NEWSLETTER #258 July 2007 House-Building Home Page

New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips

Residential Fire sprinklers



  1. Introduction
  2. The Basics of Fire Sprinklers
  3. New Home Emergency Plan Considerations
  4. How Residential Fire Sprinklers Fit Into This Plan
  5. What you Need to Know About Residential Fire Sprinklers
  6. Summary and Other Considerations
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This month's newsletter is focused on residential fire sprinklers for new homes. During our research for this particular article, the writers also realized that having a residential fire sprinkler is just one part of your overall emergency plan for your new home and of course your family. In this newsletter we will briefly cover some of the considerations that new home builders should consider from an emergency planning perspective, then discuss the fire sprinkler aspect and what you need to consider as part of your overall plan.

As usual with all of our newsletters we will provide useful links for our readers to find out more detailed information about each of these subjects throughout our article.

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The Basics of Fire Sprinklers

Fire sprinklers were first used to limit damage from fires in industrial complexes, later expanded to commercial buildings and now required in all buildings that are essentially beyond the reach of firefighters equipment as well as commercial and factory buildings. Many residential homebuilders are now considering adding residential fire sprinklers to their new homes for several reasons.

Each sprinkler head is controlled by a heat sensitive fusible link, which prevents the water from flowing until the fusible link is broken. Each sprinkler head will activate independently and focus the water as close as possible to the heat source.

One of the myths of fire sprinklers is that the entire system will spread water throughout the coverage area when any of the sprinkler heads are activated. This only happens in the movies. Each sprinkler head is activated by heat and will turn on over the heat source as a result. If the fire is spreading, then more sprinklers will also activate. The result is that a fire can be contained in a single area avoiding damage by fire to your home as well as limit the water damage.

There are two types of systems, a wet pipe system and a dry type system. A dry type system is often used were the pipes may be exposed to freezing conditions. Dry type systems are pressurized with air, so that when one of the sprinkler fusible links are activated, the air pressure release causes the water to flow into the pipes and out the sprinkler head. Wet systems are filled with water and operate as previously discussed and are the most common type of fire sprinkler in use today. There are also Deluge systems which when activated will spread water over all areas covered. They are not generally used for residential applications.

All fire sprinkler systems are designed with coverage in mind, density design guidelines and also based on the fundamental objectives of reducing fire damage and providing time for occupants to exit the building. Residential systems tend to focus on the latter to reduce overall costs and ensure that the occupants can escape. (More on this later)

The basic advantages of fire sprinklers is that they begin fighting the spread of fire as soon as the sprinkler head is activated and the water is focused on the heat source. Consider that the sprinklers are operating and fighting the spread of the fire while the fire trucks are being called and en-route to the fire. As much as ten or more minutes can elapse between the time of the call to 911 and the arrival and set up of the fire trucks. This is an enormous amount of time in terms of potential damage by fire! Rural located homes can wait even longer before help arrives in the form of a pumping truck.

In addition fire hoses provide a hose stream that is focused and intense. This stream of water can put the fire out, but also cause damage itself to the home and the furniture etc. Having a fire sprinkler just might control and limit the fire sufficiently to avoid any significant amount of damage!

Another major advantage of installing a fire sprinkler system in your new home is that the cost to insure your home may actually decrease, offsetting the cost of installing the system. Arrange for an estimate to have a fire sprinkler system added as your home is being built and ask your insurance agent to quote your home insurance with and without a fire sprinkler system installed to compare the savings vs. costs.

You can also learn more about the basics of operation as well as about fire codes and the National Fire Protection Association by following several of the links below. We have also included a link that provides answers to frequently asked questions. This site also provides animated explanation of how the system works.

Some Useful Links:

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New Home Emergency Plan Considerations

Consumers planning to add a residential fire sprinkler system to their new home should also consider escape plans in the case of an emergency as part of the design of their residential system.

Commercial fire sprinkler systems will cover all areas of a building to ensure that the safety of personnel as well as the equipment and goods in the building are protected. Residential systems are often more focused on allowing sufficient time for residents to escape before the fire becomes too intense. As a result, areas such as closets, washrooms, laundry rooms, even basements may sometimes not be covered in order to reduce the total cost of the sprinkler system.

If you are planning to reduce the coverage of your sprinkler system, the first step is to develop an emergency plan for your home. Every room should have at least two exits of escape, all sleeping areas should have fire and smoke alarms and everyone in the home should know and understand the escape plan for your home. Most people will work with their architect or builder to review and develop this plan before the home is built.

Once you have developed your escape plan, the next step is to decide if you will take a minimum cost approach to the design of your sprinkler plan. If so, then you need to ensure that fire sprinklers are installed to cover all of the living areas and most importantly the exits to ensure that should a fire start in one of these areas it is controlled long enough to allow the family to escape. Once this decision is made you or your builder can design the appropriate fire sprinkler system to meet your design specifications.

The link below provides more details covering this area, including planning for older adults, children, kids sleepovers, bars on the windows and other details that many people do not often consider.

Some Useful Links:

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How Residential Fire Sprinklers Fit Into This Plan

If you are still wondering if a fire sprinkler system is needed for your home, consider that in 2005, there were 396,000 residential fires and 3,055 people died as a result of these fires and there were over 13000 related injuries due to fires.

Developing an escape plan is the first line of defense for your family and practicing this plan will help ensure that your family survives in an emergency. But, what if the exit is blocked by a raging fire! The fire trucks are still an average of 8 minutes away! Your home can be engulfed, including those in it in those short 8 minutes.

Fire sprinklers can often douse a fire before it gets out of hand and most important give you those precious seconds to escape before the fire gets out of control. Your insurance company may provide a discount on your insurance cost, which will help to offset the cost of the system. Finally, have a residential fire sprinkler system installed will enhance the overall value of your homes resale value.

Design your system with safety and fire survivability of your family as the primary design criteria to save on the overall cost of the sprinkler system or add a few extra outlets to reduce the overall damage of a fire by covering all areas of the home.

The cost of these systems has come down in recent years due to the use of plastic piping and installation during the construction of the home. In fact some localities are now promoting these systems in all new home construction.

Some Useful Links:

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What you Need to Know About Residential Fire Sprinklers

Residential fire systems are easily installed while a home is being constructed. Similar to central vacuum systems all of the piping can be installed while the walls are still exposed and then activated at a later date if you are unsure about turning your system on once the home is finished.

Design considerations, in addition to areas covered, must also include water sources, pressure loss once the sprinkler system activates and pressure maintenance over an extended period of time. Most public water systems will provide sufficient water pressure and flow of water to meet all residential fire sprinkler requirements. If you are not on a public water system, and depend on a well for your source of water, adding a pressurized tank to provide water over a specified period must be taken into account. The size of the tank and water flow rate will depend on such factors as how long it will take for the fire department to arrive and set up, the size of your home and the number of sprinkler heads you install. Some designs call for a minimum of 10 minutes of supply of water and somewhere around 275 gallons to 350 gallons of water capacity. Each home system must be designed to meet local conditions.

Finally today's sprinkler heads come in low profile designs which minimize their profile and blend into your homes design.

Some Useful Links:

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Summary and Other Considerations

Installing a residential fire sprinkler system in ones home is a relatively new concept for most home owners and builders, however with the cost reductions and the potential reduction of loss of life and overall damage, more and more people are deciding to have their builders add a system to their new home.

Compare your cost of adding a fire sprinkler system to the cost savings you may be able to negotiate with your insurance company. Of course you cannot place a value on the safety of your family, however for those people looking for a return on their investment, this is one approach to consider.

Anyone living in cold climates considering a residential fire sprinkler system must also consider the possibility of losing power and heating during the colder months of winter. If there is a significant risk of frozen pipes cracking and leaking then you may want to consider a dry type system, which only allows water into the pipes when the air pressure inside the pipe decreases.

Sprinklers will activate only in the areas were there is a heat source. This is both important in controlling the fire as well as limiting water damage from other sprinklers. Home sprinklers also have an excellent record of avoiding accidental release.

Water damage as well as fire damage can be reduced in the event of a fire when there is a residential fire sprinkler in place. First the sprinkler will focus only on the area were there is a fire, secondly water will be spraying on the fire well before the fire trucks arrive and by limiting the fire, there will be less water damage from the fire truck hoses being directed into your home.

Sprinkler systems have decreased in cost over the past years due to the use of plastic piping and overall system cost reduction. They represent a small part of your overall home construction cost.

Having a residential fire sprinkler installed is a great selling feature when it comes time to sell your home. Even fire fighters like these systems since they reduce the risk to them during a residential fire.

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