What is This?!
Firestop Materials Attack Sprinkler Pipes!
By: Kyle Pineo, Esq. of Berding | Weil LP and William M. McKeon, Esq. of McKeon Sheldon Mehling, LLLC
Berding | Weil LP and McKeon Sheldon Mehling LLLC sometimes find irony in our construction defect cases. Here’s one: building products that together are intended to increase safety turn out to be incompatible, leading to safety system failures.
One such issue involves chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) fire sprinkler piping and incompatible firestopping sealants installed around the piping. If CPVC piping is installed in your building, incompatible sealants in contact with the CPVC can cause systemic cracking which will ultimately lead to leaks. In condominium buildings, this defect has resulted in costs of repair approaching several million dollars.
CPVC is an upgraded form of the classic PVC pipe. The material is more flexible and can withstand temperatures higher than standard PVC. Because it can withstand higher temperatures, CPVC is commonly used in fire sprinkler systems. Because fire sprinkler systems pass through penetrations in walls, CPVC pipes may be installed in contact with firestopping products that are incompatible with the CPVC.
Firestopping seals openings in buildings through which fire and smoke could pass in a fire. A fire sprinkler pipe may pass through a wall from a common area hallway to a unit interior. When the pipe is installed through the wall, there is a gap between the wall and the outside edge of the pipe. If this gap is left unsealed, fire and smoke could pass through the gap, which could quickly spread the fire throughout the building. If the gap is properly sealed with firestopping, then the fire and smoke cannot pass through the opening. Firestopping is a code requirement that increases the safety of a building.
In our construction defect practice, we have discovered situations where incompatible materials – which were intended as a safety measure – created a different safety problem. Incompatible firestopping sealants applied around CPVC cause a chemical reaction in the CPVC that can lead to cracks and leaks. Where CPVC fire sprinkler pipe passes through a unit wall, a firestopping product is applied between the sprinkler pipe and the adjacent wall. The firestopping seals the gap like a flexible piece of tape, so it is applied directly around the CPVC pipe. If the firestopping material is chemically incompatible, it will damage the structural integrity of the CPVC by creating an array of microcracks that eventually cause leaks. Fire sprinkler systems are pressurized at all times, and small cracks can become big cracks under pressure, leading to leaks or a burst pipe. Multiple cracks compound the problem.
CPVC manufacturers publish lists of products, including firestopping sealants, that are incompatible with their CPVC. Builders are generally required to verify that all products in contact with CPVC are compatible, but sometimes the builder or its subcontractor uses incompatible products. If the incompatible products are installed throughout the CPVC system, the risk of a systemic failure increases.
What to Do
Repairing incompatibility issues can become very expensive. In some cases, sections of CPVC must be replaced and new firestopping installed at every unit wall penetration. In high-rise projects or projects with hundreds of units, the repair can run in the millions.
And there is another problem. The damage to the fire sprinkler piping may not be revealed for many years—sometimes long after the time limitation on claims against a developer have expired. Early inspection for incompatible materials is the best way to determine if a future problem exists.
If your association has CPVC piping system for fire sprinklers or potable water, the pipes probably pass through unit walls and are sealed with firestopping. We recommend that the association inspect the pipe penetration to verify if firestopping or another sealant is in contact with the CPVC pipe. The product can be tested at a lab to determine whether it is incompatible with CPVC. If the building is less than ten years old, there may still be time to assert a claim.
Berding | Weil and McKeon Sheldon Mehling are experienced in investigating CPVC incompatibility and, if the project is young enough, pursuing developer claims. Please contact us if this issue presents itself, so safety products at your development do not become safety threats.
Kyle Pineo, Esq.
Berding | Weil LP
William M. McKeon, Esq.
McKeon Sheldon Mehling, LLLC
Kyle Pineo of Berding | Weil and William McKeon of McKeon Sheldon Mehling represent associations and property owners in complex construction defect litigation matters with over tens of millions of dollars in recoveries.