There are many misconceptions when it comes to automatic fire sprinkler systems and their effectiveness for controlling fires and protecting lives within private residential dwellings. Sprinkler systems have been in existence for over 100 years and are continually being improved in order to provide the most economical and efficient means of fire-suppression for all applications, whether in commercial or residential structures. The purpose of this article is to refute those myths and state facts which re-enforce that fire sprinklers respond quickly to nearby fires and function well without creating problems for homeowners.
Probably the most common myth is that every sprinkler will activate and that everything in the house will be ruined. This is false. In the event of a fire, typically, only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate and spray water directly on the fire, leaving the rest of the house dry and secure. Just one sprinkler activates in approximately 85% of the time they are present at a fire.
Another common misconception is that home fire sprinklers are expensive and will make housing unaffordable, especially for first-time home-buyers. The fact is home fire sprinklers are affordable and only cost around $1.61 per sq. ft. for new construction. The presence of fire sprinklers can help houses sell faster than those without, significantly reduce property loss, cut insurance premiums, and even qualify a home for a tax rebate.
Other Myths vs. Realities
Myth: A smoke alarm provides enough protection and any time it is triggered it will activate the home fire sprinklers.
Fact: Smoke alarms only alert occupants to the presence of a danger, but do nothing to extinguish the fire. Home fire sprinkler systems also reduce the heat and smoke allowing for a quicker and safer evacuation. Fire sprinklers do not operate in response to smoke, vapors, steam, or activating alarms.
Myth: The water damage caused by the sprinkler system will be more expensive than the fire damage.
Fact: Home fire sprinklers can significantly reduce property loss and damage due to a fire. The sprinkler will quickly control the heat and smoke, limiting damage to other areas of the house. Any resulting water damage from the sprinkler will be much less severe than the damage caused by water from fire-fighting hose lines.
Myth: If you want your home fire sprinklers to be reliable they will need frequent, expensive maintenance.
Fact: The standard design for home sprinklers is much simpler than the design for more traditional sprinklers like the ones used in commercial buildings. Maintenance only consists of visual inspections to make sure sprinkler heads are not obstructed, items are not hanging from sprinkler pipe, and control valves are not closed and easily accessible.
Myth: Newer home are safer homes.
Fact: Statistically the only fire safety issue that is relevant to the age of the home is the electrical wiring. Newer, larger homes often contain a greater fuel load, open spaces, void spaces, and lightweight wood trusses and engineered lumber that add to the risk of a fire.
Myth: Home fire sprinklers are unattractive and will ruin the aesthetics of a home.
Fact: New home fire sprinkler models are very unobtrusive, can be mounted flush with walls or ceilings, and can be concealed behind decorative covers.
Myth: Home fire sprinklers are not practical in colder climates, as the pipes will freeze and cause water damage.
Fact: With proper installation home sprinkler systems will not freeze in colder settings. NFPA 13D, Sprinkler Systems in Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, sets forth guidelines on proper insulation to avoid pipes freezing. The Chicago area is a great example of a cold weather region where many jurisdictions have passed sprinkler mandates for new homes with limited to no problems with system freezing.
Myth: Sprinkler heads activate accidentally.
Fact: When installed and maintained correctly, leaks are very unlikely due to each individual sprinkler head being designed and calibrated to activate only when it senses a significant heat change.