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Can You Legally Paint a Fire Hydrant (& Which Colors)?

We have a fire hydrant in front of our house and to be honest, it sticks out like a sore thumb. We thought about painting it, but we didn’t want to get in any trouble. So, I did some research to see if I could learn more. Here’s what I found.

Fire hydrants can be painted if you have permission from your town or city. Generally, the city or a privately contracted business is responsible for painting fire hydrants. However, there are exceptions and you may be able to gain an artistic license. Before painting, make sure you get the right type of paint.

To help break this down, let’s take a closer look at when you’re allowed to paint fire hydrants, if specific colors are required, and what type of paint you should use.

a red fire hydrant

Are You Allowed To Paint Fire Hydrants?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spruce up the neighborhood. However, it’s important to check with your local fire department or town office before painting a fire hydrant.

If the paint on your fire hydrant has degraded and chipped off, or you have a creative idea, you’ll need to make sure the proper guidelines are followed. Each town has its own rules when it comes to painting fire hydrants, so it really depends on where you live.

For example, in the city of Bellaire, Texas, artists can apply to the city to “adopt” and paint a fire hydrant of their choice.

However, in New York City, residents can make some requests regarding their fire hydrants (such as locks or recreational spray apparatuses), but the city does not accept painting requests. Instead, the city operates on a regular maintenance schedule.

DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) paints fire hydrants on a regular maintenance schedule, but does not accept painting requests.

City of New York Website

If you do find yourself in a jurisdiction where you can paint a fire hydrant, whether it is the traditional colors or an artistic idea, there are certain steps you’ll have to take.

The two main concerns with painting fire hydrants are:

  1. Withstanding the elements
  2. Remaining noticeable to the fire department

Meeting these two needs requires specific types of paint and color guidelines, depending on your location.

If you notice a fire hydrant that seems to be out of service or has had its paint chipped off due to long-term exposure to the elements, you should consult with the fire department or town offices.

Because hydrants often have a color coding system depicting different information to first responders (more on this later), it’s important to follow the town rules before taking matters into your own hands.

Who’s Responsible for Painting Fire Hydrants?

a fire hydrant with a wet paint sign

Fire hydrants that are often seen around towns are generally owned by municipalities. It is up to the town government to how hydrants are regulated. However, the entity responsible for painting and maintaining a fire hydrant depends upon where the hydrant is located and who owns it.

For example, they may require that the fire department regularly paints the hydrant, or the town may contract out with a private business to paint the hydrant.

Another example is a large warehouse or factory facility that occupies a large plot of land and may need to paint its own private fire hydrants.

Depending on municipal regulations, the private entity may have to paint their hydrant a certain color to differentiate it from other municipally owned fire hydrants. Additionally, the private entity will likely have to contract out with professional painters due to the advanced paint formulas that are needed for hydrants (more on this later).

Which Colors Can You Paint a Fire Hydrant?

a yellow and blue fire hydrant

Before beginning the project, the best guideline for painting a fire hydrant is to consult with your local fire department or municipality.

If you’re in a jurisdiction that gives you artistic liberty and permission to paint a fire hydrant as a private individual, you can follow wherever your imagination leads you! Keep in mind that some locations may have certain guidelines, such as prohibiting you from painting a fire hydrant entirely black (difficult to see at night).

Most often you will see that caps must be painted a different color than the rest of the hydrant’s body, this is to allow the firefighters an easier ability to see the hydrant when they are quickly approaching an emergency scene and need to get set up.

On top of increased visibility, painting caps and bonnets provide different messages to firefighters who respond to the scene.

If you’re painting a fire hydrant in the traditional colors and have not been given permission for any artistic or creative opportunities, you’ll have to follow the guidelines set forth by the municipality.

Is There a Color Code for Fire Hydrants?

ColorMeaning
Red BodyPrivate System
Yellow BodyMunicipal System
Violet BodyReclaimed System
Red Cap and BonnetLess Than 500 GPM
Orange Cap and Bonnet500-999 GPM
Green Cap and Bonnet1000-1499 GPM
Light Blue Cap and Bonnet1500+ GPM
Water flow is measured by “gallons per minute” or GPM.

Although there is no universally required set of rules for color coding fire hydrants, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) has put forth guidelines that many municipalities follow. The guidelines that are often followed are located in NFPA Guidance 291

The combination of colors that can be placed on caps and bodies of fire hydrants will depict different information to firefighters arriving on the scene.

For example, colors can denote facts such as water flow and ownership.

It’s important to remember that the above color codes are not universally enforced. There’s no federal law or requirement for color coding when it comes to fire hydrants.

Still, if you’re consulting your town or fire department about a hydrant, be sure to ask them what type of color coding they follow. They may have their own color scheme that is entirely different from the generally accepted NFPA standards.

Even though these standards are commonly used, diverting from a local town’s color coding plans may confuse and even possibly worsen a future emergency.

If a fire hydrant is inoperable or out of service, it should be wrapped and marked in such a way that it will be clear to any responding firefighters.

If you do contact your town or fire department in regards to a fire hydrant that needs to be repainted, they may also perform a maintenance assessment on the hydrant. After the assessment, wrapping may be placed around the hydrant.

In this case, it’s best to leave it alone until the department or town has had the opportunity to start painting.

What Kind of Paint To Use on Fire Hydrants

mixing epoxy paint in a bucket
Mixing epoxy paint.

There are two primary options available that are ideal for fire hydrants, according to both the NFPA and the American Water Works Association (AWWA). These two options are a fusion bonded epoxy or a liquid coating.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to both of these options.

Liquid coating is generally considered the more cost-effective and easier to maintain option. However, liquid coating will require either a mixture of primer or a previous coat of primer. Liquid coating has more color options, is more chip resistant, and is easier to touch up. 

The other common option, fusion-bonded epoxy (FBE), is a bit more expensive but does not require a primer to apply. The challenges with FBE painting are that it’s more expensive to repair and touch up, it becomes more brittle and chips over time, and there are fewer color options. 

The shared benefits between these types of paint are that they’re both durable, scratch resistant, and prevent corrosion.

In the end, the choice is up to you or the municipality to choose which type of paint to use.

Remember, these paints use a significant amount of chemicals and can be harmful. Be sure to review the safety standards on any paint, and follow all the safety protocols. At a bare minimum, make sure to use safety gloves and goggles.

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