How Fire Sprinkler Systems Work

Sprinkler Systems at Home
Despite the fact that a home fire occurs every 79 seconds, current building codes do not require automatic sprinkler systems in new-home construction.
Despite the fact that a home fire occurs every 79 seconds, current building codes do not require automatic sprinkler systems in new-home construction.

According to the American Fire Sprinkler Association, a home fire occurs every 79 seconds. A 2009 National Fire Protection Association study reports that 3,000 deaths a year can be attributed to fires in homes [source: Figueroa]. Given these startling statistics and what we've already learned about the life- and property-saving characteristics of fire sprinkler system installation, it's hard to believe that less than 2 percent of homes in the United States have fire sprinkler systems [source: Hall]. So why are homeowners hesitant to install a system that could save their lives and property?

While aesthetics shouldn't outweigh life safety, one reason many single-family homeowners don't want to install sprinkler systems is that they believe sprinkler heads are an eye sore. Fortunately, new designs for residential systems are actually quite undetectable, and many can be installed flush to the ceiling. Flush sprinkler heads are hidden behind a metal panel that hides the sprinkler head, but still allows it to spray normally.

And residential sprinklers are smaller than commercial ones and require less water. They're typically dry pipe systems, providing added protection against potential water damage that could occur during home improvements or other home accidents. Additionally, since the development of residential systems is a newer concept, their designs include many new innovations (like improved sensitivity), making them faster than commercial sprinklers.

Perhaps the most common myth about home sprinkler systems is that they're expensive. Not only is the installation of a home fire sprinkler system affordable, it can drastically decrease your home owner's insurance premium. Considering installation costs, reduced insurance rates and potential property destruction costs, a 2007 National Institute of Standards and Technology found the addition of a home sprinkler system could produce up to $4,800 in savings. Home systems will only continue to become more cost-effective as they become more common. Don't be surprised if you're required to install sprinkler systems in your home at some point in the future.

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More Great Links


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  • Fleming, Russell. "The Fire Sprinkler Situation in the United States." National Fire Sprinkler Association. 2002. (March 15, 2010)
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  • Faith, Nicholas. "How Fire Sprinklers Work." The Providence Journal. (March 15, 2010)
  • Fleming, Russell. "Anniversary Time: Recalling three big years in the development of automatic sprinklers." NFPA Journal. November/December 2009. (March 15, 2010)
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  • National Institute of Standards and Technology. "Home Fire Sprinklers Score 'A' In Cost-Benefit Study." ScienceDaily. October 15, 2007. (March 15, 2010)
  • Figueroa, Maria. "Re: Fire sprinkler requirement public commentary." Fire Prevention Field Office. July 16, 2009. (March 15, 2010)