Retrofitting older buildings for fire safety now easier than ever – and more cost effective

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two Hawaii companies that install fire protection systems say they're seeing an increased demand for fire safeguards – safeguards that are now easier to install and more cost effective, thanks to developing technology.

For newer buildings, like some of those now being built in the Kaka'ako area, protecting tenants from fire is an issue addressed during construction. The demand for new installations is primarily for residents of older buildings – like the Marco Polo, which was built in 1971 – when sprinkler systems were optional.

After last week's fire, we're now more aware than ever of the difference the systems can make.

"The sprinkler heads, one, two or three, could have localized that fire to one specific room, if not one unit, without it spreading," said Jason Blinkhorn, the fire protections operations manager with Dorvin D. Leis, Co., Inc. "It's a quick suppression method. One, two, three sprinkler heads usually extinguishes a fire before it expands into other areas."

The locally owned company is currently working on the project "Keauhou Lane" in Kaka'ako. But tackling older buildings to install new piping can be a lot of work.

"There's ripping out some sheetrock in the ceiling that can be challenging. There's kinda of a mess to it, (but) it's not impossible," Blinkhorn said.

Jordan Holley is the operations manager for Critchfield Pacific Inc.'s Fire Sprinkler Division. He says newer technology – like the use of heat-resistant plastic piping – is also making retrofitting jobs easier and cheaper.

"We use CPVC pipe a lot of times for reduced cost," Holley said. "It's faster labor, and you can easily conceal it."

Experts say that in new buildings, installers can run above a ceiling space, in order to conceal it, before dropping it into each unit. In older buildings, installers craft different solutions, like hiding pipe behind crown molding or other enclosure systems.

As for the residents of the Marco Polo, legislation introduced by Mayor Caldwell could soon address the issue of mandated retrofitting of sprinkler systems in older buildings – a topic that has failed in previous legislative sessions.

"Unfortunately, it takes something bad like this to happen for people to catch on to this," Holley said.

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