Sprinkle Me Not

    by

    Am recovering from an incredibly depressing meeting with an expediter regarding my renovation. To recap–we are currently living in a four story brownstone occupying bottom three floors with renter on top floor. We want to flip the configuration putting renter on garden floor and occupying top three floors as a triplex. We have a lot of intact detail on parlor floor. We are currently taxed as a 4 family and want to file a change of C of O to a 2. We have a fire escape at the back of the building. Our budget is tight but realistic. I did not, however, budget for sprinklers or think I would need to create a lot of holes to run these incredibly ugly things through my house, but apparently the code changed two years ago and is now necessary given the parameters of both building height and width of our street. The expediter is recommending we go for a waiver based on economic hardship (??) This sounds far-fetched to me but I am wondering if anyone has ever had success with this tactic? Or maybe I could just bake a cake for the inspector with $2,000 hidden in the center? Kidding!

    23 Replies

    1. You should check in with another expediter or two. I have been working on a project with an architect/expediter I was not familiar with, and he does not know the difference between two and three family code. He called out three family code throughout the plans for a two family, and I asked him to re-submit or else the clients will be on the line to build per the approved plans.

      From my understanding with the architects I work with who are code savvy, a three family requires a sprinkler system as does a vertical extension (also per Raphael9’s post).

    2. by the numbers:
      1: You are not spending more than 60% of the overall value of the building.
      2: There is no change in the “main use or dominant occupancy”.
      3: You are not increasing building by more than 125% square footage.
      4: You are not increasing the height.
      5: You are not changing from a one- to a two-family.

      You meet all exceptions. Indicate this to the plan examiner. If he/she doesn’t waive the requirement, file a recon. This should be an easy win.

      Jim Hill, RA, LEED AP
      Urban Pioneering Architecture

    3. From the New York City Fire Code Frequently Asked Questions http://bit.ly/kJuLGc

      An existing building on a public street of substandard width that undergoes alteration or a change in use or occupancy is required to install a sprinkler system throughout such building, when:
      1. The cost of making alterations to the building (excluding one-family and two-family dwellings [Occupancy Group R-3]) in any 12-month period exceeds sixty percent (60%) of the value of the building, as set forth in New York City Administrative Code §27-115; or
      2. By reason of alteration or otherwise, there is a change in the “main use or dominant occupancy” of the building, as determined by the New York City Department of Buildings for purposes of assigning a single occupancy classification to the building, including any change from a one-family or two-family dwelling (Occupancy Group R-3) to three or more dwelling units (Occupancy Group R-2), but excluding a change in use or occupancy that is limited to restoring a building that was originally constructed as a one-family or two family dwelling to its original one-family or two family use and occupancy; or
      3. There is an increase of more than one hundred twenty-five percent (125%) in the square footage of the floor area of a building (excluding attic, basement and cellar space, as those terms are defined in Section BC202 of the Building Code); or
      4. There is a change constituting an alteration under the Building Code (excluding rooftop equipment installations) to a building of combustible (non-fireproof) construction with a height of 35 feet or less above the grade plane, that increases the height of such building to more than 35 feet above the grade plane (with the terms “grade plane” and “building height” having the meanings set forth in Section BC502.1 of the Building Code); or
      5. A one-family dwelling is being altered to a two-family dwelling, except where:
      a. the alteration involves converting a basement or cellar space to a separate dwelling unit, and the new basement or cellar dwelling unit is protected throughout by a sprinkler system; or
      b. the alteration does not involve converting a basement or cellar space to a separate dwelling unit and at least two lawful accessory off-street parking spaces are provided on the premises.

    4. Our renovation was years ago in 2002. There were a few rules that the DOB had at the time that seemed extreme and would have added to the cost of the renovation.

      Our Expeditor managed to help in some situations. But towards the end of the project the DOB was insisting we add railing to our stoop. I really didn’t want the added expense and so I went down there and spoke to the head of the DOB myself and she waived the requirement.

      Of course this is a very different situation, but I am just saying I would try talking to the DOB directly. The requirements are for general situations and you might be able to get an exclusion depending on your home. Worth a try.

    5. It doesn’t sound to me as though your expediter is incorrect – we did a vertical extension a couple of years ago and the only reason we did not have to go back and retrofit the entire house with sprinklers is that it is on a wide street. I don’t know the exact rules, but I would take them seriously and verify whether they apply to you and the scope of work.

    6. Thanks, brooklynexpediter. I found the post from April and now see that the fire code could trump the construction code. I kind of have a vested interest in the answer to this question, as I’m planning to renovate a 3 story plus basement brownstone with an existing 2 family C of O that was issued in 1973 after a renovation at that time. The basement and first two floors are one unit; the top floor is the other unit. There is no fire escape for the top floor unit. We’re not planning to change the use or occupancy of the building. We’re just redoing kitchens and baths, replacing windows and refinishing surfaces. It seems like exception 3 wouldn’t apply to us, but what about exception 4? That one seems pretty broad. Thanks again.

      OP, sorry to commandeer your post.

    7. There have been many posts about these and what I don’t understand is why people cannot read previous posts on the same subject that comes up at least once a month with the same old rants under different names.

      By building code you are exempt and by fire code you are not exempt with limited exceptions. Ecomnomic hardship will not fly but there are other basis for waivers and depends on certian factors for which a CCD-1 may be granted.

    8. Tried posting this earlier, but it didn’t work. Sorry if this shows up twice.

      I’m not an expert in these matters, but I took a look at Chapter 9 of the 2008 NYC construction code, which regulates fire protection systems, and Section 903.2 states that sprinkler systems “in new buildings and structures” shall be provided as described in the code. I think it really comes down to what “new” means. I couldn’t find a definition in the code, so it may be subject to interpretation. If you’re actually retaining a lot of the existing walls and ceilings, maybe you can argue that your house is not “new” and therefore exempt.

      By the way, I think the powerpoint slides that edifice rex posted are technically incorrect. One of the slides suggests that 1- and 2- family attached and detached houses under 4 stories are exempt from the sprinkler requirement. However, what Section 903.2.7 of the code actually says is that an automatic sprinkler system is not required in (1) “detached one- and two-family dwellings” and (2) “multiple single-family dwellings (townhouses)” provided that “such structures are not more than three stories above grade plane in height and have separate means of egress.” I read this to mean that 1-family townhouses under 4 stories are exempt, but 2-family townhouses have to comply with the sprinkler requirement regardless of height (unless they’re not “new”). Maybe someone else can shed some light on this.

    9. I’m not an expert in these matters, but I took a look at Chapter 9 of the 2008 NYC construction code, which regulates fire protection systems, and Section 903.2 states that sprinkler systems “in new buildings and structures” shall be provided as described in the code. I think it really comes down to what “new” means. I couldn’t find a definition in the code, so it may be subject to interpretation. If you’re actually retaining a lot of the existing walls and ceilings, maybe you can argue that your house is not “new” and therefore exempt.

      By the way, I think the powerpoint slides that edifice rex posted are technically incorrect. One of the slides suggests that 1- and 2- family attached and detached houses under 4 stories are exempt from the sprinkler requirement. However, what Section 903.2.7 of the code actually says is that an automatic sprinkler system is not required in (1) “detached one- and two-family dwellings” and (2) “multiple single-family dwellings (townhouses)” provided that “such structures are not more than three stories above grade plane in height and have separate means of egress.” I read this to mean that 1-family townhouses under 4 stories are exempt, but 2-family townhouses have to comply with the sprinkler requirement regardless of height (unless they’re not “new”). Maybe someone else can shed some light on this.

    10. I’m not an expert in these matters, but I took a look at Chapter 9 of the 2008 NYC construction code, which regulates fire protection systems, and Section 903.2 states that sprinkler systems “in new buildings and structures” shall be provided as described in the code. I think it really comes down to what “new” means. I couldn’t find a definition in the code, so it may be subject to interpretation. If you’re actually retaining a lot of the existing walls and ceilings, maybe you can argue that your house is not “new” and therefore not subject to Chapter 9.

      By the way, I think the powerpoint slides that edifice rex posted are technically incorrect. One of the slides suggests that 1- and 2- family attached and detached houses under 4 stories are exempt from the sprinkler requirement. However, what Section 903.2.7 of the code actually says is that an automatic sprinkler system is not required in (1) “detached one- and two-family dwellings” and (2) “multiple single-family dwellings (townhouses)” provided that “such structures are not more than three stories above grade plane in height and have separate means of egress.” I read this to mean that 1-family townhouses under 4 stories are exempt, but 2-family townhouses have to comply with the sprinkler requirement regardless of height (unless they’re not “new”). Maybe someone else can shed some light on this.

    11. pierre, thanks. guess I’ll need to up the renov/construction budget on that shell. freaking DOB

    12. M4L the new rules as my architect explained are for homes requiring full gut renovations i.e. new plumbing, moving walls, etc.

      Minard you are so right about all the political pressure but not sure what you propose about guest suite can be done. Remember if you install a separate kitchen then it is essentially another unit….very hard but maybe the architects can weigh in….are you around Jack deBoer ?

    13. Every time the Post runs a horrible story about a tragic fire in illegal dives in the Bronx or Brooklyn the political pressure ratchets up a notch. Instead of focusing on the fleatrap firetraps they sock it to the middle class who want to improve and renovate their homes.
      What I would do is file to make it a one-family house and put in a “guest suite” or something like it -your expiditer will know the proper name. The city has a long history of turning honest people into liars. It is unfortunate.

    14. Pierre, literally “any renovations”?? if so, that’s a huge huge change/difference as all fixer properties now will look less attractive aesthetically and financially.

    15. What evidence shows that the expediter screwed up? The requirements of the DOB change whenever they want and there are many, many inherent variables. What was true last week may not be true this week and many are at the whim of your specific examiners interpretationsj, they are not consistent. According to this link, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/downloads/pdf/fire_protection_presentation.pdf less than 4 stories require should not require sprinklers but your results may vary….

    16. Hey sorry but we agree 100% with your expediter…just last week our architect informed us on rule changes regarding fire codes.
      The DOB is under intense political pressure and now wants even two family homes to be sprinklered if you are doing a renovation.
      We have a 3 family that had some of the ugliest sprinklers and DOB won’t let us remove them….had to pay thru the nose to have them seamlessly recessed. Mind you this requirement was to have sprinkler heads not only in common areas but in the bedrooms and living areas as well…. We are broke from it:) but good luck

    17. For some reason, DoB has suddenly become crazy about fire-code requirements. We’ve got two project where they’re telling us we need to rip out stairs and stoops for “fire code.” It’s ridiculous.

    18. We went from a 4 to a 2 without any problem, which allowed us to take down the fire escape and not worry about sprinklers. I would think that if you did the CO filing ASAP, this would all go away. The criteria for a reduced CO is basically the removal of kitchens.

      Agree that your expediter doesn’t seem so helpful.

    19. That’s how I understood it too, what Espresso describes. You should get another opinion then hire somebody else. Who wants an expediter who can get it so wrong?

    20. I’m not a professional, but own a similar property. I was under impression that while a 3 family and up requires 2 means of egress, or one means of egress with sprinkler depending what code your architect files under, while anything under a 3 family would not require sprinkler?