Many of Juneau's sprinklers uninspected

Owners who miss inspections may face financial ramifications

Posted: Tuesday, November 08, 2005

With less than two months left in 2005, only about half of Juneau's 200 sprinkler-equipped buildings have had their required annual inspections, Juneau Fire Marshal Richard Etheridge said.

State law mandates the inspections every year. Etheridge said building owners who miss their inspections face financial ramifications.

Buildings with certified sprinkler systems get a property tax break of 2.5 percent, he said. Owners also can save on fire insurance.

The best reason to inspect fire-suppression sprinklers has little to do with money, according to the president of the company that inspects most of the systems in Southeast Alaska.

"Every year three or four systems (in Southeast Alaska) put out fires and save lives," said Jeff Duvernay of Harri Plumbing and Heating.

Duvernay said the insurance price break can range from about 7 to 12 percent.

The systems often can be found protecting apartment buildings, group care centers, hotels and commercial properties. Etheridge said commercial buildings 12,000 square feet or larger - about the size of the larger downtown gift shops - have sprinkler protection in Juneau.

Duvernay said they are good for all types of buildings, but single-family homes "are not that big of a market - yet." There are places in the country where codes require sprinkling systems in new single-family homes, he said, but those generally require protecting bedrooms and routes leading up to the exits, focusing on protecting people inside the building more than the property and contents.

But to protect anything, sprinklers have to work, he added.

Inspections sometimes reveal problems in systems where none have been found before, Duvernay said. He has seen inspections turn up pieces of wood in the pipes that could block the flow of water, as well as pipes leaking or valves being shut off, making them useless.

The approaching cold weather, along with the diminishing calendar year, makes it important for people to get their sprinkler systems inspected, Etheridge explained. Systems in Juneau most often have pipes charged with air that stay dry until a sprinkler is activated. Inspections can turn up water collecting in the pipes, risking damage by freezing.

Sprinkler heads sometimes are damaged, he said, but they can be replaced with heads that won't be susceptible to the same damage, Etheridge said. In places such as basements and garages, they can be corroded by salt in the humid air. One of the newer sprinkler designs fights corrosion with a wax coating.

Guests sometimes damage hotel and motel sprinkler heads by hanging things from them, he said. A new sprinkler system that hides the head under a plate until it is needed prevents that.

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