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Preserving Fire Safety in Historic Buildings

September 25, 2019 by Total Fire and Safety

If you have ever visited a historic building, what do you notice?  Old documents, precious artwork, impeccable craftmanship, and… fire protection equipment?  Hopefully your answer to the latter is no. Ideally, historic properties should still maintain the look and feel of an era gone by, but how do you do it and still install and maintain fire equipment that’s up to code?

Everyday commercial buildings are damaged by fires, causing a huge loss for any business.  However, these damages can be repaired, sometimes improving the building from its previous structure.  This is not the case for historic properties.  The true extent of the loss is more significant than the cost of simply restoring the building.  Any artifacts, documents, etc. that are lost represent a priceless piece of our heritage.

For the fire safety expert, the challenge of fire protection in a historic building presents three distinctive challenges:

Preserving the Historic Character

In order to protect historic buildings, sometimes structural engineers, preservation specialists and the building managers must get involved in addition to the fire protection experts (TFS).  Together they design a solution that meets the needs of NFPA compliance without ruining the historic character of a building.  For example, a historic door cannot be replaced with a fire-proof door, however installing sprinklers on either side of the door may be the answer.

Fire safety is prioritized even with our most beloved historic institutions. For example, currently there is a major renovation going on at Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington.  Part of this extensive construction is major improvements to the fire suppression system.  When all is said and done, fire safety for Mount Vernon and its visitors will be vastly improved for generations to come.

Total Fire & Safety’s client roster includes many historic buildings, especially in the   Village of Downers Grove. We are proud to be able to keep visitors safe while maintaining the distinctive character of each building.

Staying Out of Sight

Ideally, fire protection systems must sufficiently protect a building but remain aesthetically pleasing.  One common cause of concern is the  fire sprinkler system. Not only do fire sprinklers damage a building’s contents, but they can deface the historic structure. The answer lies in coming up with creative solutions for fire sprinklers:

1. Use copper tubing vs. black or steel pipe to blend in with the building’s architecture.

2. Faux materials can be used that resemble the buildings time period to conceal fire sprinkler pipes.

3. Install painted fire sprinkler heads to match the area.

Another form of hidden fire protection commonly used in historic buildings is wireless fire alarms.  Wireless alarms are an ideal, minimally invasive solution when needing to preserve the look and feel of a building.  Other advantages to wireless fire alarms include:

  • Wireless alarm monitoring provides faster response
  • No cables are required for installation
  • They eliminate false alarms, which can be costly for non-profit buildings

Updating Outdated Utilities

       Many historic facilities have poor water pressure.  This renders a fire sprinkler upgrade useless unless an underground line, additional line, or fire pump is installed. Total Fire & Safety can be helpful in making the right decision for any historic property.

Regardless of the fire protection systems installed, working to minimize the ignition of a fire should be a priority.  Scheduling fire safety inspections annually is important to maintain a safe environment for the building and its occupants.  Total Fire and Safety works not only to uphold the integrity of an historic building, but also provides the best fire protection equipment around.  Give us a call today! 630-960-5060


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