What you always wated to know about applying for a FDNY Variance

Dennis Ahn from NWC talks about the process from his experience of receiving the very first one and 7 more since

NWC received the first approval for a Variance from FDNY last August. Above is the letter from FDNY regarding the approval.

As we all know, EPA has banned the use of perc in a co-located building as of December 26th, 2020. In case of New York City, the fire department requires a full sprinkler system in the store if you use a flammable solvent like DF-2000. That can cost up to $100,000 and if you want to avoid spending that money, you need to get an approval for Variance. FDNY hasn’t approved a Variance for dry cleaners until National Waste Clean received the first approval with its Ecotech machine last August. Dennis Ahn from NWC talks about what is involved in getting a Variance approved.

Is there a prerequisite for Variance?

Your machine should have all the permits from DEP and DEC. If you don’t have one, you can’t apply for a variance. You permit should also be up to date.

Your building needs to have a water line that is at least 1 inch thick. FDNY requires an installation of 2 sprinkler heads above the dry cleaning machine and to supply them, you need 1 inch line at the minimum.

From my experience so far, about 90% met the FDNY requirement. But 20% did not have a thick-enough water line. So we have about 70% qualification rate.

Do you need a 2-hour fire wall around the machine?

In NYC, some newer buildings are “2-hour fire-rated establishment.” That mean the walls, ceilings and floors are 2-hour fire-rated. In such building, all you need to do is to install 2 sprinkler heads. All the other buildings require 2-hour fire wall around the cleaning machine.

Can you file the Variance first and select a machine later?

No. A dry cleaning machine has to be proposed with the Variance. I think the approval goes a little easier if you propose a machine that FDNY has experienced in a previous application. If a dry cleaning machine does not have a nitrogen system, you need to submit additional documents to prove fire safety.

How does the process actually go?

First, I visit the store and make sure it meets the requirements. If yes, then we submit necessary documents through FDNY online portal. All the subsequent communication is done by emails. You follow up with additional documents. You need to go back and forth several times. The whole process usually takes 1~2 months.

In our case, we usually submit additional documents 1 or 2 times.

It is quite frustrating not being able to talk to any actual person during the whole process and I believe even a seasoned architects can run into many pot holes.

What comes after the FDNY approval?

Then we submit General Construction & Plumbing Plan to DOB. If we are confident we’ll get FDNY approval, we submit the plan when we apply for a Variance. This process takes about 1 month.

After we submit a registration for a new machine to DEP, we go to the DOB portal to pull the permit. This takes about a week.

How many Variance approvals have you received so far?

We have received variances at 8 stores. It took us close to 2 years for the very first one but now we can finish all the paperwork in 3 months.

What advice do you have those who still use a perc machine?

If you plan to get a new machine, it’s better to do it when the business slow. I understand dry cleaners are at 70% level and will probably reach 100% by October or November. As you know, quite a few dry cleaners have gone out of business due to pandemic and once business gets back to normal, things could get quite busy. I think it’s better for you to be prepared before that happens.

If you have questions regarding FDNY Variance approval process, please contact Dennis Ahn at (908) 331-1022.

Dutch Girl Cleaners in Brooklyn, NY recently had an Ecotech machine installed under FDNY Variance.
Avalon Cleaners in Brooklyn, NY also installed a new machine under FDNY variance.