty for us when it came to sprinklers…

  • At first we were hoping we didn’t need them (’cause we were trying to stay on budget). But we were told we do need them.
  • Then we were hoping that we only needed to sprinkler egress areas. But we were told we had to sprinkler the entire building (minus closets and bathrooms). But that’s probably a good thing – I’ll sleep better knowing it will be easier to get out in a fire.
  • Then we were hoping we could save some money by using CPVC (it’s legal for townhouses), but the plumber isn’t comfortable with CPVC – so he’s going to use black pipe.
  • Then we were hoping we could get by with 30 or fewer sprinkler heads since 30 and under can run off the domestic water supply. The architect was pretty confident we could do everything in 29 heads, but he cautioned he wasn’t an sprinkler guy and so he couldn’t guarantee it. But when a mechanical engineer went over the plans he decided we needed 37 heads.

So how did we get to 37 heads?

First, 5 stories = more space and more rooms to sprinkler. The top floor alone has 6 heads on it.

Second, we opted for having big bedrooms and smaller bathrooms (all of our bedrooms are over 200 sq. ft.) Turns out they’re bigger than can be covered with a single sprinkler head. If we were an office building it wouldn’t be a problem. The issue is that residential buildings tend to have a lot more flammable items along the walls – art, wall coverings, furniture, etc. That means residential sprinkler systems are required to soak the walls, not just the floors (as is typical in office buildings).  The architect suggested extended coverage heads that throw water over a bigger area, but the mechanical engineer determined that we didn’t have enough water pressure for those types of heads.

Cost-wise it turns out that our water connection was no good, so we have to do a new connection to the water main anyway. So going over 30 heads won’t be that much more expensive than what we would have had to do anyway. But I’m sure we’ll be seeing a change order for the extra heads…

concealed sprinkler head

BTW, I realized talking to some people a while back that some people don’t realize that sprinklers don’t have to be ugly any more. New sprinklers are usually just little discs on the ceiling like in the picture to the right.

Next the plumber has to figure out how he’s running the sprinkler pipes. We’re supposed to have recessed/concealed heads, but I’m not sure where the sprinkler pipe is going to go – there are drain pipes in the way in some places and dropping the ceiling isn’t an option in some places where we’re already at 8′ ceiling height. So the sprinkler drama isn’t quite over yet…