#283 – Fire Sprinkler Head Replacement: Who is Authorized to Do It and How?

It’s time to replace the fire sprinkler heads…now what?

So, your fire sprinkler heads need replacing.

Perhaps one or more were activated (during a real emergency or otherwise). If a sprinkler head flows water because of a fire, a malfunction, an accident, or vandalism, you need to replace it.

Maybe heads are too old. Or maybe an inspection revealed leakage, corrosion, loading (dust and debris) that can’t be cleaned, damage, a bulb without fluid, or significant paint not applied by the manufacturer. The sprinkler may have been installed in the wrong orientation—an upright sprinkler placed where a pendent should go, or the pipe pointing it in the wrong direction. (Check out our article about determining when to replace fire sprinkler heads for more information on sprinkler lifespan and inspection.)

For whatever reason, you need to replace your fire sprinkler heads. But what’s next? Read on to learn the steps involved and who is qualified to replace sprinklers.

Replacing fire sprinkler heads takes proper know-how. It also requires proper equipment. Let QRFS outfit you with the fire sprinkler heads, sprinkler covers, escutcheons, installation tools, cabinets, and other supplies you need to get your fire sprinkler system up and running again. Don’t see what you need? Contact us and we’ll help you get it.

NFPA standards outline requirements for replacing fire sprinklers

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issues standards governing the replacement of fire sprinkler heads, and the primary resource for commercial systems is NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. Some initial maintenance guidance is also found in NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

NFPA 25 stipulates the following steps to get your sprinkler system back to normal:

1. Assess the new situation and adapt your facility. Fire sprinklers provide critical protection, and a non-working sprinkler may constitute a system impairment. There are three primary levels of concern with system problems: non-critical deficiencies, critical deficiencies, and impairments. You could have a single loaded (dirt- or dust-covered) or painted sprinkler in a room with many sprinklers, and it might be considered non-critical; but if half the sprinklers in a compartment are affected or the only sprinkler in that space is non-working, it would likely rise to critical deficiency or even impairment, as determined by a maintenance professional and the authority having jurisdiction. NFPA’s classification system is intended to provide some flexibility, as situations and conditions vary.

If it’s determined that you have an impairment, you must take steps to protect your facility. You’ll need to do administrative work and take preventative measures until the system is fixed, which may include a fire watch.

2. Acquire the necessary parts. NFPA 25 and NFPA 13 require you to stock some replacement sprinklers and the wrenches needed to install them. If you don’t have them, get them. And if you do, you’ll need replacements for the replacement sprinklers you use.

3. Replace the heads. Someone “qualified” needs to perform the repair.

4. Bring your system back online. Charge a sprinkler system with water or air (or nitrogen) after draining it during replacement. If you had an emergency impairment, you need a professional test of your system. For example, anything that affects less than 20 (or any) sprinklers requires inspecting for leaks at system working pressure, whereas a problem affecting more than 20 requires a hydrostatic test. There will be more administrative work at this stage, too.

NFPA 25 sprinkler replacement requirements
A portion of NFPA 25’s rules for component action requirements.

Deficient or impaired fire sprinkler systems—administrative steps

A property owner or their designated representative in the matter of fire protection has certain administrative responsibilities in the event of non-critical or critical deficiency or impairment to the fire sprinklers. These steps become a lot more complex if the system has been determined to be impaired, typically by the service provider or other maintenance professionals.

In all cases, you will have to hang tags marking the affected systems, and NFPA 25 recommends that reports and forms should “contain a section that specifically identifies any deficiencies and impairments that were observed” (Annex B.4). All categories also require corrective action, some of which may be specific to local laws.

For noncritical and critical deficiencies, NFPA 25 states that they “should be corrected as soon as practical after considering the nature and severity of the risk. It should be noted that many jurisdictions have requirements for the timely correction of impairments and/or deficiencies.”

In contrast, impairments “should be addressed promptly by either immediately correcting the condition or implementing the impairment procedures found in Chapter 15.” (A.3.3.8) Again, the specific requirements are subject to local laws.

Notify the appropriate authorities of impairments

Many people want or need to know when a fire sprinkler system is inoperable. Sections 15.5.2(5-7) of NFPA 25 list the parties that should be notified of a sprinkler impairment. They include:

  • The fire department
  • Your insurance carrier, if applicable
  • Your alarm company, if applicable
  • The facility owner, if that’s not you
  • Facility supervisors
  • Other Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) that are applicable in your area

Tag it

NFPA 25 requires marking deficient or impaired water-based fire protection systems with tags. The tags should be weather-resistant and highly visible, and section 15.3 details additional specifications for impairments. They should, according to A.15.3.1, tell the reader:

  • The type of impairment
  • What areas are affected
  • The time and date the impairment began
  • The person responsible

Tags must be hung on fire department connection points and on the control valve—in this case, the risers. Tags are especially vital on the fire department connection because they alert firefighters to an abnormal condition; if tags are only placed on system control valves, firefighters might not see them quickly.

Local jurisdictions may require a color-coding system for ITM tagging. These will vary from place to place. For instance, the standards of the Texas Department of Insurance (available here) use only two colors, yellow and red, to distinguish between systems that are non-compliant with NFPA standards and systems that are impaired. Other jurisdictions use other schemes.

NFPA suggests a four-color tag system. Check out our post about classifying deficiencies and impairments in standpipe and sprinkler systems for a breakdown of NFPA 25’s recommendations in this regard.

An impairment tag on a sprinkler system
Tags should be weather-resistant and highly visible. They should also communicate which systems are impaired and for how long. Image source: City Fire Equipment Company

Impaired fire sprinklers: preventative measures

An out-of-service sprinkler system puts property and lives at risk and you need to take steps to protect the structure while the system is down. Deficiencies also require prompt action “as practical,” but an impairment takes this urgency up a notch.

Make no mistake: with your fire sprinkler system impaired for a long period, you cannot just go on with business as usual after doing some paperwork. Section 15.5.2 of NFPA 25 stipulates that when your protection systems are impaired for 10 hours out of a 24-hour period, you MUST take certain precautionary measures.

Note that the word “consecutive” was not used. The steps must be taken after 10 total hours of impairment. Section 15.5.2 (4) states that when this condition is met, you must do at least one of the following:

  1. Evacuate the affected area or the whole building.
  2. Eliminate ignition sources and limit fuel sources.
  3. Institute a fire watch.
  4. Set up a temporary water supply.


Evacuation is easy to understand, even if it is inconvenient. If your sprinklers are impaired, keep everyone—employees and customers—out of the area until repairs are completed and the system is brought back online. While this option is simple, it slashes productivity and can be very costly, depending on the facility. You may choose other strategies because of this.

Eliminating sparks and fuel

Sometimes, you just can’t stop everything because your fire sprinklers are being fixed. Fortunately, NFPA 25 may allow owners to operate while mitigating fire risk by eliminating ignition sources and limiting fuel sources. Eliminating ignition sources commonly means stopping hot work, which is work such as burning, cutting, grinding, or welding that uses flame or produces sparks.

A key step in limiting fuel sources is “isolating or removing flammable liquids or gases.” In many industrial settings, however, stopping hot work and getting rid of volatile compounds requires all work to stop, making this option no more attractive than evacuation. For this reason, many facilities opt to institute a fire watch.

Implementing a fire watch

A fire watch is an active security measure. Designated personnel, whether they are your own people or outside contractors, patrol the facilities 24/7. They look for fire, activate fire alarms and summon the fire department as necessary, extinguish fires as necessary and possible, and document their activities. A fire watch allows work (including hot work) to continue on a property as normally as possible, even though you have to pay someone to keep an eye on the building. Note that if you designate internal personnel to conduct a fire watch, they cannot do anything else.

Check out this article for more information on when and how to set up a fire watch.

Setting up a temporary water supply

This doesn’t involve sprinkler head replacement. If a fire sprinkler system impairment involves the loss of the water source and/or a portion of the system requires an alternate source to function, a temporary water supply that bypasses the main supply can be employed. There are several options for a temporary water supply for your building. For instance, you can rent tanks of water or set up temporary piping. These alternate supplies have to be approved by the local AHJ.

Fire sprinkler replacement: make sure you have the replacement parts

If you have to replace your fire sprinkler heads, you’ll ideally use the spare heads that you are required to have on-site. You’ll need to make sure you have the parts you need and order new ones to replace the replacements.

NFPA 25 and NFPA 13 both require keeping a sufficient stock of replacement sprinkler heads on site. Failing to keep enough replacement sprinkler heads is a common code violation. You should store your replacement sprinkler heads, other parts, and a wrench (required by NFPA 25) in a cabinet like one of these. Cabinets keep fire sprinkler heads organized, clean, and accessible.

Fire sprinkler cabinet
Store your replacement fire sprinkler heads, the proper wrenches, and a list of the currently installed sprinkler heads in a cabinet.

You need at least 6 replacement heads per NFPA 25 (and NFPA 13)more if you have more than 300 fire sprinkler heads installed:

From the 2023 edition of NFPA 25 The number of spare sprinklers in the cabinet shall be based on the number of sprinklers in the protected facility as follows:

(1) For protected facilities having under 300 sprinklers — no fewer than 6 sprinklers

(2) For protected facilities having 300 to 1000 sprinklers — no fewer than 12 sprinklers

(3) For protected facilities having over 1000 sprinklers — no fewer than 24 sprinklers

If you use more than one kind of sprinkler head (for instance, if you use both quick-response and standard sprinkler heads), you must have at least 2 of each kind. If you have dry sprinklers of different lengths, you aren’t required to keep spares for them under NFPA 25 section, as long as you have other means to restore the system to service.

When replacing fire sprinkler heads, be certain to order new parts. The requirement to stock spares doesn’t go away just because you recently repaired your sprinkler system. Replace the replacements.

Besides spare sprinkler heads, NFPA 25 (section—.6) stipulates that a sprinkler cabinet should contain a wrench specified by the manufacturer for the spare sprinkler heads, plus a list of all sprinkler heads installed on the property.

Check out our article on stocking a fire sprinkler head replacement cabinet for more details about sprinkler head cabinets, including how many sprinkler heads to stock, where to store the cabinet, what goes on the list of sprinkler heads, and more. Also, have a look at this article to help you find the right fire sprinkler wrench.

Replacing fire sprinkler heads—who is qualified?

The calls have been made. Someone has hung the tags. You’ve taken steps to prevent fires. Now it’s time to do the deed and replace the fire sprinkler heads. But can you do it yourself? And how is it done?

Section of NFPA 25 says: “Inspection, testing, and maintenance shall be performed by qualified personnel.” But what does “qualified” mean? NFPA 25 elaborates a little in section 3.3.35* by saying that a qualified person is “competent and capable … having met the requirements and training for a given field acceptable to the AHJ.”

If someone is trained on how to do it, possesses any necessary state-required qualifications, and has approval from the local authorities, they can replace fire sprinkler heads. But repairing fire sprinkler systems is not the same as putting together an IKEA table. You can’t fake your way through it. And you can’t become qualified by watching a YouTube video. If you clicked on this article to learn how to replace fire sprinkler heads, you need to hire a professional.

Even if you do really know what you’re doing, your local AHJs might not allow you to do this work without certification. For instance, the state of California has laws (described here) requiring workers who install, alter, or repair fire sprinklers to be certified. Certification in California entails thousands of hours of experience and passing a written test. These requirements are difficult. Others may be less so. Check with your local AHJ to determine who is qualified to repair fire sprinklers in your area.

Likewise, ensure that any contractor you hire to do the work is insured, bonded, and properly licensed and certified according to local authorities. Check out our tips for selecting a fire sprinkler contractor for more suggestions.

Replacing fire sprinklers: how it’s done

Remember, to replace fire sprinkler heads, you must be qualified—that means you must be properly trained and comply with the laws in your local jurisdiction. Reading this article will not make you qualified. The steps outlined here are not meant to be comprehensive. Rather, they will help you understand what will happen when sprinkler heads are replaced.

Moreover, this article only outlines the replacement process for wet systems, which tend to be the most straightforward fire sprinkler systems. The more complex the system, the more difficult maintenance can be. Dry fire sprinkler systems, for instance, use air pressure to hold a valve closed so that water does not freeze within the pipes in cold environments. When replacing the head on a dry sprinkler system, a professional has to make sure the system doesn’t trip and flood the pipe plus re-pressurize the system. A preaction system uses valves controlled by other sensors to prevent the accidental discharge of water. Maintenance of such a system will also be more complicated.

All that being said, these are the main steps a professional will take when replacing fire sprinkler heads in a wet system.

Shut off the water

First, the professional closes the valve supplying water to the fire sprinklers being serviced, isolating the sprinklers from the water main. They will do this with a control valve. Properly closing the control valve for the correct set of sprinklers prevents water from getting everywhere when servicing the system.

Drain the system

Isolating the sprinkler system from the water main doesn’t get rid of the water in the pipes. Before a sprinkler head is removed, the sprinkler system has to be drained. Thus, next, the professional contractor drains water from the system and out of the building, typically using the main drain at the riser.

Replace the sprinkler head

Next, they carefully remove the sprinkler head with a wrench, being wary of pressurized water behind the head. Even though the water should be off and the system should be drained, mistakes happen. A little bit of water leaking from behind the sprinkler head is expected.

The old fire sprinkler head gets thrown out if it is a common threaded model. It can’t be repaired and reused, even if it seems like a problem can be fixed. Section of NFPA 25 makes this explicit: “Where a threaded sprinkler has been removed from a fitting or welded outlet for any reason, the sprinkler shall not be reinstalled.”

Then, they apply PTFE to the threads of the new fire sprinkler head and carefully install it using the wrench specified by the manufacturer.

Turn the water back on (and do some tests and administrative work)

With the fire sprinkler heads safely installed, the control valve at the riser is opened again, introducing water to the system. Until this step is completed, the system or a section of it is still impaired.

If you replaced your sprinkler heads because of an emergency impairment (from malfunction, activation, or found through inspection), a fire protection professional will have to inspect and test your system according to section 15.7(1) of NFPA 25. This can include checks for corrosion and damage in pipes and sprinklers as well as air tests.

Section 15.7 requires a few more things. After restoring the fire sprinkler system to service, you must revise the administrative and protective work you did before. Everyone notified about your system’s impairment—the fire department, the insurance company, the alarm company, and more—needs to be aware that your system is no longer impaired. The impairment (or deficiency) tags are also no longer accurate. They may be removed (a professional can do this after a specified amount of time) and updated with appropriate tags that delineate the maintenance, according to local rules.

Finally, with approval from your AHJ, you can let people back into the area. Your employees can do hot (or normal) work again. And don’t forget to tell your fire watch that they are no longer needed. You’ve been paying them to keep a close eye on the property long enough.

Buy replacement fire sprinklers

Replacing fire sprinklers means more than just turning a wrench

Replacing fire sprinklers can feel daunting. From discovering the deficiency or impairment to restoring the system to service, there are a lot of steps. Not to worry, though. If you stay organized and consult professionals, you’ll be fine. Let QRFS outfit you with the supplies you need to get your fire sprinkler system up and running again.

We can outfit you with the fire sprinkler heads, sprinkler covers, escutcheons, installation tools, cabinets, and other equipment you need to replace your fire sprinkler heads or get an otherwise deficient or impaired system back into service.

Contact us at +1 (888) 361-6662 or support@qrfs.com with any questions or if you need something you can’t find on our website.

This blog was originally posted at blog.qrfs.com. If you enjoy our content, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or on Twitter @QuickResponseFS.

10 thoughts on “#283 – Fire Sprinkler Head Replacement: Who is Authorized to Do It and How?”

  1. Hi. I’m just an elderly homeowner thinking of replacing the 27 existing fire sprinklers inside my 20+ year old 2400 sq ft home in Arizona. I have already had to replace a leaking Viking in my garage. All the other heads are Viking too. I just don’t have a clue if the estimate of $2500 is fair. They’re charging me $75 a head for 27 Senju ZN heads. I see them for under $20 online. I certainly expect the company to make a profit but I have been taken advantage of before.

    I would really appreciate it if you could give me any guidance. I really like the man who came out to fix the leaking head on a Sunday, but have no idea what a reasonable charge should be.

    Thank you so much.

    • Bobbie — Contractors often have their own purchasing arrangements with manufacturers and mark up the equipment as part of their standard offerings. But you have to assess (ask) whether that $75 per head is just the straightforward charge for the sprinkler or includes their labor charge to put it in. You’ll definitely want a professional to install the sprinklers—and you should be able to get a competing bid. If they or any contractor is open to you supplying the parts, we’d be happy to help at the prices published on our site. Just call us at 888-361-6662 or email support@qrfs.com.

  2. In an apartment the sprinkler system’s existing sprinkler head and branch lines are being relocated.
    Even though the system’s age is not known, should all the relocated branch line be provided with new sprinkler heads instead of reusing existing heads ?

    • Hemendra — For specific standards and system application questions like yours, you can try our Ask a Fire Pro service. Click the link to submit your question with some information about your building, and a fire protection professional will provide an answer based on best practices, standards, and codes. Our pros include AHJs, contractors, engineers, and code experts with 150+ years of combined experience!

  3. My trusted plumber noted a leak in my sprinkler system, he is confident that he can fix it; I would like to know if the NFPA requires the plumber to be certify in Fire Systems?

    • Ezekial — NFPA standards simply require anyone working on a fire protection system to be qualified and acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction (often a fire marshal or building code official when it comes to fire protection systems). Here are some references in the 2023 edition of NFPA 25 (the maintenance standard that covers commercial fire sprinkler systems):

      3.3.35* Qualified Personnel. Competent and capable individual(s) having met the requirements and training for a given field acceptable to the AHJ.* Qualified personnel shall meet at least one of the following qualifications:

      (1) Meets the requirements and training for a given field acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction

      (2) Is certified by a nationally recognized fire protection certification organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction [e.g., NICET]

      (3) Is registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority to perform inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems

      Note #3 above: depending on where you live (usually what state), the government may require specific extra qualifications to work on a system. We suggest you contact your local fire marshal to decsribe the problem and who is qualified to work on it.

  4. I am in MA and my condo assoc. sent the following: “Due to increasing maintenance problems with the older units’ internal fire suppression system (leaks, stagnant water tanks, odors, etc.) the Trust has voted to notify our insurance carrier to eliminate the credit for sprinklers in these older units. Owners will no longer be required to keep or maintain their sprinkler systems; however, they may continue to do so if so inclined. ”
    What is the best way to remove the big blue “Guardian” brand vat (by SPD) in the basement?
    Remove or disconnect and leave it there? pros/cons
    Do I have to remove the sprinkler heads in the ceiling too?
    Do I cover the spr. heads with joint compound and paint? Or is there a plug type cover that goes over the heads?
    Do I hire a plumber?
    Do I need to notify the fire department?

    • Ella — We aren’t sure what you mean by “big blue Guardian” brand vat (by SPD),” though it sounds like the system is supplied by a dedicated water tank, perhaps? In any case, you need to contact a fire protection professional (sprinkler contractor) to assess making any changes to your system. And that all said, residential sprinklers are designed to be very low maintenance and they usually basically just simply work—for decades. So, your condo association’s complaints and the decision to remove life-saving sprinklers is surprising (unless the original installers did a poor job somehow). Again, you may want to run the situation by a dedicated, experienced sprinkler contractor.

  5. Is there a way a sprinkler head can be repaired or replaced by standing on the floor and using some type of long instrument or tool? Or does it require using a ladder to access the sprinkler head and manually repairing or replacing it? I would like to know ahead of time in case I need to move furniture, wall hangings, bed covers, etc. out of the way of any affected sprinkler heads. Thank you.

    • Ginny – There are tools that can attach to poles to remove cover plates and the protective caps new sprinklers ship with, etc. (like this one), but if a pro needs to remove a sprinkler, they’ll likely need to get in close with a wrench. If the pro is simply conducting a visual inspection of the sprinklers, however, that’s completed “from the floor level.” Hope that helps answer your question!


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