Study Up: Making Renovations Your Niche Business

Contractor Business Man Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Thaninee Chuensomchit
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Thaninee Chuensomchit

When contractors receive calls to bid on renovation work during busy times, they can choose to do one of two things: bid the project extremely high or decline the request. Many contractors seem to believe new construction work will go on forever, but some know better. Knowing our industry experiences cyclical workloads, I advise contractors to use the busy season to build a base of renovation work they can sustain their businesses with during downturns.

Less knowledgeable contractors propagate the falsehood that renovation work is just like new work but potentially more difficult. Renovation is a specialty niche ECs can build to protect their companies. But to cultivate this business, contractors need to differentiate themselves. In the life safety systems field specifically, contractors have numerous examples from relevant codes to ensure the installation reliability throughout a renovation.

The easiest way for contractors to distinguish themselves is to know more than their competitors. Contractors need to know the code’s nuances and resources for guidance. Not every code has the same information, but diligent contractors can combine ideas to make the difference between codes work in their favor.

For example, NFPA 909 2017, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship , requires a plan for fire protection during the renovation process. Furthermore, NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations , is used for protection during construction. However, every renovation includes alteration and demolition activities. Savvy contractors can set themselves apart in the renovation business by reviewing and plucking ideas from these codes, regardless of whether they apply or have been formally adopted. Contractors can demonstrate to their customers they understand the renovation process and that, by hiring their company, the customer will have someone who cares about their business and the renovation as well as the safety of their occupants.

For example, if a renovation will affect the existing fire alarm system, the contractor must establish a plan for protection during the fire alarm system impairment. Chapter 10 of NFPA 72 2019, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code , requires contractors to report to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) any system that is out of service for more than eight hours, so appropriate safety measures can be taken. The safety measures the AHJ may require may simply be occupant notification, a fire watch or the presence of an engine company on-site. Typically, the AHJ determines the need for any mitigating measure on a case-by-case basis.

As the code’s Annex states, the fire official will consider the “building, occupancy type, nature and duration of impairment, building occupancy level during impairment period, active work being conducted on the fire alarm system during the impairment, condition of other fire protection systems and features (i.e., sprinklers, structural compartmentalization, etc.), and hazards and assets at risk.”

The point of all of this is, if a contractor knows why and how the building and its occupants can be kept safe during the renovation and can plan a system downtime effectively, they can reduce the cost impact of a fire watch or fire department personnel on-site during the impairment. Each of the codes mentioned here will help contractors create a checklist to show customers that will prove to them the contractor has their interests in mind. Competitors will wind up “surprising” the customer with additional costs while attempting to blame the fire official for the additional costs. ECs that study up on the other hand will appear more knowledgeable and efficient.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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