How Can Fire Sprinklers Boost Your Profits?

Don’t pass up the opportunity to combine plumbing services with residential sprinkler installation.
How Can Fire Sprinklers Boost Your Profits?
The ability to provide plumbing and fire sprinkler services gives you a competitive advantage over plumbers who do not offer fire sprinklers, as well as fire protection contractors who cannot run the plumbing lines. (Photos courtesy Uponor)

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Wherever you stand on the debate over requiring fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes, if you’re a professional plumbing contractor, there are a number of reasons you should consider adding multipurpose fire sprinkler installation to your business offerings.

A multipurpose system combines cold-water plumbing and fire sprinkler systems into one. Because the connections to the plumbing fixtures must be made by a licensed plumber, often the contractor who is already on the job — and has training on fire sprinkler installation as well — can install both systems simultaneously. (Can you say double your profits?)

In 2008, the International Code Council (ICC) put the requirement for sprinkler systems in all one- and two-family homes into the model codes. Despite resistance to adopting this code in its entirety on a state and local level, the number of homes with fire sprinklers has steadily increased in recent years. This is due to mandates created by state and local authorities, or because homebuilders want to include sprinklers as an upgrade to their properties. Communities also receive certain attractive trade ups when they add sprinklers to every home in a development, making it a more economically compelling choice.

It’s easy to see that as mandates increase, so will the need for trained, competent fire sprinkler installers. And the reality is traditional fire sprinkler contractors won’t always have the workforce or the desire to get involved in one- and two-family residential construction. For this reason, many states allow a plumbing contractor to install multipurpose plumbing systems.

This helps meet the growing demand for fire sprinklers in homes. Despite the opposition, many believe it is inevitable that fire sprinklers will eventually be mandated in all new homes.

A commonly used comparison for the battle over mandated residential fire sprinklers is the auto industry’s early opposition to making air bags standard in its vehicles. The industry didn’t want the added expense, claiming the requirement would make it more difficult for people to purchase a car. Today, no one would consider a new vehicle if it didn’t have airbags.

The same will eventually be true of fire sprinklers in homes. In fact, studies have shown no measurable decrease in new housing starts or home purchases in communities or states that have adopted the fire sprinkler requirement.

The win-win advantage

The ability to provide plumbing and fire sprinkler services gives you a competitive advantage over plumbers who do not offer fire sprinklers, as well as fire protection contractors who cannot run the plumbing lines. You can become the “one-stop shop” for your customers and for builders, enabling them to stick with a single contractor for both systems. This added value can go a long way toward establishing new clients.

A prime example are the California plumbers who got into the fire sprinkler business early on when their state adopted the code requirement in all new one- and two-family homes. Their businesses have benefited enormously. In some cases, after contracting to do the fire sprinkler installation, these plumbers then offered to complete the plumbing as well. Others, like Dale Maples of Wayne Maples Plumbing & Heating in Santa Rosa, California, leveraged their fire sprinkler businesses as an attractive add-on to the plumbing.

“It was an easy add-on for our existing customers,” Maples says. “I would tell them I could do both the plumbing and the fire sprinklers in one quote with one system and one type of product. Plus, they already knew and trusted us, so it was an easy sell.”

Offering fire sprinklers also helped Maples generate more plumbing business.

“The builders need the fire safety and, in order to get it, they must also do the plumbing,” he says.

Why it’s important — not just for business

Beyond all the business positives, the most compelling reason to become a fire sprinkler installer is the satisfaction of knowing your expertise and work are vitally important to saving lives. The number of fire deaths has decreased over the last four decades, but an unacceptable number of fire-related deaths continue to occur each year. Meanwhile, the misconception that occupants will have plenty of time to get out of a house in the event of a fire remains widespread in this country.

The fact is, for homes built over the past 20 years (with furniture built during that same time period), people are more at risk than they realize:

  • Advances in construction techniques have led to homes being built with “lightweight” materials that ignite and are completely consumed by fire in a vastly shorter amount of time, compared with older materials like solid-wood framing.
  • Older, or “legacy,” furniture constructed with heavy wood and wool ignites and burns more slowly than newer furniture made from synthetic materials. It used to take as long as 30 minutes for a room to be completely engulfed in flames and become uninhabitable. Today, that room might be gone within five minutes.

If you, or anyone you know, have experienced a home fire, you know the devastation it can bring. In the best scenario, everyone is able to escape safely, but then there is the fire and smoke damage. Of course, belongings can be replaced and houses rebuilt, but there will almost always be irreplaceable belongings that get lost in a fire, such as photos and keepsakes with sentimental value. Or perhaps someone’s pet.

In short, the emotional impact of a house fire can be devastating.

By the same token, it is difficult to assign a dollar value to being able to feel good about the work you’re doing and the invaluable service you’re providing. When you combine that with the growing market for fire sprinklers, it becomes clear that adding fire sprinkler installation is a smart business move you can also feel good about — from your head to your heart to your bottom line.

About the author: Melisa Rodriguez, P.E., is the design services supervisor for fire safety at Uponor and a professional engineer with NICET Level IV certification in fire sprinkler design. She received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota and is a professional member of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA). She is also vice chair of the communications subcommittee for the NFSA Future Leadership Committee; an alternate member of the NFPA Residential Technical Committee and the Governor’s Council Liaison for the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. She can be reached at melisa.rodriguez@uponor.com.



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