Fire sprinkler contractors can be found by doing an internet search for "Fire Sprinklers," and they often advertise under "Fire Sprinklers" as well. It is always better if you know someone who had sprinklers installed and can refer you to a contractor. If you are starting from scratch, though, a general caution is in order. Like any service, you will find contractors who are extremely competent and fair, and you will find those who are not necessarily so. Make sure that the contractor you are hiring has a State contractors license. Your best assurance is to get several bids and then diligently check opinions of past customers.
If you can, visit the homes of a contractor's past customers or a home that is under construction. If some sprinklers appear to be crooked instead of perpendicular to the ceiling or wall, or if there are gaps around the escutcheon plate (the metal trim ring around the sprinkler that covers the hole in the ceiling or wall), these indicate a sloppy installation and/or an inexperienced installer. Quality contractors pride themselves on sprinklers being perfectly straight and trim.
An important factor to consider is a contractor's experience with residential fire sprinklers.Contractors with experience installing sprinklers in homes will treat the space like their home, taking extra care not to damage anything.
One way to check a contractor's experience is to ask what installation standard he uses. The correct standard for single family homes and duplexes is the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Standard 13D, usually referred to as NFPA 13D. This covers both site-built and manufactured homes. If they refer to NFPA 13 or 13R, keep shopping. Standard 13 governs sprinklers in non-residential structures and residential buildings higher than four stories. Standard 13R applies to multi-family residential (apartments, condos) up to four stories.
The edition of the standard is important, also. They are updated every few years to reflect the latest developments in new technology and efficiencies that reduce cost. The most recent edition of NFPA 13D is 1996, and a new revision should be available in late 1999. There is no valid reason for a contractor to be using an outdated edition.
Next to experience and competence, pricing is the next biggest issue. For a home with a standard floor plan (as opposed to a unique or complex layout) that is located in an area where several contractors are doing single-family work, prices can be expected to be about $1.00 per square foot of habitable space. If a home has a complex floor plan or unique features, the price may be higher because additional sprinkler might be needed to provide the proper coverage. If you want sprinklers in unheated spaces (garages, attics), the cost will be higher if that part of the system needs to be freeze protected (usually with approved antifreeze). The NFPA standards call for freeze protection in any area where the temperature is likely to drop below 40F.
Specialization is another factor. Contractors who specialize in single-family residential work tend to be lower priced than other sprinkler contractors. For one thing, they have learned efficiencies that cut both installation time and materials. In a competitive environment, you can expect that they will pass these savings on to the customer in the form of lower bids. For another, they have a lower overhead than contractors who do large commercial jobs. A high overhead can literally double the amount of a bid.
Information provided by the Residential Fire Safety Institute Web site.