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Plumbing Contractors Needed for Residential Fire Sprinkler Work

June 17th, 2009

Part two of a five part series focusing on the rapidly growing residential fire sprinkler market and why plumbing contractors are best positioned to capture this opportunity.

To view part one of the series visit “Residential Fire Sprinkler Requirements Coming Soon!

The incorporation of amendment RB64-07/08 in the International Residential Code (IRC) for fire sprinklers to be installed in all single family homes constructed after January 1, 2011 will have a dramatic impact on the demand for qualified design and installation technicians. In addition, the demand for licensed contractors will experience a corresponding rise since most states and jurisdictions have some form of contractor licensing requirements.

It is estimated nationally that approximately 7500 firms were actively engaged in fire sprinkler contracting during 2008. The vast majority of these entities were of the cottage variety with average annual revenues of $1 million and less than 10 full-time employees. Industry data indicates that approximately 42 million sprinklers were installed in 2008 with less than 1 million of these in single family homes. Estimates indicate that there are presently 15,000 trained installation technicians serving the fire sprinkler industry and the vast majority are focused on commercial applications. As the 2009 IRC is adopted by various states and local jurisdictions, the numbers of qualified contractors and trained labor needed will stretch the available resources to the point where demand will far outstrip the available supply.

Using HUD’s 40 year average for new single family home construction and considering when the code requirement will be adopted by virtually all jurisdictions, it is estimated over 7000 additional trained installation technicians will be needed to meet the increased demand. However, even when conservatively assuming that only one-half of the new homes are sprinklered, the number is still over 3000 additional technicians. The plumbing industry is well positioned to supply a good part of this demand for skilled labor. Sprinkler systems are essentially a piping system equipped with nozzles (fire sprinklers) having specific installation criteria. The average plumber can quickly develop the skills needed to install fire sprinkler systems. In fact, it is expected that the majority of single family residential fire sprinkler systems will be combined with the domestic systems and, in reality, the plumbing contractor is the only choice to effectively install these systems.

Even with the historically low numbers of single family residences under construction in the current economic downturn, this is a billion dollar opportunity that the prudent plumbing contractor cannot ignore. However, there are barriers to entry. Licensing, insurance, and access to training programs are the most daunting, but all can be overcome.

Entities installing fire sprinkler systems are required to be licensed contractors in most states. Just as with plumbing, the requirements run the gamut. Some states are as simple as filling out an application and paying a fee while, at the other end of the spectrum, there are states that require years of experience, exams, and certifications in fire protection technology. Fire Smarts, LLC, in partnership with the PHCC, is developing resources specifically to help plumbing contractors sort out these differences and identify licensing requirements for the states they service. One movement that is already underway is creating a license that is specific to residential fire sprinkler systems to recognize the simpler design issues and the economy of having plumbing contractors involved in the market. The states of Washington, Texas, South Carolina and Georgia among others are examples of states that have already created, or are considering creating, this separate category.

Insurance is a barrier that the market place will address. There are reports that plumbing contractors who contacted their brokers have been quoted extravagant premiums when adding fire sprinkler installation to their business coverage. Others report that some insurance carriers are beginning to extend coverage for fire sprinkler installation provided that a qualified third party is supplying an approved system design. The demand for this insurance will open the insurance market and the carriers will meet the demand as the market expands. In the meantime, in regions where residential fire sprinkler systems are common such as California and Nevada, the general contractors have rolled the fire sprinkler contractor’s protection under their umbrella when the contractor was not able to bind coverage.

Fire Sprinkler Labor Needs

Training is the remaining significant barrier. Programs are in development at this time that will be geared to take experienced plumbers and add the skill set for fire sprinkler installation. The manufacturers of sprinkler piping, sprinkler heads, valves, and multi-purpose systems also have training programs for fire sprinkler contractors that can easily be adapted to the plumber. In addition, apprenticeship programs can be updated to incorporate modules that specialize in residential fire sprinkler requirements.

The market demand is coming and those contractors who are prepared to take advantage of the opportunity will see a significant return on the investment needed. It costs virtually nothing to investigate. With a market that is estimated to be $3 billion annually, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is calling for your attention.

In Part 3 of this series, “Residential Fire Sprinklers: Plumbing Contractor Competitive Advantage #1”, Steven Scandaliato, SET, will discuss how the fire sprinkler industry has little experience in residential construction compared to the extensive experience and existing general contractor relationships that residential plumbing contractors have and how this creates a clear competitive advantage.

My Fire Sprinkler Story

May 27th, 2008

I am a native of Las Vegas, Nevada and have spent all but the first 3 years of my working career in the fire protection industry. I must admit to you that I did not find fire sprinklers, but rather they found me.

At the time I entered the field, most sprinkler professionals were either born into the industry or referred to it by a friend or acquaintance. The latter is my story.

I had spent my first two and a half years after college in the credit insurance industry working for a large managing general agency. I found it unfulfilling and dull.

I began looking for a career that provided:

  • – a worthwhile product or service
  • – created an opportunity to develop a technical skill
  • – offered an unlimited potential for leadership.

A lay leader in my church told me that the company he worked for was recruiting sprinkler system design trainees for their formal training program. I really had no idea what a fire sprinkler was, but I applied, interviewed, and was eventually accepted.

I found my home. I was fascinated with these small inexpensive devices and the protection they provided and I took every opportunity to increase my knowledge and skill.

After completing my training I was relocated to San Diego, California and my career path was set. I moved through a series of responsible positions including that of general manager for a mid-sized fire protection contracting firm.

A fellow fire sprinkler professional, Bill Holden, and I formed a company called Fire Design and commenced business in June of 1990. We provided fire sprinkler system working drawings for contractors and conceptual plans for owners and architects.

This was a great learning opportunity and eventually led to the defining moment of my career—working with one of the most passionate and innovative fire protection professionals in the industry, Bill Tomes.

In 1991, Bill Holden and I joined with Bill Tomes, Chuck Van Rickley, and Jim Tomes of Tomes Van Rickley and Associates in forming Fire Design Group, Inc. We eventually changed our name to TVA Fire Life Safety, Inc. With the exception of Chuck Van Rickley, who left the firm in early 1996, we are still partners today.

Over the years, we transformed our small consulting firm into an international fire protection provider with annual revenue for 2007 in excess of 80 million dollars (US). Telgian Corporation offers a breadth of services utilizing a model for customer advocacy that is unmatched.

Along the way, I have been active in local and national industry promotion and training. A look at my resume will provide a glimpse of my involvement and passion for this great industry that is only now beginning to realize its potential.

With the increasing emphasis on life safety (residential fire sprinklers), the economic realities of sound risk management (Sarbanes-Oxley), and the global exporting of our technology, the fire protection industry is on the verge of an expansion that will dwarf all previous growth.

My personal mission is to help facilitate this growth. Sound cost effective life safety and risk management are worthy objectives and I am proud to be associated with an industry that does make a difference in people’s lives.

The vision of Telgian is to transform the business of fire and life safety on a global basis and I plan to assist by continuing to promote our industry, to look for innovative solutions, and to professionalize our industry through training and education.

Welcome from Russ Leavitt

May 27th, 2008

Hello, my name is Russ Leavitt and I would like to welcome you to my web site.

The fire protection industry is on the verge of an expansion that will dwarf all previous growth.

Consider:

  • – the increasing emphasis on life safety (residential fire sprinklers)
  • – the economic realities of sound risk management (Sarbanes-Oxley)
  • – the global exporting of fire protection technology

My personal mission is to help facilitate this growth.

Sound, cost effective, life safety and risk management are worthy objectives and I am proud to be associated with an industry that does make a difference in people’s lives.

This web site is my personal forum to share my thoughts, ideas, and assistance with anyone who is looking for a challenging career, help in solving life safety problems, or simply looking for answers to questions.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and thoughts about the wonderful opportunities that await us in making our world a safer place for all.

If you have a questions or would like to comment on my writing, you can leave a comment in the section at the bottom of the page.  This way other visitors will also benefit.

If you need to contact me privately please use the contact form.

To read my story about how I found the fire protection industry (or rather how it found me) see – My Fire Sprinkler Story