Chicago okays CPVC pipes

Revised ordinance includes section that allows non-metal pipes for the first time
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

CHICAGO - The landmark ordinance that was approved here late last year, requiring all commercial high rises within the city to install fire sprinklers by 2016, also includes a passage that allows non-metal pipes, such as chlorinated polyvinyl chloride material, in fire-sprinkler installations for the first time.

In Section 5 of the Substitute Ordinance, the City Council of the City of Chicago inserted the new Section 13-196-207. This section of the law states that sprinkler piping and sprinklers that conform to NFPA 13-2002 are now allowed in the city.

Officials within the city and the fire industry began drafting the ordinance that addresses sprinklers in high rises soon after a fire at the Cook County Administration Building resulted in the death of six people due to smoke inhalation.

Coincidentally, the passage of the ordinance came just one week after another fire within the city, this time at the LaSalle Bank building. Both high rises, a distinction given to structures more than 80 feet tall, did not have sprinkler systems.

By allowing non-metal pipes for the first time, not only will the make up of future fire sprinklers change, but also how businesses within the industry approach the design and installation of such systems.

However, it remains under debate if the change is good for the city or not.

“I think it could facilitate installation, considering steel prices right now,” said Jeff Harper, engineering manager at the RJA Group, a Chicago-based firm that does approximately 60 percent of its business in the area. “We personally stay away from it, but it’s still a viable material.”

One of the reasons the firm stays away from the material, Harper said, is that the joints need time to fully cure, in some cases up to 24 hours - something that could hold up jobs.

Jeff Gibson, regional sales manager at BlazeMaster, one of a few CPVC companies in the market, disagreed with the criticism of the material.

Some of the benefits of working with plastic, according to Gibson, are it is much cleaner to work with, quieter to join and cheaper than steel.

“It certainly has its place,” stated Dave Eglsaer, vice president at United States Fire Protection, a $40-million per year Chicago-based fire sprinkler installation company.

“When we’re working with steel, we turn on the water at the end of the day and we check for leaks,” he said. “If you’re working with plastic, it’s a whole different ballgame.”