Having a great team consists of having both good designers to layout and design a project, as well as having good fitters in the field to install it and bring the system to life. When it comes to disagreements between the field in the office, the list is long and the conversations have the potential to get colorful quick.
Here are some of the things that fitters in the field want you to know when designing sprinkler systems- designers should understand that a part of their job is to make the installation as easy as possible, for example.
Limiting unnecessary breaks or elbows, changes in directions, and maintaining a consistent elevation for future service.
Basically, installers want the system to be as streamlined and simple as the project will allow. Don’t make it unnecessarily complicated if it doesn’t have to be. Where pipe can be run straight, run it straight. Where elevations can be consistent, be consistent. Where six fittings could instead be two fittings, use two fittings. Some jobs have a lot of obstructions, inconsistent structure, or other complexities. We get it. Just create a layout that’s as clean and consistent as possible, where the project permits.
Another Fitter frustration: reduce the amount of penetrations.
By laying out a sprinkler system to reduce the amount of walls being penetrated and generally knowing the amount of work required to penetrate these walls, run the pipe in ways that reduce wall penetrations and provides the installation team an economic way to install. Core-drilling through CMU, for example, is difficult and takes a lot of time. Some penetrations have sleeve requirements. Rated penetration have firestopping requirements.
As designers understand that it’s not because the fitters are lazy, rather the installation team is commonly the most expensive part of the project and by eliminating excessive joints, elevation changes and busting through walls, not only will this help keep installation costs down, but by reviewing your design can have a positive effect on the material cost.
As well, designers need to consider how the piping is going to be installed.
Pipe is more than just lines and circles on paper. When it arrives on a job site and taking the consideration as to how physically the system will be installed by the installation team can not only provide a better working relationship between the field and the office, but provide economic incentives as well.
For example, a project has 8-inch schedule 40 and run perpendicular to the open web steel joist. The pipe is also required to be installed up inside the bar joist.
The lengths for this installation per the formula used by designers is depth of the bar joist divided by 6, multiplied by the distance between bar joists; it is nearly impossible to do this with a standard two or three man installation crew. Instead, it's taking four or five fitters on two separate man lifts to perform this task.
Understandably, certain projects have specifications that are set out prior to design, but by understanding how the system has to be installed can help expedite installation and reduce manpower.
If a situation is untenable or extraordinary difficult, then that might be an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the installers and see if other design arrangements can be made. Some of the comes with experience and knowing what “red flags” to look for, but much of this can be accomplished by always thinking about how the install will actually get put together.
Another common situation that is found in high rise installation is prefabricated pipe that is unable to fit in a service elevator. Ensure that proper access to the project area can be done for both the installation team as well as the material needed to perform the job.
There's no point in burning hours on a project by ordering full lengths of prefab, only to have the service elevator or an awkward staircase unable to take the lengths of pipe.
Take a trip to the site ahead of time. If possible, review the load in and lay down area to confirm adequate space will be provided for the team. Small things like this can go a long way in assisting the installation team to be successful.
If you’re unsure, ask your estimator, foreman or project manager. Chances are they might be more in-tune with the general contractor and may already know how they plan to get pipe into the building.
What do designers and installers both have in common?
They both love being right.
Designers, especially new designers, must be aware that right from the beginning, they're going to be under a microscope for every little thing. When a sprinkler fitter or project manager brings an issue to them, it's not simply to bust their chops or to prove how smart they are. Most of the time installers are calling to bounce ideas off the office staff, but defenses can get thrown up quick.
The best way to address the situation is to discuss options openly, keeping in mind code compliance as well as cost efficiency.
Regardless, designers need to know and understand that everyone makes mistakes.
Own up to your own and help others learn from theirs. Find humor in the conversations that you have with each other. It wasn't that awkward when I laid it out on my computer or I didn't show any leaks on my drawing is a good way to build a rapport with the team as well as stay up to date with the installation. Good relationships ensure that everyone stays on the same page and make it easier to communicate from the field to the office.
The thing I love about the Fire Protection industry is the constant evolution. The smartest people in this industry will openly tell you that they don't know everything. Everyone from the greenest apprentice to the 30 year fitters will always have something to learn in this industry. The moment you think that you know at all is the beginning of the end of your career.
Learn to love the education and learning process. It's never ending. We're all in this for the same goal. To protect property in life.
I'm Chris Logan, this is MeyerFire University.
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