A first sprinkler system is a system designed to help extinguish fires before they even get a chance to spread. They function like smoke detectors in terms of activating when they sense fires, but they combine this with a sprinkler system that sprays water over the room containing the fire. This can save vital minutes when a fire starts to spread and be the difference between a small, contained fire, and a large fire in multiple rooms. Increasingly, these systems are becoming mandatory in commercial spaces and more and more homes are installing fire sprinkler systems.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NPFA), most structure fires and fire deaths in the United States occurred in residential properties – particularly private homes – but only 8% of reported fires took place in homes with fire sprinklers. This demonstrates the value of fire sprinklers in keeping your home and family safe.
If you’re thinking about a fire sprinkler system, this guide will walk you through the different options involved. Although there are costs involved – both time and money – ultimately a fire sprinkler system is something that can save your home and your family’s lives. And that is something worth investing in.
KEY FIRE SPRINKLER SYSTEM INFORMATION
If you are considering a fire sprinkler system for your home, then it’s likely that the three key questions you have are about effectiveness, maintenance, and cost.
The NPFA conducted a wide-ranging review into the operation of fire sprinkler systems and found that in 96% of cases, they were effective in controlling a fire. The role of a fire sprinkler system is to contain a fire and to buy you and your family enough time to exit the building safely. In some instances, they may fully extinguish the fire.
Either way, they act as a very early deterrent for fire, which is often crucial at a point when time is of the essence. The NFPA study found that in 4-8% of cases a fire sprinkler system failed to operate effectively.
In order to avoid your fire sprinkler system from operating ineffectively (or not at all), it’s vital that you undertake regular maintenance. Not maintaining a fire sprinkler system regularly undermines the whole point of having it at all. Like a smoke or a carbon monoxide alarm, you should build in regular maintenance to your home upkeep.
Oftentimes manufacturers or installers will offer maintenance as part of the cost of your system or as an additional annual add on. This is a vital part of your safety system and should not be skipped (in some jurisdictions, it’s against the law to not maintain your system).
Standard fire sprinkler systems should be inspected quarterly, with a larger inspection every year. This helps inspectors ensure that your system is working as it should, and is ready for action when the time comes.
Fire sprinkler systems also have a five-year certification plan. This means that the manufacturer or licensed fire sprinkler company will come and perform a thorough inspection every five years. This is a legal requirement of the system to ensure that it has not stopped functioning.
THE AVERAGE COST
Although there are a number of factors that affect the cost of a fire sprinkler system – and you will need to get quotes from at least three companies tailored for your own specific situation – the average cost of a fire sprinkler system is around \$600, but can range from \$215 – \$968.
Here are some ballpark fire sprinkler cost breakdowns you can use to help get an idea of the cost for your specific project:
QUICK REFERENCE CHART
COST (PER SQ. FT.)
$1 - $2
$2 - $7
$2 - $4
Obviously, the cost is a crucial factor that will determine whether this is a viable option for you, but a fire sprinkler system must be considered as an investment. In some cases, it may also be either covered by insurance or lower your insurance premiums. Either way, the financial impacts of preventing a fire can be huge – not to mention the safety aspect.
TYPES OF FIRE SPRINKLER SYSTEMS
There is a wide range of different fire sprinkler systems on the market, each of which is designed for slightly different circumstances and environments. A professional will be able to consult on which is right for you. However, the most common options are below:
Wet Pipe Fire Sprinkler Systems:
These are the most common type of systems. Their name comes from the fact that there is constant water circulating in the pipes.
Dry Pipe Fire Sprinkler Systems:
Unlike the wet pipe system, these do not have water circulating – it is pumped in only when needed.
Deluge Fire Sprinkler Systems:
These are often used in extremely hazardous areas where fire spreading is a concern. These are most commonly located in places like hotels and movie theaters.
Pre-Action Fire Sprinkler Systems:
These have a built-in system to prevent accidental activation. They are most commonly used in areas where water would be detrimental, such as data centers and museums.
Foam Water Fire Sprinkler Systems:
These are often used in extremely hazardous areas, and are designed to fully extinguish fires. They are also used in areas where chemicals are common.
For most residential homes, the choice will be between a water spray fire sprinkler system and a water mist fire sprinkler system. The key decision here is whether you want to extinguish the fire with jets of water, or whether you want to contain it. While extinguishing may seem like the better option, it will result in high volumes of water being sprayed over the room in which the fire is detected. This can lead to rooms and their contents being destroyed.
A misting system, by contrast, won’t extinguish a fire but will contain it – as well as ensure that the contents of the room are not totally waterlogged.
The choice between the two is a matter of personal preference, as well as what the contents of the room are. For areas with electronics, a misting system may be preferable. For areas with flammable materials, a deluge system may be better.
FIRE SPRINKLERS CAN BE INEFFECTIVE
As the NFPA study showed, fire sprinklers aren’t effective in 100% of cases. In order to understand whether a fire sprinkler is the right option for you, you need to be aware of the reasons they can be ineffective.
The most common reasons for not being effective are as follows (Note: The percentages relate to the ineffective cases, not total cases):
In 51% of cases, the water did not reach the fire, suggesting the system was not installed in the right location.
In 30% of cases, not enough water was discharged from the system to fully extinguish or contain the fire.
In 7% of cases, the system – or a component of the system – was damaged, and therefore prevented its successful operation (thus demonstrating the importance of proper maintenance).
In 6% of cases, the building had the improper fire system for the fire. This demonstrates how important it is to select the correct form of sprinkler system from the list above.
In 3% of cases, manual error (either an improper shutoff or improper installation) caused it to fail. Although this does show that human error can still play a role, the fact that this is responsible for only 3% of failures (and failures happen only only 4% of the time) means that manual error applies to 0.12% of fires, or roughly one in every eight hundred fires. This shows how foolproof this entire system is.
Showing how they can be ineffective does not mean that you shouldn’t install a system, it’s a way to demonstrate that it’s important to choose the right fire sprinkler system. Getting these three things correct makes it far more likely that the system will work as it should:
After all, there’s no point going through all the effort and cost to install a system that isn’t going to work when you most need it.
a fire sprinkler system buys you peace of mind. For the vast majority of the time you own it, you won’t think about it, and you’ll hope that you never have to use it. However, in the key instance that it is required, you want a system that is efficient and will quickly contain any fire.
Depending on your needs, there are different options you can get for your home. Speaking to a professional will allow you to make the right choice for you and your home. Although fire sprinkler systems are not perfect – and you shouldn’t assume that they are infallible – they are far better than not having a system.