The Cost of Installing Sprinkler Systems In Older Buildings

Alfred Patinio
Alfred Patinio

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Tuesday's high-rise apartment fire near the Ala Moana Shopping Center caused nearly $270,000 in damages, according to fire investigators. Investigators said the unit on the 25th floor was destroyed, while two others suffered major damage.

Red Cross officials are assisting a total of seven residents.

As KHNL News 8 reported Tuesday night, unattended candles burning in the 25th floor unit sparked the fire at Kapiolani Manor.

It's a fire, some say, may not have been so costly had there been a sprinkler system in place. But what does it take to retrofit old apartment buildings like the Kapiolani Manor?

It's not an easy proposition. A lot of Hawaii's older buildings weren't built to accommodate such improvements. But it can be done; it becomes a question of whether or not people are willing to pay for it.

'Ekahi Fire Protection installs high rise sprinkler systems all over Oahu. It holds miles of pipes and sprinkler heads. For Alfred Patinio and his team, fire safety is a life-long passion. Patinio was near Ala Moana Tuesday when he saw the apartment fire.

"Whenever you see something like that, it's really devastating," he said.

Like many older buildings, the Kapiolani Manor does not have a sprinkler system. Adding one would cost a hefty sum.

"We're talking about somewhere close to 1.5 to two million dollars, somewhere in there," said Patinio.

That's about $5,000 per unit. Despite the high financial cost, fire officials said sprinklers can greatly reduce a fire's damage.

Sprinkler heads are typically concealed in the ceiling. During a fire the protective cover pops off, the sprinkler head drops down, and water pours out, attacking the flames.

The Kapiolani Manor has smoke detectors and alarms, but that wasn't enough.

"What if you're not home and the smoke detector goes off?" asked Patinio. "The fire can still get bigger for whoever is next to you."

That's what happened in Tuesday's fire. Patinio said he's seen it all, and a sprinkler system is the best insurance policy in surviving a high rise fire.

"You can't put a price on someone's life, especially your loved ones," he said.

Weighing the financial and personal costs of a building fire.

Since 1975, newly built high rises in Hawaii must have sprinkler systems. Since 2000, commercial buildings have been required to add sprinklers. There are no such requirements for older residential high rises like the Kapiolani Manor, which was built before 1975.