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+Jason Hugo

#45 - How to Clean Dirty Fire Sprinklers?

Cleaning, like taxes and death, is unavoidable. While you may be a pro at removing dust, dirt, and grime in your office, when it comes to cleaning fire sprinkler heads it is critical that you correctly follow the guidelines below because one small mistake could result in a very, very bad day. 

Commercial buildings including hospitals, restaurants, offices, and hotels, and to a lesser extent residential homes, feature fire sprinklers. Their mission is to control fires during the critical early stages and promote human survivability. Unfortunately, overlooking the importance of regular fire sprinkler cleaning to ensure optimal operation during an emergency is common.

Dirty sprinkler heads can cause adverse outcomes: water spray patterns become distorted as grime builds up and the thermal element, most commonly a glass bulb designed to break at a specific temperature, can become insulated delaying operation altogether. Even when a fire is not present, the health concerns associated with dust and dirt covering your fire sprinklers can result in health impacts. Dirty sprinkler heads in hospitals, restaurants, offices and hotels can collect and ultimately re-transmit bacteria and viruses. If unkept, dust and germs circulate through heat and air conditioning drafts and mix with the air people breathe. Not good!

Dirt, Dust, and Grime can Negatively Affect Your Fire Sprinkler's Operation
Image courtesy of SprinklerVac

Unfortunately, it is all too common to look up and find sprinkler heads coated with dust, grime, and aged cobwebs. Go ahead, try it. See what we mean? Whether it’s being unaware of the problem or uncertain about how to clean them, many building owners, facilities maintenance professionals, and janitorial service providers often fall short of accepted standards for cleaning fire sprinkler heads. But don’t worry, keep reading to learn the most effective way to clean your fire sprinklers!

NFPA Standards

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a non-profit organization that drafts fire and electrical standards commonly adopted and enforced by local governments through their building codes. NFPA 25 provides the standard for inspecting, testing, and maintaining water-based fire protection systems. Section 5.2.1.1.4 of NFPA 25 states: “Any sprinkler shall be replaced that has signs of leakage; is painted, other than by the sprinkler manufacturer, corroded, damaged, or loaded; or is in the improper orientation.” The operative term in that clause is ‘loaded’ which means covered in dirt, dust, and grime. 

Replacing Dirty Fire Sprinkler Heads

So as NFPA 25 dictates, when ‘loaded’ the first suggestion is to replace the fire sprinkler heads. If this is your preferred option, we've compiled 5 tips for replacing fire sprinkler heads. However, as it relates to cleaning fire sprinkler heads, this option is the most expensive, can render a building or floor unusable during the replacement effort, and requires hiring a professional contractor. Replacing sprinkler heads involves shutting off the water source, draining the system, removing and replacing the sprinkler head, re charging (aka, turning the water back on), and testing the sprinkler system. In a worst-case scenario, replacing sprinkler heads can take days and cost thousands of dollars. It also requires immense effort and coordination, for all employees, patrons, residents, or patients must vacate the affected floors during the process. In short, replacing fire sprinklers is not the best way to clean them.

Cleaning Dirty Fire Sprinkler Heads

Luckily, NFPA offers two alternatives to replacement. NFPA 25 Annex A.5.2.1.1.2 (5) states: “In lieu of replacing sprinklers that are loaded with a coating of dust, it is permitted to clean sprinklers with compressed air or by a vacuum provided that the equipment does not touch the sprinkler.”

Can of Compressed Air
Image courtesy of Therpf.com

The first option provided by NFPA for cleaning sprinkler heads uses the same cans of compressed air commonly used to clean keyboards or other electronics. Although compressed air is readily available and convenient, it is fraught with complications. A liquid propellant drives the air from the can. If you’ve ever used compressed air you know that it instantly cools any surface it touches. Freezing the sprinkler’s thermal glass bulb can cause it to burst. Result? 25 gallons per minute of water released inside the room! But even if you avoid a broken sprinkler, the propellant sticks to the sprinkler’s frame, bulb, and any other surface it touches. Over time, this actually causes a further aggressive build-up of dust and grime. If that sounds counterintuitive to you, we agree! 

Best Choice for Cleaning Fire Sprinkler Heads

Without question, the best option for cleaning fire sprinkler heads involves vacuuming the dust and cobwebs off the sprinkler. As NFPA states, this must be a touch-less operation to avoid damaging the sprinkler. However, until recently no touch-free vacuum attachment was available on the market for this specific task. That is, until now! 

SprinklerVac - Touchless Cleaning of Fire Sprinklers!
Image courtesy of SprinklerVac

James Middleton, a retired veteran with 14 years in occupational safety and health, invented the SprinklerVac vacuum attachment to address this very real need! Seeing the dangers of canned compressed air and understanding the arduous process of replacing sprinklers, James developed the patent-pending SprinklerVac to meet the shortcomings of both options. Using the SprinklerVac, cleaning your fire sprinkler heads just got a whole lot easier!

The SprinklerVac’s touch-free operation naturally complies with NFPA standards for cleaning fire sprinkler heads. The attachment works for nearly every sprinkler head on the market, past or present. It’s “trunk-like” end encapsulates the sprinkler head completely guaranteeing safe, efficient cleaning every time. It is see-through, enabling easy positioning to ensure touch-free fire sprinkler head cleaning. 

With a “one size fits all” design, the SprinklerVac is compatible with any standard home or industrial vacuum hose. The only thing you need is a market standard home vacuum hose (1.25 inch connection), or industrial vacuum hose (1.5 inch connection). The SprinklerVac even cleans smoke detectors and recessed and pendent lights!

SprinklerVac Also Cleans Smoke Detectors
Image courtesy of SprinklerVac

How to Clean Fire Sprinkler Heads with SprinklerVac

Cleaning fire sprinkler heads with the SprinklerVac involves a simple 5 step process:

1. Securely attach the SprinklerVac to your market standard home or industrial vacuum hose.
2. Assess the size of the loaded sprinkler head(s) and gauge whether SprinklerVac will clean them touch-free. If it will touch the sprinkler head, adjust the SprinklerVac attachment below the sprinkler head so the SprinklerVac does not bump the fire sprinkler.
3. Turn the vacuum on.
4. Safely place the SprinklerVac near or over the sprinkler head, using the clear plastic to monitor your placement and progress. The SprinklerVac logo, when facing away from the user, is in the shape of a pendent fire sprinkler and was designed to guide your placement. 
5. Watch the dust, dirt, and cobwebs disappear!

Clean up is simple, too! All you need is warm water to rinse the SprinklerVac and a soft cloth to dry it.

SprinklerVac - The Best Option for Cleaning Dirty Fire Sprinklers
Image courtesy of SprinklerVac

Now you know the best option for cleaning fire sprinkler heads. Avoid spending an immense amount of effort and money replacing dirty sprinklers or risk a burst-bulb using compressed air. Grab your SprinklerVac attachment, get the job done, and move on! This is a great option for any building owner or facilities maintenance professional to effortlessly and efficiently clean dirty sprinkler heads. For janitorial or cleaning professionals, add the SpirnklerVac to your current cleaning offerings for a whole new revenue stream! 



This blog originally posted by Jason Hugo and Cameron Sharp at QRFS.com/blog on May 6, 2016. If you like what you've read, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or at Twitter @QuickRsponseFS.

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