Many people (homeowners, developers, contractors, etc.) are skeptical when it comes to the installation of residential fire sprinklers. Many questions are brought up (cost, maintenance, malfunction, etc.). However, the 10 suggestions listed below, provided by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, should answer most questions, and get you started in the right direction.
1. Residential Requirements – Installation is governed by NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. Fire sprinklers are life-safety systems, so installation is required only in living areas.
2. Water Supply – The standard requires at least 10 minutes of sprinkler-water flow on the fire. Home fire sprinklers are supplied via the household water main. If water pressure is low, a tank supplies the system. Both water supply methods achieve the water flow requirement of NFPA 13D.
3. Installation – The sprinkler system is installed behind the walls and ceiling, just like plumbing. Modern sprinkler piping is typically made of chloro-polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), a cost-effective, lightweight material. In unfinished basements, copper pipe is often used. Fire sprinklers are fitted along the piping according to a unique hydraulic design for the structure.
4. Types of Sprinklers – Residential sprinklers are small and inconspicuous. There are recessed and pendent designs. Concealed sprinklers are also available for walls and ceilings, and many manufacturers offer custom colors.
5. How Sprinklers Work – All home fire sprinklers operate individually, in response to the high temperature of a fire, usually 135ºF to 165ºF. Smoke or a smoke-alarm signal can’t operate a fire sprinkler. Unlike movie special effects, fire sprinklers don’t flow water simultaneously. The sprinkler nearest a fire will operate automatically while the fire is still small, controlling or extinguishing it. That fast response limits the spread of flames, heat and poisonous smoke. In 90% of home fires, just one sprinkler is needed to control the fire.
6. Maintenance – NFPA 13D recommends little maintenance. Once a month, homeowners should test the pump (if any) and visually verify that all valves are open and the storage tank is full (if any). Twice a year, the water flow device and monitoring service (if any) should be tested. Year-round, the homeowner should look at sprinklers and visible pipes to make sure nothing is blocking or hanging from them.
7. Cost – A national study showed that the cost of installing a home fire-sprinkler system to the builder is $1.61 per sprinklered square foot.
8. Incentives – If your municipality offers incentives to install sprinklers, make sure builders and developers know about them. Incentives such as allowing more residential units, longer dead ends and reduced street width, tee turnarounds and increased hydrant spacing can save developers money and increase builder profits.
9. Working with Contractors – HFSC recommends selecting an experienced and qualified residential contractor knowledgeable and trained in NFPA 13D systems.
10. Resources – HFSC’s website is a one-stop resource for home fire sprinklers: HomeFireSprinkler.org. It’s all free. Builders will find a three-dimensional animated installation, a range of videos, tools to help market their homes and many other resources. The fire service can enroll in the free Built for Life Fire Department Program, download educational tools and incorporate animations, videos and PowerPoint slides into presentations.