How Fire Sprinkler Systems Work

Fire Sprinklers and Building Codes

Fire sprinkler systems have been in use for more than 100 years. This is no doubt a result of codes and regulations, requiring the use of these systems in public buildings. Codes and regulations that require the installation of fire sprinkler systems were first put into place in the 1960s [source: Fleming]. Before then, builders mainly installed sprinklers to reduce property loss and insurance costs. After collecting staggering statistics comparing the fire death rate in sprinkler-protected buildings versus non-protected, the fire sprinkler industry began a push for updated building codes to require the installation of these systems.

Today, building codes in many countries require the installation of fire sprinkler systems, although the United States has the highest record of systems installed. These codes are usually based on generic code sets developed by building associations and other reputable organizations such as the International Code Council, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Once adopted, these generic codes are locally amended. In the United States, building codes are set by city and state governments.

Code sets usually require the installation of fire sprinkler systems across the board for new construction of high rises and commercial buildings. Retro-fit codes are becoming more popular. Some of the old, existing building types that now require sprinklers include hotels, nursing homes and dormitories. You can find out more about your area's codes for fire sprinkler systems by visiting your local government's Web site. Or visit for a free copy of the NFPA 5000 code set. The USFA Web site has many helpful resources as well, including a list of fire sprinkler protected hotels.

Unfortunately, even though most fire deaths occur in homes, codes have not yet been put into effect requiring fire sprinkler system installation in single-family homes. We'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of installing home sprinkler systems on the next page.

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