Milwaukee firefighter leads by example

SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR MILWAUKEE How appropriate that a firefighter would build a house with residential sprinklers. What's more, the sprinklers allowed firefighter Casey Kerwin to build his dream house by getting around a couple code restrictions. He's building on a narrow city lot here and the sprinklers allow the house to be built closer to the lot lines. Fire sprinklers also eliminated the need

SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR

MILWAUKEE — How appropriate that a firefighter would build a house with residential sprinklers. What's more, the sprinklers allowed firefighter Casey Kerwin to build his dream house by getting around a couple code restrictions.

He's building on a narrow city lot here and the sprinklers allow the house to be built closer to the lot lines. Fire sprinklers also eliminated the need for a second stairwell, which would have added cost and reduced living space.

With plans to build a 4,000-sq.-ft. home for him, his wife and their new baby, Kerwin realized that a residential fire-protection system would provide an ideal solution to local code restrictions, while also addressing a personal concern for his family's safety.

Given the home's tall and narrow design to accommodate existing structures on either side, Milwaukee fire codes mandate either a second staircase or the installation of a residential fire protection system.

"Adding another stairwell would have subtracted significant space in the home," said Jane Kerwin of Jane Kerwin Homes. (Jane is Casey Kerwin's mother.) "As such, a residential fire protection system became the natural choice, and would also provide the elevated level of protection the homeowner himself was seeking."

Plumbing contractor Bayview Plumbing, a licensed installer of both plumbing and domestic fire-protection systems in the state of Wisconsin, and distributor Rundle Spence, were approached for the project and recommended a residential fire-protection system.

"To us the choice was obvious," said Matt Lowery, designer at Rundle Spence. "The unique nature of this project, between stringent coding issues and a very high structure with lots of stairs, made it necessary to specify a product that was lighter in weight and easy to handle."

The solution was a PEX residential fire protection system integrated with the home's cold water PEX plumbing system. The flexibility of PEX pipe manufactured by REHAU was beneficial as the job required snaking it around laminated beams and through three floors of the home, said Mike Binder of Bayview Plumbing.

"This would have been extremely challenging and time-consuming had we used rigid pipe," Binder said.

REHAU engineers worked with Bayview and Rundle Spence to specify the multi-purpose system using 3 /4-in. diameter PEXa pipe to feed the fire sprinklers. Additionally, 1 /2-in. PEX was used to branch from the system to service the home's plumbing needs.

In addition to addressing local fire code mandates, the residential fire protection system made it possible for Kerwin to secure a zoning variance after the home's foundation was deemed too close to the lot perimeter. Although Milwaukee fire codes require a certain amount of distance between a house and the property line, the high level of fire safety supplied by the system meant he could receive that variance without difficulty. This was especially helpful because the home builder was notified about this after the foundation had already been poured.

The home has an unobstructed view across a park to Lake Michigan, Binder said. The four-story building has a garage, laundry room and mechanical room containing the furnace and water heater on the first floor. The water heater is a 75-gal. A.O. Smith power-vented unit.

The second floor holds the kitchen, living room, dining room and a bathroom. The third level has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The top floor has storage, a full bath and a living area with a walkout porch that has a view of the lake. The top floor has also been roughed-in for a future kitchen sink.

The homeowner made most of the brand decisions, and he was ecumenical. The Kohler kitchen sink has a Delta faucet. The toilets are Mansfield, a shower surround is by Sterling, an oversized 60-in.-by-42-in. tub module was supplied by Lasco, and shower valves and fittings are Moen. The Kohler whirlpool tub in the master bath has a Delta faucet with a hand-held spray. Lavatory faucets are Moen and Kohler.

Binder brought 1 1 /4-in. PEX into the house to a home-run system manifold. City water pressure is 67 PSI. It only takes a couple of seconds to get hot water, he noted.

REHAU engineers designed the combined plumbing and fire sprinkler system. Binder installed eight or nine lines running from the bottom level up through the living spaces to supply 40 sprinklers. Each sprinkler is supplied from two sides and the lines are inter-connected to make sure the pressure is equal to all the sprinklers. All 1 /2-in. cold water supply lines come from the 3 /4-in. sprinkler lines.

Binder installed all the gas lines to the water heater, furnace, kitchen stove and the log lighter for the gas fireplace on the second floor. Binder ran 1-in. black pipe from the main into the building, terminating at a manifold. He then ran Titeflex Corp.'s 1/2-in. flexible corrugated stainless steel gas pipe to the appliances.

With the house still in its final phase of construction, Kerwin and his family are eager to finally call it their home.

"As a firefighter, a husband and a father, I'm grateful for the enhanced sense of security that REHAU's residential fire protection system will add to the overall excitement of finally living in our dream home," Kerwin said.

The family anticipates moving into the home before summer.