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Installing Residential Sprinkler Systems: An Interview with Patrick Hulleman of Thorpe Design Inc.

By Patrick Hulleman

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Thorpe Design Inc. is a fully licensed C-16 fire sprinkler contractor with its headquarters located in Brentwood, California. Thorpe Design Inc. was founded by Jerry Thorpe in 1986 and has been a family owned business ever since. Thorpe Design Inc. started as an engineering based company specializing in the design of fire sprinkler systems. In 1990 when the company was turned over to Jerry's son, Jim Thorpe, Thorpe Design Inc. began the installation of fire sprinkler systems. The company started as a small design only firm and turned into a fully operational design/build company with over 140 employees and four branches. Thorpe Design Inc. has satellite branches located in Boise, Idaho; Nashville, Tennessee and San Luis Obispo, California. Each branch is fully operational and can take a client from the design to the installation of their fire sprinkler system.

What is a residential sprinkler system and how does it work?

A residential fire sprinkler system is installed to protect the life and property of a dwelling unit. The fire sprinkler system is activated by high temperatures that typically only a fire can produce. A standard residential fire sprinkler head will deploy water at 165 degrees. Only the fire sprinkler head(s) located closest to the fire will deploy. It is a myth that all of the fire sprinkler heads will deploy in the event of a fire. The fire sprinkler heads are kept in the closed position by either a solder link or a glass bulb that cannot be melted off or burst until they hit their temperature rating.

Are all houses capable of having one installed?

Yes, all houses are capable of having a residential fire sprinkler system installed. Most fire sprinkler systems are installed as the house is built but it is also possible to retrofit a fire sprinkler system for a house that has been completed. Many families have benefited from retrofitting their house with a fire sprinkler system. Not only do they get the satisfaction and safety of having a fire sprinkler system installed in their house but most insurance companies understand the life and property saving standpoint of a fire sprinkler system and offer deductions if one is installed.

What are the laws for who must have a sprinkler system within their house, and who does not?

As of January 1st, 2011, California adopted a new ordinance that requires all new construction be installed with a fire sprinkler system. Homes built before the ordinance passed do not require fire sprinkler systems. Many local jurisdictions still required fire sprinkler systems before the state mandated ordinance so it is possible to have a fire sprinkler in a home built before 2011. Retrofitting a fire sprinkler system in a home is not required by law but it a low cost way to safeguard your life and property.

What is the typical installation process?

Typically, a fire sprinkler system is installed during the construction phase. Before the sheetrock in installed, the fire sprinkler piping is routed in between floors and in the attic to feed each individual fire sprinkler head. Once the sheetrock is installed and the home is painted, the fire sprinkler contractor returns to put the finishing trim pieces on each fire sprinkler head and makes sure the fire sprinkler system is working properly. If a fire sprinkler system is being installed in a completed home, steps are taken during the design process to require the least amount of sheetrock removal (if any) in order to get the fire sprinkler system installed.

How long is the typical installation process?

It depends on the size of the house, complexity of the fire sprinkler system and jurisdictional requirements. Typically, a 2,000-3,000 square foot tract home can be installed in two days with just two installers. As the home gets larger, the installation times inflate.

What is the typical price range of having one installed and will insurance cover any?

A standard tract home cost around $1.25-$1.50 per livable square foot to have a fire sprinkler system installed (during construction). Custom home pricing can be more expensive depending on the clients requests and the complexity of the home. Most retrofits are around $2.00 - $3.00 per livable square foot depending on the construction of the home and the complexity of the installation. I have not heard of any insurance companies covering the cost of the fire sprinkler system but most companies do offer deductions for having a fire sprinkler system installed.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

They can call our office any time at (925) 634-5758. Our typical business hours are Monday through Friday between 7:00 am-4:00 pm. A message can also be left after hours and will be returned when normal business hours presume. An email can also be sent to with any questions you may have.

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