Accident & Failure Investigation

How Can We Determine the Cause of Large-Scale Property Damage?


Failure Analysis of High-Rise Residence Water Damage

When a flood of water spread from a penthouse suite to the elevator shaft of a high-priced, high-rise residence, causing damage to property and a priceless work of art, Exponent was called in to understand what caused a chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) sprinkler pipe to crack.

The Challenge

Fire protection systems are ubiquitous in hotels, high-rise apartment buildings, and offices, spraying water wherever fire is detected. But pressurized piping systems represent a potential risk of severe flooding if the systems fail, putting safety and property on the line.

The water damage in this high-rise residential building had no obvious root cause and needed a multidisciplinary team to analyze the failure from all angles to help the client.

Exponent's multidisciplinary Solution

During our thermal team's on-site inspection, our experts discovered a crack in an orange CPVC sprinkler pipe in the ceiling. Upon further study of the fire sprinkler system, it became clear that a pressure spike hadn't caused it. But if a water hammer issue wasn't to blame, what had gone wrong? Were incompatible caulking materials used in the firewall? Did someone use incompatible mold spray? Were wires installed and draped over the pipe within the ceiling? Did the pipe crack occur slowly over time, as in the case of "creep" or environmental stress cracking, or did it grow rapidly as a result of a dynamic external force hitting the pipe, causing it to fail immediately?

These questions, and others, were considered by our multidisciplinary team of experts during our root cause testing and analysis of the piping and wires collected at the site.

Exponent's Impact

Exponent was able to identify the critical factors that led to the CPVC sprinkler pipe failure, enabling our client to engage with the involved parties and assign responsibility for the damage. Exponent's deep background in failure analysis affords us the ability to advise manufacturers, construction firms, insurers, and building owners when unexpected failures occur.