Pictures clearly tell the story of incredible things one finds during sprinkler system inspections. 

Photo 1.

The year was 1999 and my task was to complete an inspection of various existing sprinkler systems in a large multi-story warehouse. I’m aware that all that is required of those on inspection is normally a walk-through visual inspection (NFPA 25:1998/2-2.2: “Sprinkler pipe and fittings shall be inspected annually from the floor level.”). However, I occasionally like to stand on a ladder or chair and spot-check above the ceiling, especially when combustible construction is involved.

Photo 2.

This particular day I was accompanied by one of the building’s engineering staff, and when peering around with a flashlight I noticed that the pendent sprinkler nearest me (see Photo 1) was not connected to any piping. It was simply mounted in the ceiling tile and supported by a homemade bracket that was affixed to the ceiling grid.

I stared at this curiosity for a bit and then looked at the building engineer. “That’s a bad head,” he said. Hmmm, more like bad consumer logic, and apparently a deferred maintenance issue.

Photo 3.

The aberrations witnessed during inspection, survey, and punchlist activity seem virtually endless, and I suppose part of the inspector’s job is to clear up these little blemishes. One that is frequently seen (Photo 2) is the inspector’s test discharge piping that goes nowhere. NFPA 13 (2007 ed.: has long mandated that “the discharge shall be to the outside, to a drain connection capable of accepting full flow under system pressure, or to another location where water damage will not result.” All too often, what an inspector flags is something that was not installed as shown on the shop drawings, which is why we have engineers (Photo 3) field inspecting new work today.

Photo 4.

I like this main drain discharge accessory (Photo 4), which alleviates a typical building owner’s gripe regarding the ugly accumulation of grime and rust on a building exterior, resulting from years of sprinkler water discharge. This “lamb’s tongue” downspout opening doesn’t look anything like a mechanical component. It reminds me of something from my childhood that you’d expect to see a prize or some giant gumball come rolling out of, but it obviously gets the job done and keeps the building free from stain and discoloration.

Photo 5.

One of my colleagues pointed this rare gem out to me (Photo 5), another fire sprinkler that was discovered not to be connected to any actual piping. After a few inquiries, it turns out that this sprinkler actually houses a pinhole lens video system that is used for security surveillance. A New Jersey manufacturer sold these “camera sprinklers” in the early 1990s. No word on whether its installation was approved by the local fire marshal.

Photo 6.

Conventional sprinklers of course, are often installed where they should not be placed, like in the middle of a return air diffuser (Photo 6), or where they are within 6 feet of another sprinkler (Photo 7) [see NFPA 13:]. Where extended-coverage pendent sprinklers are installed, these should not be installed less than 8 feet apart unless a baffle is installed that protects the spray discharge from one from wetting the actuating elements of the other.

Photo 7.

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay enough to return next month, when I’ll show you more interesting things. Sights that always make me do a double-take.