How to Save Money on Fire Sprinkler System Maintenance

Posted by Kevin Curran on Oct 28, 2021 10:15:00 AM

When evaluating the need for utilizing fire sprinkler corrosion mitigation solutions, the cost of system replacement is typically used to justify the cost added. Considering only system replacement cost, return on investment is common to see in about two years. However, there are maintenance costs associated with leak repairs caused by internal corrosion. This number varies greatly and can be tough to estimate but should always be considered.


Factors Affecting Maintenance Costs

The cost of repairing leaks is heavily dependent on location, facility type, and raw material pricing. Different areas of the country differ greatly in labor rates. The San Francisco Bay area will have far higher labor costs than the Midwest, for example. In addition, everyone is aware of the recent volatility in raw material pricing and the cost of sprinkler piping has increased significantly in 2021.

Facility type and access is another factor that affects the cost of maintenance. A parking garage will be easier and less expensive to repair a leak than a waste management facility with high ceilings and conveyer belts below that require scaffolding.

While it is easy to focus on the direct cost of repairing a leak, it’s important to note business downtime and building/product damage. For example, if a warehouse experiences a leak, costs due to business interruption, lost product, and/or damaged equipment can be immense.


Dry System Maintenance Savings

To decrease the cost of dry system maintenance, the existing air compressor can be replaced with a nitrogen generator. The nitrogen generator reduces the corrosive oxygen content within system piping from approximately 21% to 2%. It is reasonable to expect a minimum 4X increase in system life span when adding a nitrogen generator.

Many are hesitant about adding a nitrogen generator to an existing system because they are worried it will not maintain pressure in the system due to existing system leaks. Nitrogen generators are designed to maintain system pressure in dry/preaction systems in compliance with NFPA 25 standards. If the existing leak rate is greater, partial piping replacement may be necessary to bring the system into compliance with NFPA 25. In dry systems, these are typically the portions of the mains that trap water.


Wet System Maintenance Savings

Wet systems differ in that the corrosion takes place at the high points where the air collects. There are two different methods of controlling this corrosion to reduce maintenance costs.

The first method is to reduce the amount of air in the system by using an automatic air vent. These vents are placed at the high point of the system and only need a ½ inch connection to install. These vents can increase service sales by adding a vent any time a wet system is taken down for maintenance or testing. The end-user gets a system that will have a far greater life span for a fraction of leak repair cost. 

Once systems have sustained enough corrosive damage to a point where an air vent alone cannot prevent future pinhole leaks from forming, the best option is to perform wet pipe nitrogen inerting (WPNI) in these systems. The WPNI process removes the corrosive oxygen gas by diluting the oxygen content in the system with high-purity nitrogen gas before filling the system with water. After that point, any trapped gas still remaining is oxygen-free and non-corrosive. It is common to see systems previously experiencing leaks every few weeks to not have any leaks for 6+ years post-WPNI, without any pipe replacement.


Savings from Pipe Assessments

ECS also provides pipe assessment services that can decrease maintenance costs. Pipe samples are analyzed to determine the amount of system life left and provide an early warning to possible leaks. Samples can even be a section of piping that was previously removed for repair. In other circumstances, full system inspections are performed where ECS personnel perform onsite video scoping of system piping to determine what, if any, pipe replacement is needed and extract pipe samples for analysis. Either assessment method provides a low-cost opportunity to mitigate problems now so the end-user will save money in the future.

If you have any questions regarding fire sprinkler corrosion mitigation or reducing maintenance costs on new and existing systems, please contact our team of specialists.

Kevin Curran

Written by Kevin Curran

Project Engineer