FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Automatic fire sprinklers are individually heat-activated, and tied into a network of piping with water under pressure. When the heat of a fire raises the sprinkler temperature to its operating point (usually 165ºF), a solder link will melt or a liquid-filled glass bulb will shatter to open that single sprinkler, releasing water directly over the source of the heat.
Sprinklers operate automatically in the area of fire origin, preventing a fire from growing undetected to a dangerous size, while simultaneously sounding an alarm. Automatic fire sprinklers keep fires small. The majority of fires in sprinklered buildings are handled by one or two sprinklers.
Sprinklers do not rely upon human factors such as familiarity with escape routes or emergency assistance. They go to work immediately to reduce the danger. Sprinklers prevent the fast developing fires of intense heat which are capable of trapping and killing dozens of building occupants.
Smoke, a by-product of fire, is generally the cause of death to building occupants. Although smoke is produced as sprinklers extinguish a fire, such quantities of smoke are less than those which would be produced by an unsprinklered fire permitted to grow.
Aside from fire fighting and explosion fatalities, there has never been a multiple loss of life in a fully sprinklered building due to fire or smoke. Individual lives have been lost when the victim or his clothing or immediate surroundings became the source of the fire.
A National Fire Protection Association study for the years 1971-1975 found that approximately 20 lives are lost each year in this country in sprinklered buildings, as compared to approximately 4,000 per year in unsprinklered buildings. Some 68% of the lives lost in sprinklered buildings were due to explosions, and an additional 18% were due to the fact that the fire originated in an unsprinklered area of the building.
All fire protection features have a reliability factor. Walls and shafts can be breached by means of poke-throughs and building alterations. Exit doors can be blocked or locked.
Sprinklers may be the most reliable fire protection system known. Detailed fire records for Australia and New Zealand (where fire must be reported) for the years 1886 through 1968 showed that 99.76% of all fires were extinguished or controlled by the sprinklers. Fire records in this country are less dependable due to lack of full reporting, especially for small fires where the sprinklers are successful. Nevertheless, the range includes a 96.2% success record reported by the National Fire Protection Association for the years 1925 through 1969, 98.4% success record for New York city high-rise buildings between 1969 and 1978, and a 98.2% success record for U.S. Department of Energy facilities between 1952 and 1980.
Electrical supervision of sprinkler systems to monitor valves and water flow is a major plus in assuring system reliability and effectiveness, and is required by many building codes for large and important system installations.
Loss records of Factory Mutual Research indicate that the probability of a standard response spray sprinkler discharging accidentally due to a manufacturing defect is only 1 in 16,000,000 sprinklers per year in service.
The cost of a complete sprinkler system depends on many factors, such as the building type and construction, availability of public water supply, and degree of hazard of the occupancy. For new construction, systems usually cost from $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot, less than the cost of carpeting.
Retrofit installations in existing buildings can be expected to cost somewhat more than for new construction, depending on the difficulty of installation and other factors. A general rule of thumb is to add 50%.
The system cost can often be offset by insurance savings, and by specific design alternatives or "trade-offs" permitted by most building codes in view of the superior protection afforded by sprinklers. These trade-offs often include reduced fire-resistant requirements for structural components, longer exit travel distances, and larger building areas and heights.
Due to advances in sprinkler technology, sprinklers look better than ever, if you can see them at all. Sprinklers can be concealed behind ceilings, out of sight until needed to extinguish a fire. Sprinklers are also available in a range of colors and sizes to blend into the background of any room.
Reports of water damage due to fires in sprinklered buildings are often exaggerated due to comparisons with the small fire loss which occurs thanks to the sprinklers.
The amount of water which is put on a fire by fire department hoses in an unsprinklered building fire is nearly always tens to hundreds of times more than that which sprinklers would have discharged. During a fire, only those sprinklers closest to the fire activate, limiting the total amount of water needed. The fire damage, as reflected by insurance claims, is also many times greater.
There have been hundreds of multiple-death (three or more people killed) building fires in the United States since fire sprinklers were invented. These fires, all in unsprinklered buildings, have killed thousands of people, not to mention the property damage.
Yes! Schools, office buildings, factories, and other commercial buildings have benefited from fire protection sprinkler systems for over a century.
Using quick response sprinklers and approved piping, homes can be built or even retrofitted to include low-cost automatic sprinkler systems connected to the domestic water supply.
Sprinkler systems offer advantages to the homebuilder:
- A low-cost reliable safety option that would attract many buyers.
- Trade-offs between sprinklers and code requirements that can result in lower construction costs, more units per area of land, etc.
For homeowners, the advantages include assurance of a safer environment for their families, protection of their investment and irreplaceable family possessions, and lower insurance rates 5 to 15 percent.
There are several advantages of the newly designed home sprinklers systems.
Residential sprinklers, listed by Underwriters Labs, are now available. They are designed to respond to a fire much faster than currently available standard commercial and industrial sprinkler systems. The new home sprinklers react automatically to fires more quickly because of their improved sensitivity.
At the present time, cost of a home sprinkler system is targeted at approximately $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot in new construction. It is hoped that the cost will decrease as the use of home fire protection grows. It is also possible to retrofit existing homes with sprinkler systems.
For residential systems, the sprinklers will be smaller than traditional, commercial, and industrial sprinklers, and can be aesthetically coordinated with any room decor.
Minimal Installation Work
When homes are under construction or being remodeled, a home sprinkler system will require minimal extra piping and labor.
Low Water Requirement
These systems will require less water than the systems installed in industrial or commercial establishments and can be connected to the domestic water supply.
In addition to metallic pipe, the use of plastic pipe has brought down the cost of installation in new construction and the retrofit of existing structures.
Yes! Sprinklers are a good investment for both home builders and home buyers.
For home builders:
Through the use of construction trade-offs, homebuilders and developers can achieve reduced construction costs if residential sprinkler systems are installed. Home sprinkler systems offer both safety and financial advantages to home buyers, a rare combination.
For home buyers:
- A fire occurs in a residential structure every 79 seconds, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. To the homebuilder, this fact means that a large share of potential customers now have knowledge of the terror and destruction caused by fire.
- Families with children, senior citizens, and handicapped members have special fire protection needs. Home sprinkler systems provide added protection for these people.
- In case of a home fire, firefighters will have less risk of injury or life loss since they will be fighting a fire of less intensity.
- Allocation of community resources can be improved with the adoption of home sprinkler technology.
- Communities will be able to make better utilization of available land and thereby increase their tax base.
- Insurance discount - Insurance from homeowner underwriters will vary depending on type of coverage. The discounts now range between 5-15%, with a projected increase in available discounts.