Properly educating yourself will make installing a residential sprinkler a much simpler process.

You may have missed that small article in the Sunday paper a few weeks ago about plumbing in space. The article indicated that Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick would be taking a second space walk to hook up the plumbing for the space station’s new room called Tranquility.

Part of the plumbing included water recycling machines. You know what that means - NASA has gone green. Or, you could say NASA has always been green in space.

I was curious how you obtain a plumbing license to work on plumbing in space. What are the qualifications required? So I looked up the bios of both astronauts.

Robert Behnken has a Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology. Not a shabby school to receive a Ph. D. from. Dr. Behnken’s thesis was in the area of nonlinear control applied to stabilizing rotating stall and surge in axial flow compressors. I suppose that is plumbing-related.

Nicholas Patrick also has a Ph.D. However, his is from Massachusetts Institute of Technology - another not-so-shabby school. Dr. Patrick truly is a rocket scientist. He worked for the engine division of GE and Boeing prior to becoming an astronaut.

Fire Sprinklers Are Not Rocket Science

I guess you can say plumbing really is rocket science if it requires a rocket scientist to put it together in space. Which brings me to the ongoing discussion on Earth regarding multipurpose residential sprinklers. Some think the design of multipurpose residential sprinkler systems is rocket science. I would have to disagree.

Unfortunately, very few plumbing contractors have picked up a copy of the International Code Council’s 2009 International Residential Code. If you have not purchased this book, do it right now. You can order it online at

The reason you need this book is because of the new requirements in Section P2904. This section is on residential sprinklers, both multipurpose and stand-alone systems. The same requirements appear in the 2010 edition of NFPA 13D. So, if you don’t want to buy the residential code, at least buy NFPA 13D. That can be purchased online at

P2904 is what you need to study and learn inside out for residential sprinkler design and installation. It is prepared in a cookbook manner so you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.

Keep in mind, some state licensing boards are adding continuing education requirements in order for plumbing contractors to install residential sprinklers. The time involved may be 16 hours, 24 hours or 40 hours of continuing education in the area of residential sprinklers. Whatever it takes, you need to spend those hours studying the contents of P2904 and NFPA 13D.

I attended a recent meeting where I was asked if plumbing contractors will be able to figure this out and compete with sprinkler contractors. My response was that, of course, they can understand the sprinkler installation requirements. As to whether they can compete, that is up to each plumbing contractor. If they can’t compete, they are not going to get the work. It is as simple as that.

You don’t have to be a Ph.D. or a shuttle astronaut to design and install a residential sprinkler system. It is a basic system - more basic than most plumbing systems. I like to think of a residential sprinkler system as being another fixture in every room. That fixture is the sprinkler (head).

Like any fixture, it requires a supply of water at a given flow rate and pressure. The beauty is you don’t deal with fixture units. The manufacturer tells you the exact gpm and psi required for the sprinkler.

The only remaining factor is running a water pipe to the sprinkler. Of course, that water pipe must be capable of flowing the gpm at the psi specified by the manufacturer. That is easy for any plumbing contractor to figure out. You couldn’t make the calculations any easier. Wait a second. They did make the calculations easier - in section P2904 of the International Residential Code and the appendix of NFPA 13D.

But if you would rather have a spreadsheet that does the calculations for you, you can download one for free via the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition Web site at Click “resources” and then scroll down and click the “tools” heading. The spreadsheet is in Excel format.

As you can see, the only difficult part of the installation is figuring out where to locate the sprinkler - in the ceiling or a side wall. You have to take into consideration the area that each sprinkler will cover and the obstructions that could block the water flow from the sprinkler. Once you master the location of the sprinkler, the piping is the easy part.

Running the piping to the residential sprinkler system in a smart way is where you make money or lose the contract. Residential sprinkler contractors have already done a great job of figuring out how to run the piping in the most economical way. If you are going to compete, you have to pipe the system better than your competitor.

Within the next few months, the ICC will be publishing a book on residential sprinklers geared toward the contractor. This is another book that you may want to pick up.

I would also suggest you download all of the technical information on residential sprinklers from the various sprinkler manufacturers’ Web sites:

  • Globe,

  • Reliable,

  • Senju,

  • Tyco,

  • Victaulic,

  • Viking,

    Be sure to download the specification sheets for each model of residential sprinklers. This is the information you need when locating the sprinklers in the ceiling or side wall.

    Remember, it’s not rocket science. It’s simply another fixture with cold water piped to it.