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I own and live in a condo unit. There is a fire suppression system that runs between the walls of each unit. The unit is about 15 years old.

5 years ago, after an extremely cold night, I walked in to find that the water suppression line in the wall had burst. I had water running out on my ceiling fixtures and havoc vents like someone turned a faucet on. The HOA of our property used their insurance to fix the affected units. A company came out 5 years ago, and not knowing much about water remediation or fire suppression systems, I assumed the vendors did a quality job.

Flash forward to today, I come home to a handwritten note on notebook paper to call property management if there is water in my unit. I quickly found out that the same line burst, meaning that the vendors from 5 years ago did not fix the insulation properly. It was not overly cold the evening before (it was barely below freezing compared to two weeks before when the weather was below 0). The story that I was told was there was a vendor working on the fire suppression line. He found the regulator on the system was frozen. He also told me there was no water running in the system, he then did an air pressure test, then ran water through the system for 5 minutes. There was a 3 foot crack in the pipe in the system that caused the water to leak out.

So I have a few questions here. Considering it is a wet system, shouldn’t there have been water in the system at all times? Considering it was so cold a few weeks before, shouldn’t the pipe have frozen and burst then? Could an air pressure test cause a large crack in the pipe? Did the vendor skip any steps or act negligent in any way (if he did an air test and then ran water)?

What questions should I be asking the vendor and property management to get the correct answers?

Also of note, the water reclamation company who is cleaning up my unit this time(a different company from last time), told me that the repair was. It done properly 5 years ago. They told me that they found mold in my ceiling (which has been removed), that clearly happened back then. 5 years ago my unit was hit much harder, should I order (or ask property management) a mold test? Should they cover it considering they did not do a proper job 5 years ago?

I apologize that Imay not have all of the answers, or if this is the wrong forum to ask. I want to get some advice on what to ask the vendor/insurance/property management.

Thanks for all of you help in advance!

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  • You will find mold in most homes enclosed spaces even without a water leak. Lumber is treated with a fungicide because it is full of mold and this treatment only lasts a few weeks in some cases. When I worked at a plywood mill the veneer stacks regularly had huge mushrooms and different colored fungi within a week. I think the plywood processing kills the mold because of the high heat in drying the veneer then the gluing and hot presses super heat the sheets to dry the glue.
    – Ed Beal
    Mar 26 '19 at 18:55
  • How is the building constructed? It seems very strange that a pipe in an inter-unit demising wall would be freezing up.... Mar 26 '19 at 23:52
  • It’s a condominium unit, so there is a fire space between each unit that is not heated. There is apparently access in the attic that allows access to the pipe.
    – Yikes_H
    Mar 27 '19 at 0:02
  • @Yikes_H -- that seems very strange indeed. Normally, you either see a thick masonry firewall, or a fire barrier that consists of a thick layer of drywall held together by metal channelwork with normal stud walls abutting it. How old is the building, and is the actual firewall exposed to any unfinished space you can gain access to? Mar 28 '19 at 0:13
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Wet fire sprinkler systems are installed where the spaces are heated. Dry fire sprinkler systems are installed where there is no heat, (i.e.: attics, parking garages, etc.)

If your sprinkler system failed “where it passes between condos” then I suspect each condo wall is insulated but not between them. (Code requires a “fire separation” between units and a “sound wall” between units.) This is easily accomplished by building two separate walls. The space between them is generally not heated.

So, the “wet” system that passes from unit to unit is probably going to freeze...the water in the pipes is stagnant (not moving) so easily frozen.

This is a “design error” not a “repair issue” from 5 years ago. Your system needs to be re-designed to account for this error.

The statue of limitations is 10 years in the U.S. for designers. If it’s been less than that I’d contact the architect/engineer that designed the building and sprinkler system. If it’s been longer, I’d notify the HOA they have a problem that will continue...mold is a byproduct that must be corrected. (BTW, if your insurance company finds out mold is an existing condition, they may not cover you...be careful what you tell them. I hate insurance companies...I’ve spent a lifetime arguing with them.)

BTW, “dry” systems have an air compressor that keeps air in the sprinkler lines 24/7. When a sprinkler head detects a fire or an alarm is pulled, the compressor is shut down which allows water to flow through the lines and out the heads. (Do you have a compressor? Was it shut off? The electrical breaker for the compressor should have a lock on it.)

You say there was a 3’ split from 5 years ago just discovered. If so, how could the dry system work?

If your condo burns down, your insurance company could deny the claim if the HOA or maintenance did something to disarm the sprinkler system.

I’d get a consultant to review your system, including taking mold samples. (If I lived there and my son didn’t graduate from Harvard, I’d blame mold and sue the HOA. I’d probably have a case too.)

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  • The pipe does run between the walls of the units. There is a firewall, but it does not go all the way to the ground. The 3 foot crack just occurred. They apparently fixed the crack 5 years ago and it broke last week. The fire suppression vendor said there was no water flowing in the system and did an air test to see if there were any cracks, then ran water through the unit, I can’t get a straight answer from property management or the vendor on when the crack happened or if there was water in the system. The vendor said the compressor was frozen. Any thoights?
    – Yikes_H
    Mar 26 '19 at 18:45
  • The op said it was a wet system, they did a pressure test with air that would have shown a leak prior to filling the system.
    – Ed Beal
    Mar 26 '19 at 18:48
  • Could the pressure test cause the crack? Could the crack have been there before the test? If there was water in there, then wouldn’t there have been a leak? This is where I am getting confused...is the vendor just lying to me to cover himself?
    – Yikes_H
    Mar 26 '19 at 18:49
  • @Yikes_H I’ve never seen a 3’ crack caused by air pressure, but I have seen a 2’ crack caused by frozen water. There should be a written report from the repair vendor.
    – Lee Sam
    Mar 26 '19 at 19:09
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    In my state (CA) it is illegal to do any work on a fire suppression system unless you have an active specialty license (C-16). You should inquire about the status and type of contractor's license the repair company has. If incorrect, then they are liable (civil and criminal) and so is the prop. mgmt. firm for hiring an unlicensed contractor. Mar 27 '19 at 5:18
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Depending on where you live, there will be a different AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). It is almost 100% certain that for this project to be completed, (1) the contractor would have had to be licensed by the state; (2) the contractor would have had to obtain a permit; (3) the permit would have had to have been approved by the city and/or state; (4) After the work was completed the work would have been inspected and the final work would have been approved. (5) this is all public information which is easily accessible.

That said, one of the following is going to be true: (1) If no permit was filed then there are several parties who might be legally responsible; (2) If a permit was filed and the work was approved then there might still be parties (inspectors or other AHJ representatives) which did not perform their due diligence; (3) If the design was actually appropriate then there is some other environmental factor or construction change or flaw involved here... for example, if the original design included some planned component or variable that did not exist once the work was completed.

Since the information is easily found at most city halls, I would encourage you to research the permits involved and this information will tell you a great amount about the source of the problem and also where everything went wrong.

Lastly, in most jurisdictions your story would be enough to justify a formal complaint and an official investigation. However, to initiate such an investigation you sometimes are required to show that you are a party that was harmed by these events. Usually, this is a customer or property owner and not a future tenant.

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  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. This is an excellent answer; the only problem was the promotional links to your business, which I've edited out. Note, however, that it would be fine for you to post such links on your user bio. Apr 25 '20 at 21:03

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