In Agreement on Residential Sprinklers

I just re-read Julius Ballanco’s articles on residential sprinkler systems inPM Engineerover the past year and couldn’t agree with him more. It seems there are a lot of decisions that are “no brainers,” but for some reason (maybe for the sake of debate) the right decision doesn’t get made. I wish people understood how and why good decisions are made.
Mike Salmon
Construction Administrator
KJWW Des Moines, IA 

I write to thank Julius Ballanco for his wonderful articles on residential sprinklers. I am one of those who also pushes for residential sprinkler systems. I have been trying to get the State of Wisconsin to make it mandatory in all new residential homes, but when you are up against the home builders it’s a tough sell. I even tried to sell a specific system to the home builders association in Eau Claire, WI, and got four builders out of about 50 to show up. And the ones that showed up still didn’t agree. I know that they have no problem selling a homeowner a $10,000 window or countertop, or putting in landscaping - but they have a problem selling them a safety system that is cheaper and saves lives. I just don’t get it.

I lost my whole family in a house fire in July of 1999 in Maiden Rock, WI, including wife Elly (age 32), son William (5-1/2), daughters Alexis (3) and Natalie (11 months) and nephew (Josh 10). They were visiting my in-laws on a weekend and they lived in an old farm house with no smoke detectors. They now have a smoke detector program in the City of Chippewa Falls, WI.

The fire department there gives away smoke detectors to kids in 3rd grade for there own house and grandparents that need them at no charge. I know it helps. I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what I and others have gone through, and I know that building new houses with these systems will help.

Again, thanks for the great articles and keep up the good work.
Kirt Pickerign
MEP Associates, LLC
Eau Claire, WI

Thanks to Julius Ballanco for his regularly interesting and informative articles inPM Engineer. In the 1980s, I was a consultant to the NY State Building Code Agency and was appalled to see how little input came from engineers and architects. The one worthwhile experience was the hearing regarding sprinklers vs smoke detectors in residences; the fire guys wanted sprinklers, the builders wanted detectors. 

The fire guys noted that half the fires they dealt with were in single-family houses (in NYC apartments, of course) where the danger to occupants and to the fire department was highest. I became a strong and since then a strict advocate/specifier of sprinklers in all residential occupancies, including dorms and hotels.

The cost you mention dealing with sprinklers is accurate, and, in most residences, a sprinkler system can cost no more than that extra toilet or the luxurious water closet sets.

It all depends upon what goes through the minds of the users.

Keep up the good work.
Bob Tieger

Higher Efficiency Means Higher Savings?

My question is in regards to the article by Francis Dietz in the May 2008 issue on the new boiler standards (“Modified Standards For Boilers”), which talks about how we save money with the higher efficiency boilers. I question some of the ideas put forth in this article and wish to give my experience with putting in a higher efficiency boiler.

About 16 years ago, I replaced my 1908 coal-fired boiler, which had been converted to gas in about 1932. It still worked fine, but I thought I could get extra room in the basement as well as save gas by installing an 83% efficient boiler. It did give me a lot of extra room, but I believe that is all it did.

The first year after installation I obtained gas statements for the previous two years and compared the costs, taking into account the degree-days for each year. The savings were approximately $1. One of the reasons it bothered me about the very low amount of savings was the fact that it cost $3,000+ to replace the old boiler.

During the first 25 years of ownership of the old boiler, I had to repair the pilot light assembly once and that involved about 2 hours of time (parts not being available since the gas conversion unit had not been made for 50 years or so). Since the new boiler has been installed, I have had to replace the igniter twice at a cost of about $50 each time. Now this summer I have to replace the control module, which has become intermittent, at an unknown cost. My maintenance costs have gone up drastically with the new boiler, even though I do the repairs myself.

At the current service rate of $85 per hour, a regular owner would have incurred quite a lot higher expenses. This makes me question the savings with the new “improved” boilers now being sold. The really high 95% efficient boilers require much more care to keep them from failing so I wonder just how much we are doing for the environment with all the new improvements we are mandating be done. Remember that building replacements for the early failures does cause a lot of pollution and energy usage.

Another thing that should be mentioned in some article in your magazine is the fact that aluminum boilers do not work well if you use the wrong anti-freeze in a summer home situation. You have to monitor the PH value very carefully or the boiler can fail in just a couple of seasons. At one heating expo, I talked to several boiler engineers and one even said the savings of using the 95% efficient boiler was negated by the cost of replacement in about 20 years as the old cast iron boilers would last much longer and had a lower initial cost.

The overall situation of mandating new requirements on the basis of only one part of the picture bothers me a lot. I would like to see regulating bodies take a more realistic view of what is involved in future regulations they are implementing.

Thank you very much for considering my views.
Edward Downs, P.E.