Adrian Peschi, LCAM, knew that if the retrofit went badly, he’d hear it from hundreds of unofficial supervisors – the residents of the high-rise apartment building he manages in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

As general manager of the 338-unit Coral Ridge Towers South, Peschi feared the fire sprinkler retrofit required by state law would disrupt the lives of residents and bring complaints about noise, dirt, blocked hallways and other problems. But thanks to a decision to use BlazeMaster fire protection systems and to hire Sprinklermatic Fire Protection Services to install it, the retrofit was problem-free.

“The project in every sense was superb,” Peschi relays. “We had good comments from our residents. We were happy with the entire process, and it moved along much faster than we thought it would.”

Coral Ridge is one of hundreds of older high-rise residential buildings in Florida complying with new sprinkler requirements. While new buildings three stories or higher have been required since 1994 to have fire sprinklers, many older high-rise buildings were left unprotected. To close that gap, the state legislature set a Dec. 31, 2019, deadline for unsprinklered high-rise buildings (generally 75 feet or higher) to add fire sprinklers.

In place of a sprinkler system, building owners can choose an Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS), also known as Fire Safety Evaluation System (FSES), per NFPA 101a. This is a life and safety system that is less expensive than a traditional sprinkler system because it uses less and smaller pipe, and fewer sprinkler heads. It is meant to protect the residents by providing a water curtain that assists them in evacuating the building.

This requires:

  • Sprinklers in common areas;
  • One sprinkler head inside the front door of each unit;
  • Integrated smoke detection and alarm system;
  • Adequate exits from common areas; and
  • Compartmentalization to contain fires (fire doors, fire walls, etc.).

It does not provide full protection for the building itself. This system is allowed in Florida, but may not be in every state.

Peschi notes once it became clear that the sprinkler requirement would not be overturned or delayed, his priority was choosing the best contractor for an ELSS.

“If we had picked the wrong company and something went awry halfway through the job, we’re the ones who look bad, so we were very concerned about choosing the right company,” he says.

Coral Ridge officials first interviewed Sprinklermatic, a leading Southeast Florida fire safety company. The family-owned business explained to Coral Ridge owners, management and residents what the job required and why using CPVC pipe would make the retrofit fast and cause minimal disruption. It also recommended a fire engineering company which drew up plans for the work.

“I did not know anything about CPVC, but the more I learned, the more obvious it was that it was the right material for a retrofit,” Peschi states.

Though Coral Ridge officials interviewed other contractors, they kept returning to Sprinklermatic. “We knew they were a company that would help us look good as managers and as a board,” Peschi says.

Work started in summer 2018, and it quickly became apparent that Coral Ridge had made the right choice of contractor and material. “At every junction with this we’ve been pleasantly surprised and impressed,” Peschi says. “The guys were very clean and professional, and we worked well together.”

Peschi says that during the project, officials from nearby high-rise buildings visited to examine the work in progress and were impressed by the lack of disruption and relative speed of the project.

Sprinklermatic Vice President Timothy O’Brien says BlazeMaster CPVC was a perfect fit for the Coral Ridge project.

“It’s a product we’ve been able to incorporate in multiple sectors – hospitality, residential,” he states. “Anywhere we can use the product, we do. I find it to be the absolute best product to do fire protection with.”

O’Brien explains the pipe is ideal for retrofits because it is lightweight and comes in shorter lengths than other materials, making it easier to handle on the jobsite. It does not require power tools, welding or threading; and does not pose worksite fire risks. Contractors require only CPVC solvent cement and a ratchet cutter, hacksaw blade, tube cutter or chamfering and deburring tool.

“It’s faster and it reduces the pain for customers,” Sprinklermatic President Robin Collier says. “The quicker I’m able to get crews in and out, the faster building residents can get back to a normal life – and that’s what they’re concerned about.”