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Ask the Architect

Who installed the sprinkler plumbing?

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Q. We have a situation where our new house was finished but our contractor didn’t get any inspections. Now we can’t get our certificate of occupancy. We replaced our house after Hurricane Sandy, and because it’s taller, it needed sprinklers. The contractor died and left no paperwork or permits for us. The plumber seems to have retired and left the state. We’re scrambling to figure this out. The building inspector is trying to help, and says we need all the plumbing and electrical inspections, which means getting a new plumber and an electrician, who we located and is helping by giving us his sign-off, which we understand is through a private agency. We don’t understand why there’s a private agency instead of our building department. Don’t they give electric permits? The hard part seems to be the sprinklers in our ceilings. Our architect, who drew the plans and showed the sprinkler head locations, says he can’t sign the affidavit the inspector needs without a sprinkler test, and nobody knows who installed the sprinkler plumbing. What can we do to get this over with?

A. The common theme of everything you describe is a lack of respect for rules and the shirking of responsibility by people who do the work. The contractor, may he rest in peace, as with all contractors, had an obligation to get inspections when working in your municipality under your permit. He also had an obligation to make certain the permit was in the owner’s possession and that they were working with copies to protect the original documents, which are as valuable as the closing papers on your home.

The new plumber you’ll hire needs to get his name and license number registered with your municipality as the plumber of record, and hopefully knows how the sprinkler system works and can test it for the architect to see and approve. I’m always amazed that authorities who grant permits and issue licenses to plumbers and electricians don’t require those two professionals to sign their own name to their own work, just like any proud, licensed craftsperson should do. Instead, the same municipality makes it necessary for an engineer or architect, who had nothing to do with the installation, to make a written statement that the system was installed to code and works correctly. So if the system fails, the plumber who installed the sprinklers walks away and the municipality points its finger at the architect or engineer when insurance inspectors step in to try to diminish the insurance payout and collect funds by suing the architect/engineer in order to settle your insurance claim.

Architects and engineers don’t install or maintain building components. This particular procedure was purposely made complicated to avoid responsibility but to make it look like you’re protected, which is also why municipalities ask for a private agency to do your electrical inspection. They know that electrical work is a contributor to fire and avoid that responsibility, too. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.