Many sprinkler design documents have a quality insurance section that requires the sprinkler system to be installed by a “qualified person”. What does this mean? Do all sprinkler contractors meet the intent of a “qualified person”? No. There’s a range of contractors with various degrees of skill. Thus, the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) offers certifications in water-based fire protection systems. Four levels of certification are awarded for various levels of aptitude, with Level IV being most competent. These certifications allow a specifier to dictate a minimum level of competency for a contractor to participate in a project install.
NICET Level I is the entry certification. It requires at least six months of technical experience with aspects of plan preparation for water-based fire protection systems, including preparation and compiling of CAD drawings and assisting in field surveys. This is clearly a stepping stone to achieve a higher certification level. Thus, never specify a Level I certified contractor or a non-descript “NICET certified contractor”.
NICET Level II is the next level of certification for water-based systems. It requires at least two years of water-based fire protection systems layout and related work experience. It does not require project management, personal recommendations, or submission of major projects. At this level, the contractor has a general understanding of how to install sprinkler components. But is not required to understand the system’s design or be capable of computing hydraulic calculations. Thus, a NICET Level II contractor can take engineered drawings and install what’s drawn, but may not notice changes in field that affect the design. Changes in field can happen unbeknownst to the designer. Thus, it’s important to hire a contractor who understands design intent, can notify the designer of inconsistencies, and reduce the likelihood of change orders.
A NICET Level III certification requires at least five years of water-based fire protection systems layout, involving hydraulic calculations and the complete layout of sprinkler and standpipe systems. It does not require project management, personal recommendations, or submission of major projects. At this level, the contractor has knowledge of the installation and design of sprinkler systems. Thus, the install is code compliant and generally lacks change orders. For this reason, a NICET Level III certification should be the minimum qualification for most projects.
A NICET Level IV certification requires an additional five years of full-time involvement with the layout of water based systems, which must include management of projects involving multiple work teams, coordination with installers, and responsible interactions with clients, engineers, and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ). A NICET Level IV contractor should be considered for complex projects, where high-level management or an expert understanding of sprinkler systems is required.
In conclusion, design documentation should dictate a minimum level of competency for a contractor to participate in a project install. A NICET Level III contractor is adequate for most sprinkler projects. Such contractors have knowledge of the installation and design of sprinkler systems. Thus, the installs are code compliant and generally lack change orders. For more complex projects, where high-level management or an expert understanding of sprinkler systems is required, a NICET Level IV contractor should be considered.
Written By: Mark Richards, PE