Design Guidelines For Installing Sprinkler Systems In Historic Buildngs

Procedure code:
Preservation Notebook Series - Gsa
Fire Protection
Last Modified:


This procedure includes general guidelines to follow when
installing sprinkler systems in historic buildings.  It identifies
specific design issues and outlines recommended installation
solutions that have the least visual or physical impact on the
historic materials.  

A.   To the maximum extent possible, design sprinkler installations
    to be reversible, i.e. removable without sustaining major
    damage to historic finishes.

B.   Conceal Piping:

    1.   Conceal piping to significant spaces such as lobbies,
         corridors, and executive suites by routing pipes through
         adjoining office space.  Use these pipes to feed sidewall
         heads in the significant spaces.  DO NOT install
         suspended ceilings to conceal overhead piping.

         (HSR).  Check the HSR chapter entitled "Recommendations
         for Maintenance, Restoration, and Alteration" (usually
         Chapter 9) for building-specific design guidelines.
         HSR's have been completed for most historic buildings in
         GSA's National Capital Region inventory.  A list of
         competed HSR's and copies of each are available in the
         GSA-NCR Technical Resources Library, 7th and D Streets,
         SW, Washington, DC (202) 708-6278.

    2.   In contiguous significant spaces where no alternative
         route for concealing piping exists, install pipes in the
         space of lesser importance.  Conceal piping in gypsum
         board enclosures of the minimum size needed to allow
         access for maintenance.

    3.   Do not channel masonry walls to conceal piping.  This
         alternative is costly and destructive.

C.   Specify Sprinkler Heads Having the Least Physical and Visual
    Impact on Historic Materials and Design:

    1.   Specify the smallest available pendant or sidewall
         sprinkler head.  (For normal ceiling and wall sprinkler
         installations, Omega Commercial Extended Coverage Pendant
         Model EC-20 and Omega Commercial Extended Coverage
         Sidewall Model HEC-12 are recommended.  See G.2., below,
         for guidance on selecting sprinkler heads for ornamental
         ceilings and exposed pipe installations).

    2.   Recessed heads are not generally recommended because of
         the danger that they will become painted shut.  Semi-
         recessed heads, despite the advantage of projecting less
         into the space than pendant heads, are not recommended
         for installation in plaster ceilings.  The holes created
         to accommodate these heads give ceilings a pockmarked

    3.   As a rule, use sidewall heads in significant spaces with
         plaster walls.  Use pendant heads in spaces that have
         both flat plaster ceilings and ornamental wall finishes
         (such as wood paneling or stone).

D.   Match Sprinkler Heads to Original Finishes:

    1.   Match heads and escutcheons to the dominant original
         metal in the area of the building where sprinklers are to
         be installed.  

    2.   Custom match heads and escutcheons to the historic paint
         color of the wall or ceiling in which they will be

E.   Detail Sprinkler Head Installations for Minimum Visibility:
    Specify the minimum possible sprinkler head projection from
    the wall or ceiling.

F.   Detail Suspended Ceilings to Preserve Exterior Appearance of

    1.   In standard office space and other areas approved for
         installation of suspended ceilings (consult HSR
         "Inventory of Significant Spaces" and "Recommendations"),
         hold back suspended ceilings from the window plane
         sufficiently to maintain the historic appearance of the

    2.   Do not allow suspended ceilings to abut window glass.
         Keep back 3 feet and minimize difference of ceiling
         height to window height.

G.   Preserve Ornamental Walls and Ceilings:

    1.   Avoid penetrating ornamental finishes.  Where neither
         walls nor ceilings are flat plaster, use the following

         a.   Place pipes on deep cornices and other ledges,
              exposed but not visibly noticeable.

         b.   Use copper piping of minimum diameter needed to
              achieve required pressure.

         c.   Paint pipes prior to placement to match adjoining

         d.   Where unavoidably penetrating ornamental ceilings,
              distribute heads symmetrically and take advantage
              of decoration patterns to disguise heads.
              Camouflage heads in rosettes and other repeating
              motifs.  Omit escutcheon plates.  Specify glass
              bulb pendant heads.

    2.   For exposed pipe installations and installations
         involving penetration of ornamental ceilings, specify
         glass bulb heads, such as Central GB-QR Glass Bulb Quick
         Response Pendant or GB-QR Glass Bulb Quick Response
         Sidewall heads.  Glass bulb heads have the following
         advantages for these installations:

         a.   Omission of escutcheon plates will not violate
              their UL listing.

         b.   They are the smallest available head for this type
              of installation.

         c.   The entire head, excluding the small heat-sensitive
              glass bulb activator, can be custom coated to match
              any finish.  This coating must be done by the
              manufacturer (you supply the paint).  For guidance
              on custom matching, see 09900-09-S "Guidelines for
              Identifying Historic Paint Colors".

                         END OF SECTION
Last Reviewed 2012-02-24