Florida Requires High-Rises to Retrofit Sprinkler Systems By 2024

Amendment to Florida Statute 633.202 Removes Option to “Opt-out”

Article Summary: In this article, we’ll look at an amendment to the 6th edition of the Florida Fire Prevention Code, originally released in 2016. 

While the original law gave the owners of high-rise condominiums the ability to opt out of retrofitting their fire sprinkler system, a 2019 amendment removed the option to opt out. Now, high-rise owners must comply with certain retrofitting requirements; the deadline was originally set at January 1st, 2020, but due to Covid-19 that deadline has been moved to January 1st, 2024.

The main topics covered in this article include:

  • An Overview of Changes Made to the Law
  • Step-by-Step Guide on Sprinkler Installation Process
  • Frequently Asked Questions About These Changes

Estimated Read Time: 5 minutes

What Was the Original Law, and What Changes Have Been Made Through This Amendment?

According to Florida Statute 633.202, the Florida Fire Prevention Code must be updated by the State Fire Marshal every three years. In 2016 the 6th edition listed rules relating to high-rise buildings (which the code defines as buildings “where the floor of an occupiable story is greater than 75-feet above the lowest level of fire department access.”) The 6th edition of the FFPC states that all high-rise buildings “shall be protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system,” in addition to requiring the inclusion of any or all of the following:

  • Partial Automatic Sprinkler Protection
  • Smoke Detection Systems
  • Smoke Control Systems
  • Compartmentation
  • “Other Approved Systems”

The original wording of the law allowed building owners to opt out of retrofitting the building with a fire sprinkler system, as long as a majority voted to do so. Those that didn’t had to get their systems in compliance by December 31st of 2016. During the 2019 legislative section on July 1st, Chapter 2019-165, this rule changed.

Likely due to high profile cases of high-rise fires in other areas, Florida legislators decided to amend section 718.112 of the Condominium Act to require residential high-rise condominiums to adhere to the retrofit rules, regardless of the owners’ wish to opt out. They originally set the compliance date at January 1st, 2020, but with Covid-19 delaying many construction projects, the deadline was pushed to January 1st, 2024. 

General Guide to Sprinkler Installation Process (As Required by Florida Statute 633.202)

Because of the time requirements, it’s important to begin this process as soon as possible. Failure to comply with this amendment could result in significant fines or loss of occupancy. Here is a step-by-step guide to starting the sprinkler installation process.

  • You’ll need to find two contractors: one for construction work related to the project (like opening the walls up to install the systems) and another for the actual sprinkler installation.
  • Get bids from multiple contractors, starting with the construction contractor. They will have to open the ceilings and walls of any areas where sprinkler systems will be installed, and will serve as the general contractors of the project. 
  • Arrange a site visit from the contractor, who will then provide a quote and contract. Make sure the company can provide proof of insurance, a fire sprinkler license, and are aware of all rules that apply to anyone working on your building. 
  • Discuss options with your sprinkler contractor. All owners of a building are responsible for both sprinkler and construction contractor costs, which is why getting multiple quotes is recommended. 
  • Once chosen, your construction contractor will apply for permits, which take between three and four weeks to get approved. Your contractor will inform all owners, the sprinkler contractor, and your building’s association. 
  • After permits are approved, the construction contractor will open the ceilings and walls. This process should take between 24 and 48 hours. Once complete, they will inform the sprinkler contractor.
  • Your sprinkler contractor will install the sprinkler system, including all in-unit piping and heads. The timeline for this phase will vary depending on the size of your building. 
  • Once complete, the construction contractor will schedule an inspection with the city to take place after the initial sprinkler installation. Make sure your contractors are aware that all permits must be displayed outside of affected units. 
  • After newly installed sprinklers are tied into the existing fire system, final inspection will be performed. This will be scheduled by your construction contractor. 
  • Your construction contractor will close the wall and ceilings and clean up the building. This process can take around two weeks, depending on the size of the unit.
  • A Fire Watch is required after the last connection is made (once several units on a floor are completed.)  The purpose of this is because each floor’s sprinkler water will need to be turned off for 24 hours to allow the plumbing glue to dry, which takes place after the unit’s system is connected to the building’s system. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Amendments to Florida Statute 633.202

  • Who is Responsible for Sprinkler Installation?

The owner, or owners, of a building are responsible for the installation and cost of fire system retrofitting. The Florida Fire Prevention Association has evaluated engineers, contactors, and equipment providers, and choosing the providers they selected (specifically for the construction contracting element) could save on costs. 

  • What Happens if I Don’t Put Sprinklers In My Unit By the Deadline?

If your sprinkler systems are not retrofitted by the cut-off date, January 1st 2024, you will be subject to penalties. This may come in the form of fines, which could total in the thousands and are generally charged per violation. It’s also possible that you could lose your Certificate of Occupancy, opening you up to further fines and the possibility of litigation. 

  • Do the Units Need to Be Fully Sprinkled?

While there was an effort to get approval for only two sprinkler heads in each unit (one at the entrance and one in the kitchen area), this request was denied. The Fire Marshall requires that each unit be fully sprinkled. It’s possible you may not have to place piping across the ceiling through the utilization of mounted sprinkler heads, provided they protect the same areas that ceiling mounted heads would. This depends on the layout of your unit, and you’ll need to talk with both your local Fire Marshall and the contractors working on your building. 

  • How Much Will This Retrofit Cost? 

Prices will vary depending on the size of your high-rise, the square footage of each unit, the layout of your building, and what type of sprinkler systems are used. The Florida Fire Prevention Association has provided options that may reduce costs.

  • Do I Have to Use Specific Engineers and Contractors?

You are free to use the contractor of your choice, but you will have to comply with a few requirements:

  1. Any work done requires a permit with the city.
  2. You must coordinate the shutdown of fire suppression on a floor with management offices before the work is scheduled.
  3. All work must be completed before January 1st, 2024.

CFC has years of experience retrofitting fire sprinkler systems in all types of buildings including high-rise condominiums.  If you are an owner or property manager, we would be pleased to work with you on your project to help keep your building in compliance with Florida statutes.  Please call or email us to arrange a site visit and estimate.