Monthly Archives: September 2011

Firestop Liability

Selling Firestop from a liability standpoint is difficult but not if you are armed with the facts.

Most distributor salespeople that are selling firestop are selling it because the customer asks for it. But over and over again they have to convince the customer to buy it. Why don’t more contractors buy firestop? “It is required by code,” is what the salesman says. But is it? Selling firestop is not just furnishing material. It creates a partnership between the contractor and the salesman.

The contractor knows that it is required in some places and not required in other places. Is this true? No it is required by all of the model building codes. The only difference is the degree of code enforcement, or the intensity of inspection. Some contractors respond, “The inspector has signed off.” He thinks he is in the clear, but the building is still not built to code. Just because the inspector signs off  doesn’t mean everything is correct, it just means he didn’t catch the offending condition.

Firestop is a life safety issue. It is required by all of the model building codes as well as NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, a typical mention in most jobs. Because firestopping is a life safety issue taking it lightly can have dire consequences.

If someone dies in a building fire what happens? The investigative agencies go into full swing. One of the first questions asked was this building built to the applicable building code. Investigators will ask the building inspectors who will respond in the affirmative if they were the ones that signed off. Then the investigators will sift through the building looking for the reasons for the spread of the fire. Firestopping was developed to limit the spread of the fire and toxic gases. So what if the investigators find the firestop was installed improperly or not installed at all?

Contractors have been caught screwing sprinkler heads into gypsum walls without the backing of pipes full of water. This is out and out fraud. What is the difference between this and a contractor mixing food coloring into drywall mud to make it look like firestop.  Recently one of our distributors caught a contractor mixing drywall mud with spray firestop material to stretch it out. Is this ignorance or fraud?

Was the contractor trained in how to install the firestop? Was he informed to the importance of doing the job right? Did he care? Was the General Contractor or Construction Manager properly supervising him? Whose responsibility was it anyway?

An article written by a lawyer, specializing in Construction Law, a General Contractor erected a building, which subsequently burned. The State building code under which the building was constructed required the installation of a firestop in an open plenum space above a false ceiling. The insurance company that carried the policy on the effected building brought suit. The court quoted general law “ a builder is charged with an ordinary duty of care to refrain from creating an imminently dangerous or Immanently defective condition, concealed from and unknown to subsequent users of the building.”

Specifically, the court found that the builder breached its duty of ordinary care by failing to erect and construct the building in conformity with the State Building Code, thereby violating the section of the code, which required the installation of the afor mentioned firestops. Furthermore the building code required that all buildings be constructed in a safe manner and for the intended use and occupancy.

The court found that the builder reasonably should have anticipated that an imminently dangerous condition or defective condition would have been created by failing to install fire resistant partitions with the required rating. The contractor can plead that it wasn’t in the specs and drawings but all he has to do is bring it to the architects attention and he is due an extra because it is required by the building code. The court held that it was still his responsibility as a builder to see to it that the firestop was installed.

In another court case an architect settled with an apartment complex for over $400k damages caused in a fire based on his failure to design the structure to include the required firestops. Then the architect sued the building departments for their negligence in inspecting the building and plan review. The court ruled the building departments were not liable. They did not cause the plans and construction to lack the required protection.

Even if the General contractor assigns the firestop to another contractor or list of contractors he is still responsible for the construction of the building and it is his ultimate responsibility to his customer to provide the building according to the applicable building codes.

As a salesperson show the contractor, project manager excerpts from the code that illustrates the requirement for firestops. Tell him how you will help him meet those requirements through supplying the proper submittals for the job, training the installer or installers, and working with the building officials so that a problem doesn’t develop.

Keep your A/C Ship Shape in Record High Temperatures

Temperatures have been soaring this summer, which means air conditioning systems are working overtime trying to keep things cool and dry inside your home.

One common reason an air conditioning service technician is called to a job is because of condensate drain lines clogging. A/C drain lines clog due to thick mucus-like algae that grows inside the condensate drainage lines.

Over time, sludge forms in an air conditioner’s drain line and closes them up, not allowing condensate to drain. This happens because the normal current from condensate is not enough to flush the line. Tiny particles form along the bottom of the ‘P’ trap and in other parts of the drain line. These particles collect in one spot causing a clog. The water will then back up into the air conditioning drain pan. After the pan is full, water will overflow into the house. This is when most homeowners notice the problem.

Clearing the condensate drain line can be a messy job. One way to clear it is to cut the line near the air handler drain pan and blow out the line with a water hose or high pressure air hose. Another method is to use a wet/dry vacuum to suck out the clog; however this method requires an electrical outlet. A New product Mighty Pump™ is a lightweight but high powered pump that can vacuum or blow out a clog, is does not require any electricity. Simply attach the hose of the Mighty Pump to the A/C condensate drain line and pump the handle a few times to either vacuum or blow out a clog.

After the line is cleared, insert biocide tablets into the drip pan to prevent the growth of slime inside of your condensate line. This will prevent most blockages in air conditioning due to build up. Actabs™ Jr. is conveniently packed in bulk for treatments that last up to 3 months.

Another way to prevent flooding and water damage from a clogged condensate drains is to install a condensate overflow shut-off switch, this is installed on the drain pan and when a clog is detected the system shuts off preventing water damage. Safe-T-Switch has many models to fit different applications.