Plumbing and sprinkler contractors need training and certification to install these systems.

Ever since the vote to add mandatory sprinkler requirements to the International Residential Code (IRC), there has been a lot of posturing in the plumbing and sprinkler industry. Neither side is helping further the cause of mandating residential sprinkler systems in all residential buildings. It is time to cooperate and get things done.

There are all sorts of predictions being made about the residential sprinkler market. Many of these predictions are similar to the predictions you received from your stockbroker right before the economy tanked. In other words, don’t trust any of them.

Both the IRC and NFPA 13D allow residential sprinkler systems for one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses to be either multipurpose or stand-alone systems. As to what percentage of the systems will be multipurpose vs. stand-alone is anyone’s guess.

There is also no general statement that can be made regarding the difference in price between a multipurpose and a stand-alone system. Sometimes a multipurpose piping system will be the lower-cost system and sometimes a stand-alone system will be. My brother’s house has a multipurpose piping system. My sister’s house has a stand-alone piping system. It depends on the house, the design, the water supply, etc.

Plumbing contractors are presenting their case that multipurpose piping systems can only be installed by licensed plumbers. This is based on the fact that the sprinkler system is a part of the potable water distribution system.

Sprinkler contractors make the case that stand-alone sprinkler systems should only be installed by sprinkler contractors since they are not a part of the plumbing system. Therefore, only sprinkler contractors have the knowledge to install these systems.

Both sides are a little bit right, as well as a lot wrong. For starters, not all plumbing contractors know how to design and install residential sprinkler systems. The same can be said for sprinkler contractors; not all sprinkler contractors know how to install residential systems. Both need to verify their education and experience in the profession to install residential sprinkler systems.

Which leads me to my most important point: Both plumbing contractors and sprinkler contractors can install multipurpose residential sprinkler systems. And both plumbing contractors and sprinkler contractors can install stand-alone sprinkler systems. This is where cooperation is needed, not sniping.

A multipurpose piping system is often identified as a cold water distribution system in which there are takeoffs for sprinklers. In fact, a multipurpose piping system is a sprinkler system with takeoffs for the plumbing fixtures. The main piping is the sprinkler piping, not the cold water distribution piping.

If a sprinkler contractor can install a stand-alone system, why can’t that contractor install a multipurpose piping system with takeoffs provided for the plumbing contractor to connect the plumbing fixtures? If a plumbing contractor can install a multipurpose sprinkler system with takeoffs for the plumbing fixtures, why can’t the plumbing contractor install a stand-alone system that is basically the same piping system but without takeoffs for plumbing fixtures?

If you can come up with truly logical reasons why a sprinkler contractor cannot install a multipurpose piping system or a plumbing contractor cannot install a stand-alone sprinkler system, then keep sniping at one another.

If you think logically and realize there is no reason for the infighting, you will take off the gloves, shake hands, sit down and talk to one another for the betterment of mankind. I am serious. This is for life safety protection and the eventual elimination of fire deaths in residential buildings.

To respond to the plumbing contractors’ concerns, a sprinkler contractor knows how to install sprinkler systems. The sprinkler contractor can install a multipurpose piping system and provide tee connections for the plumbing contractor to connect the fixtures. I would agree that sprinkler contractors need training on potable water piping requirements and backflow. That’s fine! Require that training in order for a sprinkler contractor to install these systems. Most likely all the information needed can be addressed in a six-hour seminar.

My recommendation is to have the sprinkler contractors take such a seminar, then certify him in the installation of multipurpose piping systems. There can even be a test at the end of the seminar. Require the plumbing contractor to install the plumbing fixtures.

In response to the sprinkler contractors, there is no difference in the design of a multipurpose vs. a stand-alone sprinkler system. If you can design and install one, you can design and install the other. Hence, plumbing contractors can install both multipurpose and stand-alone systems.

I would also agree that plumbing contractors need to be trained and certified in the design and installation of residential sprinkler systems. Having served on the ASSE 7000 committee, I am in total agreement with the standard in requiring plumbing contractors to have 40 hours of training on the design and installation of such systems. The standard requires the passage of a certification exam. It also requires continuing education.

All plumbing apprenticeship training programs should include the design and installation of residential sprinklers. By modifying the current curriculum, all future plumbing contractors will be trained to install residential sprinkler systems. It is only us old-timers that would need continuing education for certification. All new journeymen would have received the training.

It is time for every plumbing licensing board and every sprinkler contractor licensing board to make these changes immediately. Work together and get it done properly.

The fighting over work distribution looks really stupid to the public. They wonder what the heck is going on. They also wonder why each group accuses the other of not knowing what they are doing. Is this really how you want to be perceived?

Any division of work should be decided in the field. Compete against one another. Typically, the lower price wins the most bids. So, compete for the work.

We are all in this together. Both sides can do the work. Both sides need to compete against each other. Artificial barriers do not serve the public. Remember, it is the public you are protecting, not your own industry.