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+Jason Hugo

#131 – Which Fire Sprinkler Do I Have? And How Do I Replace It?

Posted by Jason Hugo on 10/23/2018 to Fire Sprinkler Head Replacement Cabinet
Replace Old Fire Sprinklers

Deflectors and information in the fire sprinkler cabinet make it easy to identify new fire sprinklers, but older fire sprinklers often take more effort

In the nearly 150 years since automatic sprinklers were first introduced, countless fire sprinkler manufacturers have made their mark on the fire protection industry. But because many new manufacturers and products have entered the market, and because some established manufacturers have fallen off the map, identifying a fire sprinkler and finding a suitable replacement can sometimes be surprisingly difficult.

In this article, we'll describe what you need to know about identifying newer and older fire sprinklers, and help you understand how to make a fire code-compliant choice between an exact replacement or a close substitute.

If you're looking for a replacement fire sprinkler and already know which sprinkler you have, click here to browse our selection of commercial fire sprinklers.

Marked deflector plates provide a starting point for figuring out which sprinkler you have

Most fire sprinklers feature the same basic components: a sealing assembly (plug) that keeps water or air from escaping prematurely, a heat-sensitive element that releases the plug at a certain temperature, a deflector that distributes water effectively, and a frame to keep everything in place. Together, these parts guarantee that water discharges from fire sprinkler supply lines in time to contain fires and save lives.

Components of a Fire Sprinkler Head

The deflector, a small plate located at the tip of each fire sprinkler head, is usually imprinted with all the information needed to order the manufacturer's exact replacement or – if that sprinkler is discontinued or recalled – a code-compliant alternative. 

Some sprinkler heads may be concealed behind a cover plate. To access the deflector, gently unscrew the cover plate. If it spins but doesn't unscrew, softly tug at the plate until it detaches.

Concealed Fire Sprinkler
Behind this ceiling-mounted cover plate hangs a pendent fire sprinkler head. Source: Fox Valley Fire

Word to the wise: be careful while inspecting your fire sprinkler. Touching the head is not recommended under any circumstances. An object as small as a coat hanger can break the sprinkler's fusible link, triggering a deluge of water that results in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in damage.  

The sprinkler identification number (SIN) found on all NFPA-compliant sprinklers made since 2001 makes it easy to figure out a sprinkler's manufacturer and model

Each fire sprinkler manufactured in accordance with specifications from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) after December 31st, 2000 has a five-to-six digit sprinkler identification number, or SIN, printed on the deflector plate. By looking up that number in a SIN directory or your preferred search engine, it's often easy to locate data sheets that provide crucial details about a fire sprinkler's design.

Fire Sprinkler Diagram
Looking up your SIN (here labeled as “model”) can streamline sprinkler replacement. 

These data sheets list the K-factor (orifice size), response type, deflector type, and maximum working pressure of a fire sprinkler, along with images, warnings, and installation guides.

Tyco SW-20 SW-24 Sprinkler Data Sheet

The first page of the data sheet for Tyco's Model SW-20 and SW-24 fire sprinkler provides a quick overview of this sprinkler's features and uses. Click here or on the image for a full-sized version. Source: Tyco Fire Products.  

However, an exact match cannot be determined only with the SIN number. One SIN may refer to multiple fire sprinkler heads with different temperature ratings, finishes, and approvals. Combining this information with the temperature rating printed on the deflector can lead to an exact match.

If searching by a SIN number doesn't quickly turn up a data sheet – or leads to other, older documents –your sprinkler may have been discontinued or replaced. 

If you've located your SIN and want to search for an exact replacement, view the table at the bottom of this post, or press Control-F (Windows) or Command-F (Mac) and type in your SIN to see if QRFS carries an exact match for your current fire sprinkler head.

The list included with your sprinkler cabinet can tell you which sprinklers are installed in your building 

An NFPA-compliant system has a selection of spare sprinkler heads kept in a sprinkler cabinet. That cabinet must contain a list of the building's sprinklers, including the SIN (or other identifying characteristics) and a general description of each one. 

Fire Sprinkler Cabinet
An up-to-date sprinkler cabinet is a useful tool.

When this list includes sprinklers without a SIN, entries must also include the manufacturer, model, orifice, the deflector type (describing if the sprinkler is an upright, sidewall, pendent, or other type), and pressure rating. While that's more than enough information to identify a sprinkler, it's important to use this information carefully: many buildings have multiple types of sprinklers installed and these models generally cannot be mixed and matched.

Sprinklers made before 2001 may or may not have a SIN, and some SINs belong to manufacturers or products that are no longer available

Older fire sprinklers may not have a SIN. Instead, those made before 2001 often feature other marks, including proprietary logos and lettering stamped on the frame or deflector plate. Some sprinklers may currently be sold by a different manufacturer, under a different model name, or discontinued entirely.

It's sometimes possible to identify the sprinkler in question by looking at other information on its deflector or frame. Many once-popular models were manufactured by companies now merged with Tyco Fire Products, including Central Sprinkler Company (CSC), Gem Sprinkler Company, Grinnell Corporation, and Star Sprinkler Incorporated (Star). Some, but not all, of these products are still sold as Tyco-branded sprinklers.

Old Fire Sprinkler Models Now Sold as Tyco

Marks on each of the above deflectors indicate that the sprinkler's manufacturer has become part of Tyco. From left to right, these are images or illustrations of deflectors on recalled sprinklers by Central (left; see the "CSC" on the deflector's bottom-right side), Star (middle; indicated by the Star logo), and Gem/Grinnell (right; as indicated by the "G" in a triangle). Sources linked.

But searches for these sprinklers can be difficult. Some manufacturers, like Gem, feature their model numbers on the body of the sprinkler rather than the deflector, making them difficult or impossible to view without first removing the sprinkler. Central's sprinkler (pictured left) lists the model "ELOC" on the bottom-left, but it's difficult to tell at a glance which combination of letters refers to the exact model.

Searching by the manufacturer or model number may turn up some documentation, such as an update to a manufacturer's catalog. But dated product catalogs, discontinuation notices, or dead-end searches often provide too little information to find a comparable substitute, to say nothing of an exact replacement. For example, many (but not all) of the Star LD-2 sprinklers pictured below are now sold as Tyco's TY-L Series. 

Star LD-2 Fire Sprinkler Head
Is this a discontinued Star LD-2 sprinkler? More research is needed. Source: eBay 

Still, some important characteristics of a sprinkler can be gleaned by taking a careful look. Standard-response and quick-response sprinklers, the two most common response types in commercial systems, can be distinguished by the diameter of their glass bulb, which is either 3 millimeters (quick response) or 5 millimeters (standard response).

Standard vs. Quick Response Sprinklers
The stockier, elliptical bulb on the right is typical of a standard-response fire sprinkler. The quick-response model on the left features a leaner, cylindrical bulb. 

If the temperature rating isn't listed on the fire sprinkler's deflector, look for a glass bulb – the color of the liquid provides an indication of the activation temperature. In general, darker colors are paired with sprinklers that activate at higher temperatures. Most sprinklers feature an orange or red bulb, indicating that the activation temperature is between 135F and 170F, or a yellow or green bulb, for activation at temperatures between 175F and 225F.

Fire Sprinkler Temperature Rating Table
Colored liquids inside a fire sprinkler's glass bulb correspond with the temperature rating. 

Do I need to replace an older fire sprinkler? What if I can't identify it?

If you've discovered that your fire sprinklers are old or no longer sold, don't panic: their simple design allows many of them to remain in service for decades. Still, NFPA guidelines require that sprinklers be replaced – or at least laboratory-tested – after a set length of time.

In general, fire sprinklers must be replaced or tested after 50 years in service and then at ten-year intervals thereafter. Quick-response models must be tested or replaced after 20 years in service and then at ten-year intervals, whereas dry sprinklers must be tested or replaced after 10 years in service and then at ten-year intervals. This is because the “failure rate of dry sprinklers in service for 10 years is approximately 50%.”

Regardless of service life, any sprinkler failing a visual inspection must be replaced. 

From the 2017 edition of NFPA 25

 5.2.1.1.1* Any sprinkler that shows signs of any of the following shall be replaced: 

 (1) Leakage 
 (2) Corrosion detrimental to sprinkler performance 
 (3) Physical damage 
 (4) Loss of fluid in the glass bulb heat-responsive element 
 (5) Loading detrimental to sprinkler performance 
 (6) Paint other than that applied by the sprinkler manufacturer

Additionally, if a sprinkler has a mismatched or missing cover plate or escutcheon and a listed replacement is no longer available, it must be replaced. 

From the 2017 edition of NFPA 25

 5.2.1.1.5.1 Where the listed escutcheon or coverplate from a listed assembly is missing and is no longer commercially available, the sprinkler shall be replaced.

Fire sprinklers in the spare cabinet must also be kept up-to-date. Buildings in compliance with NFPA 25 keep a stock of at least six but sometimes 24 or more of them, depending on the number currently in service. If the makeup of the fire sprinklers in a building change, the contents of the sprinkler cabinet must change along with it.

 5.4.1.5.4 The stock of spare sprinklers shall include all types and ratings installed and shall be as follows:

 (1) For protected facilities having under 300 sprinklers – no fewer than 6 sprinklers
 (2) For protected facilities having 300 to 1000 sprinklers – no fewer than 12 sprinklers
 (3) For protected facilities having over 1000 sprinklers – no fewer than 24 sprinklers

 5.4.1.5* A supply of at least six spare sprinklers shall be maintained on the premises so that any sprinklers that have operated or been damaged in any way can be promptly replaced.

 A.5.4.1.5 A minimum of two sprinklers of each type and temperature rating installed should be provided.

What do I need to know to replace a fire sprinkler and be in compliance with code?

If your fire sprinkler has been discontinued or recalled, or if finding reliable information proves too difficult, a model with matching characteristics can be installed in its place.
Replacement fire sprinklers must be appropriate for the characteristics of the space they're installed in and share many characteristics with the ones they're replacing, including K-factor, temperature rating, and size. However, the NFPA 25 Handbook clarifies that a fire sprinkler with the same manufacturer, make, or model isn't required.

From the 2017 edition of NFPA 25

 5.4.1.2* Replacement sprinklers shall have the proper characteristics for the application intended, which include the following:

 (1) Style
 (2) Orifice size and K-factor
 (3) Temperature rating
 (4) Coating, if any
 (5) Deflector type (e.g., upright, pendent, sidewall)
 (6) Design requirements

 5.4.1.4* Special and quick-response sprinklers as defined by NFPA 13 shall be replaced with sprinklers of the same orifice, size, temperature range and thermal response characteristics, and K-factor.
 
 A.5.4.1.4 It is imperative that any replacement sprinkler have the same characteristics as the sprinkler being replaced. If the same temperature range, response characteristics, spacing requirements, flow rates, and K-factors cannot be obtained, a sprinkler with similar characteristics should be used, and the system should be evaluated to verify the sprinkler is appropriate for the intended use. With regard to response characteristics, matching identical response time index (RTI) and conductivity factors are not necessary unless special design considerations are given for those specific values.

NFPA guidelines stipulate that fire sprinkler heads manufactured before 1953, called "old-style" sprinklers, may be replaced by more modern versions or by other old-style models.
 
From the 2017 edition of NFPA 25

 5.4.1.2.1* Spray sprinklers shall be permitted to replace old-style sprinklers.

 A.5.4.1.2.1 Old-style sprinklers are permitted to replace existing old-style sprinklers. Old-style sprinklers should not be used to replace standard sprinklers without a complete engineering review of the system.

In all cases, newly-installed fire sprinklers should be unused and approved by UL, FM, or another organization that specializes in their evaluation.

 5.4.1.3 Only new, listed sprinklers shall be used to replace existing sprinklers.

Many manufacturers offer durable, code-compliant alternatives to broken or obsolete fire sprinklers

If you need additional fire sprinklers to resupply an understocked sprinkler cabinet or to replace sprinklers that can't pass inspection, take a look at our below breakout table of commercial fire sprinklers from Senju, Tyco, and Victaulic, which lists the essential characteristics – from K-factor to response type – needed to find a match with an existing supply of quick-response or standard-response fire sprinklers. 

If you're looking for an exact replacement, press Control-F (Windows) or Command-F (Mac) and type in your SIN to see if QRFS carries a specific match for your current model, or simply scan the table at the bottom of this post. If you are on mobile, you can swipe right to see all portions of the table.

If you have questions or need assistance identifying your sprinklers, call us at 888.392.3362 or get in touch through our contact page.

Quick Response Fire Sprinklers

Name & SINK-FactorDeflector TypeResponse TypeTemperature RatingThread ConnectionFinishes
5.6KConcealed PendentQuick Response155F (68C), 162F (72C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTConcealed Plates with Various Finishes
Tyco RFII
TY3531
5.6KConcealed PendentQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTConcealed Plates in White, Chrome, and Black
5.6KConcealed PendentQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTConcealed Plates in White, Chrome, and Black
5.6KHorizontal SidewallQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, White, Brass
5.6KHorizontal SidewallQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, White, Brass
8.0KHorizontal SidewallQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)3/4" (19.1 mm) NPTChrome, White, Brass
5.6KPendentQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, Brass, and White
5.6KPendentQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, Brass, and White
8.0KPendentQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)3/4" (19.1 mm) NPTChrome, Brass, and White
5.6KPendentQuick Response162F (72C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTBlack, Chrome, and White
5.6KUprightQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTBrass
5.6KUprightQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTBrass
8.0KUprightQuick Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)3/4" (19.1 mm) NPTBrass


Standard Response Fire Sprinklers

Name & SINK-FactorDeflector TypeResponse TypeTemperature RatingThread ConnectionFinishes
5.6KConcealed PendentStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTConcealed Plates in White, Chrome, and Black
5.6KHorizontal SidewallStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, White, Brass
5.6KHorizontal SidewallStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, White, Brass
8.0KHorizontal SidewallStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)3/4" (19.1 mm) NPTChrome, White, Brass
5.6KPendentStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, Brass, and White
5.6KPendentStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTChrome, Brass, and White
8.0KPendentStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)3/4" (19.1 mm) NPTChrome, Brass, and White
5.6KPendentStandard Response162F (72C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTBlack, Chrome, and White
5.6KUprightStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTBrass
5.6KUprightStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)1/2" (12.7 mm) NPTBrass
8.0KUprightStandard Response155F (68C), 200F (93C), 286F (141C)3/4" (19.1 mm) NPTBrass

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