Historic Building Uses Copper Sprinkler System

August 31, 1996


PHILADELPHIA, PA— Independence Hall in Philadelphia presents an excellent example of copper tube and fittings used for fire sprinkler systems in historic buildings. In a three-year project at Independence Hall, 14,000 feet of copper tube and fittings are being installed in walls throughout the five-building complex.

Typical installations used to use steel piping. So why the change to copper? Copper tube has an internal diameter similar to that of steel, but its external diameter is significantly less. Therefore, copper's lower tubing space requirements translate into less wall damage and less restoration work after the tubing is installed. Less defacing of an historic structure, in turn, means the entire building can be sprinklered rather than just the basement and attic.

And, since copper offers superior flow capacity for comparably sized steel piping, it can serve more sprinkler heads.

Copper is also lighter and easier to install. It needs fewer hangers or clamps. Two-inch diameter Type M copper tube weighs only 2.5 pounds per lineal foot vs. 4 pounds for schedule 10 steel and 5 pounds for schedule 40 steel, according to the Copper Development Association. (Its manual, Fire Sprinkler Systems, is available through the Publications List.)

Copper's ductility makes bending and forming easier. The water running through copper will be cleaner because it is virtually corrosion-free. If cleaner water was discharged, it would be less damaging to all decoration and hung paintings.

Copper's performance in sprinkler systems has been proven over decades of service in all types of commercial buildings and institutions.

Philadelphia's History
Built in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the "Hall" consists of Congress Hall, East and West Wings, Old City Hall and the original Independence Hall itself.

The sprinkler system is being added now, as part of a complex-wide utility renovation; restoration was therefore necessary anyway.

The general contractor opened as little wall space as possible, and the fire protection contractor installed the copper tubing.

A mechanical tee method was used to reduce the joint requirements. Each section of the system then received a 200-pound hydrostatic test to ensure code compliance and physical integrity.

Under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, the fire protection contractor is Majek Fire Protection, Inc., Thorofare, New Jersey; the general contractor is Daniel J. Keating Co., Ardmore, Pennsylvania; and the architect/engineer is Vitetta Group, Philadelphia.

Copper's Advantages
Increasingly, contractors and historic building authorities are specifying copper because it is an inherently safe material. It will not burn or support combustion, nor does it decompose to toxic gases. And it will not carry fire through floors, walls and ceilings.

It simply continues to do the job it was intended to do - namely, carrying water where planned and maintaining its integrity when exposed to fire. Copper tube and fittings do not deteriorate with age or become embrittled and fail; they remain effective for the life of the installation. They perform longer than steel does.

And should any part of the system be damaged, it can be repaired quickly and easily, often by brazing in a new piece. Tees for new sprinkler drops can also be mechanically formed in place using hand tools.

Since copper tubing exhibits excellent resistance to internal and external corrosion, it does not develop internal surface roughness or gradual narrowing of the water passageway. The potential for plugging a sprinkler head orifice is significantly less, and so is the need for periodic maintenance flushing.