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Fire Sprinkler Systems For Your Home

By Sheri Koones Rise Writer
Jul 9, 2021

Each year many deadly house fires are resulting in multiple deaths and a great deal of property damage. Studies have demonstrated that fire sprinkler systems can lessen these tragic events. I am therefore mystified why these systems have not become mandatory in all housing. Sprinkler systems have been shown to save lives and reduce property damage from fires. Several studies have confirmed the benefits of single-family and multifamily houses. According to the 2019 report by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) – 

  • There is one fatality in a US home fire every 3 hours and 10 minutes.
  • There was a home fire injury every 43 minutes in the US.
  • Every 24 seconds, a local fire department responded to a fire in the US. 
  • There have been an estimated 1.3 million fires to which fire departments have had to respond.
  • These fires caused about 3,700 fire deaths. 
  • They caused 8,800 residential fire injuries.
  • There were 6.4 billion dollars in residential property damage because of these fires.
Fire Out With Fire Sprinkler
Photo Credit: Home Fire Sprinkler

What Studies Prove The Advantages Of Sprinkler Systems?

There have been several studies confirming the validity of sprinkler systems in the United States. 

  • A 1992 study was conducted jointly by the HFSC and the University of Maryland to review the results of the ordinance in Prince George Counties from 1992 to 2007. This ordinance required the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family homes. In the 15-year study, houses with fire sprinklers had no fire deaths, and there were only six homeowner injuries. There were 101 fire deaths and 328 homeowner injuries in homes without sprinkler systems in homes during that same period. In addition, there was substantially less property damage per incident in the homes with sprinkler systems. The study found the average damage to houses with sprinkler systems was $4,883 per incident compared to an average of $9,983 per incident for homes without sprinkler systems. The Prince George County Fire Department (PGCFD) estimated that of the 245 sprinkler activations that occurred during the study period, there was an estimated $1,352,820 in fire loss compared to what it potentially would have been without sprinkler systems at $42,578,420. 
  • The Scottsdale Report was a 15-year study of sprinkler system effectiveness compiled by Deputy Chief and Fire Marshall Jim Ford of the Rural/Metro Fire Department in Scottsdale, Arizona. The study reports that the hoses used by firefighters use eight to ten times more water to put out the fire than the sprinkler system does. This reduction in water results in less damage to the home. The study also found the average cost of fire damage in houses without sprinklers was $45,000, compared to just $2,166 for homes with a sprinkler system. Smoke damage was substantially reduced in the homes with fire sprinkler systems because they put out the fires more quickly. The most significant finding was that in new homes with required sprinklers built since 1986, there were no deaths due to fire. There were 13 deaths in the older homes without sprinkler systems.

Are Fire Sprinkler Systems Required In Homes?

Codes requiring fire sprinklers in all new homes have been adopted by California, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. There are also ordinances at the local level in other States. For example, more than 110 towns/fire districts in Northern IL require fire sprinklers in all new homes. Scottsdale has required them since 1986. Las Vegas passed the requirement for fire sprinkler systems four years ago. In addition, there are individual developments that include sprinkler systems to the homes because the developers agreed to install the systems in exchange for a "trade up" as an incentive. These "trade-ups" might include allowing homes to be closer together, increased hydrant spacing, reduced basement windows needed for rescue, and so on.

Active Sprinkler

How Do Fire Sprinklers Work?

The heat from a fire rises quickly. When the air heats to between 135 and 165 degrees, just above the sprinkler, it will cause a glass bulb filled with a glycerin-based liquid to expand. This expansion will cause the bulb to shatter and will activate the sprinkler just above the heat. Each of the sprinklers is attached to a pipe connected to a water source. When the sprinkler is activated, pressurized water from the pipe systems flows out. 

Sprinklered room before fire
Sprinklered Room Before and After a Fire. Photo Credit: Home Fire Sprinkler.org

Why Should Every House Have A Fire Sprinkler System?

Studies have shown that fire sprinkler systems save lives and property. Reports have proven that sprinkler systems make a house far safer. When there is a fire in the house, a sprinkler can respond almost immediately, reducing the amount of damage caused by the fire and potentially saving the lives of the residents. It usually takes the fire department between five to ten minutes to arrive at the home, by which time the damage to the house can be far more substantial. This delay may make it impossible for the people in the home to get out.

How Do You Maintain Fire Sprinkler Systems?

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the maintenance of home fire sprinkler systems is mostly about "common sense." They suggest the critical issues are keeping the control valves open, not hanging items from the sprinklers, and ensuring that the sprinklers do not get painted or obstructed. They stress it is also essential to know the function of the main control valve and its location.

Although it is not a requirement, yearly maintenance by a professional sprinkler system provider will ensure the system continues to function accurately. The NFPA recommends that homeowners use a padlock to keep the water valve in the ON position.

How Long Do Fire Sprinkler Systems Last?

When fire sprinklers are adequately maintained, they can last the life of the home. A flow test performed twice a year will help to sustain the system properly. The homeowner can do the flow test themselves.

Sprinkler heads need replacement if they are damaged, leaking, or defective when tested. 

Photo Credit: Tyco

What Are Some Of The Common Misconceptions Associated With Fire Sprinkler Systems?

  • People believe that smoke sets off the sprinklers. However, this is not true – the sprinklers are activated by heat, not smoke. 
  • People think that when a fire erupts in one house area, all the heads will be activated. In reality, only the sprinkler closest to the fire is activated by the heat. This localized activation confines the water to just the area where the fire is raging.
  • Homeowners may have concerns about the esthetics of fire sprinklers. However, home fire sprinklers are far less conspicuous compared to older commercial sprinklers. You can install pendants or concealed sprinklers on the ceiling or a wall. Concealed sprinklers have a plate. Some can be painted by the sprinkler manufacturer to match the room's colors. 
  • Water damage from the sprinkler system will be worse than the fire damage. Quick response sprinklers release 8 to 24 gallons of water per minute compared to 80 to 125 gallons per minute from a fire hose.
  • Smoke detectors are adequate for fire protection. They will alert the residents to the fire but will do nothing to extinguish it; a fire sprinkler will. 
Sidewall Sprinkler
Sidewall Sprinkler

What Are the Types of Fire Sprinkler Systems?

There are two types of systems – the standalone system and the multipurpose system. 

  • A standalone system has separate pipes that serve the fire sprinkler system exclusively.
  • A multipurpose system integrates the piping connected to the domestic water supply used for the home with the sprinkler system. A separate water main for the sprinkler system is not required. 
Victaulic Sprinkler Heads
Victaulic Sprinkler Heads. Photo Credit: Quick Response Fire Supply

There are a variety of residential fire sprinklers. There are traditional pendants, concealed pendants, and horizontal sidewall pendents. The newer concealed sprinklers are the least invasive and most attractive in the home. They can be installed on the wall or the ceiling. The number of sprinklers used will depend on the floor plan and the size of the house. Several companies manufacture residential sprinklers, including The Viking GroupTyco, Victaulic.

How To Find A Fire Sprinkler Contractor?

NFPA 13D is the national installation standard for home fire sprinkler systems in one- and two-family dwellings and manufactured homes. When you do find a fire sprinkler contractor, there are several precautions to take. 

  • Ensure the contractors are licensed by local authorities, which sometimes include the state's fire marshal or contractor licensing authority. 
  • Check the Secretary of State's website or other authority to ensure their business is registered and for how long.
  • Check to see if there are any complaints about the business, which can be uncovered with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer advocacy groups. 
  • Check information about the company through feedback online.
  • Check with other homeowners who have employed the services of the provider.
Concealed Sprinkler Shield. Photo Credit: Fire Safety Security, Ltd.

How Much Does A Fire Sprinkler System Cost?

The cost to install a fire sprinkler system in a new home can be between 1 to 1.5 percent of the total cost of construction. To install a system in an existing house may cost about 50 percent more. In addition, some municipalities have policies that charge fees, usually called tap fees, for the initial connection of the sprinkler system and for maintaining the availability of water.

Where To Get Additional Information About Fire Sprinkler Systems?

For further information, check the websites of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the National Fire Protection Association.

House Fire

Homeowners who are building or planning to remodel their homes should consider including a fire sprinkler system. Particularly in areas where there are wildfires, sprinkler systems should be mandatory. More critical than granite countertops or another luxury upgrade to the home, the sprinkler system will potentially save lives. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T17:48:57+0000
Sheri Koones

Article by:

Sheri Koones

Sheri Koones has written many books, the latest being Downsize: Living Large In a Small House which profiled 33 exceptional houses that show how small can be comfortable, practical, energy efficient—and beautiful. Sheri is a freelance writer and speaker. She has won the prestigious Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Award from NAREE in 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2017. Her next book will be released in 2022.