Fire Sprinklers – Fact vs Fiction

When we think about the use and addition of fire sprinklers in homes and business, it’s important to address the myths often raised in objection.

The truth is, after seeing the impact of fire sprinklers in use in building structures for so many years, the evidence is clear — this technology has proven itself time and again and is an important life-safety feature for any home or business. Fire sprinklers protect lives and property, reacting quickly and efficiently to the presence of fire, without causing problems for the property owner.

The National Fire Protection Association and their principal fire protection engineer, Matt Klaus, counter these myths.

Smoke AlarmFiction: What do I need fire sprinklers for?! A smoke alarm provides enough protection.
Fact: While alarms alert occupants to the danger of fire, they do nothing to extinguish the flames. A working smoke alarm is great … IF they can be heard. Heavy sleeper? Dead battery? If noticed, smoke alarms reduce the chance of dying in a reported fire, but that risk decreases by 80% when sprinklers are present.


BuildingFiction: Dying in a fire is a problem that only happens in older buildings. They have all those problems licked!
Fact: The only fire safety issue related to the age of a building is outdated wiring. Beyond that, there’s little correlation. Actually, some modern methods of construction actually are more of a risk to occupants and firefighters. Underwriters Laboratories conducted a study which found lightweight wood trusses and engineered lumber in roof and floor designs gave less structural integrity than first responders were expecting.

Also, today’s furnishings increase risk by offering a larger fuel load, contributing to faster fire propagation, shorter time to flashover, rapid changes in fire dynamics, less escape time, and shorter time to collapse.

MoneyFiction: Fire sprinklers will make the property too expensive. First-time home buyers will never be able to afford it.
Fact: The Fire Protection Research Foundation updated their Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment report, showing the cost of installing home sprinklers dropped from $1.61 to $1.35 per square foot. That’s similar to the cost of carpet upgrades, paving stone driveways, or a whirlpool bath. Also, sales in many communities show houses with fire sprinklers are actually selling faster than those without, in addition to cutting insurance premiums and helping the home to qualify for tax rebates.


RulesFiction: I don’t need rules telling me I have to install sprinklers.
Fact: Beyond just the increased life-safety benefits of installed sprinkler systems, communities see additional benefits. There’s a reduce on the strain on fire service personnel, limited damage to property, and a conservation of municipal water resources by reducing the amount of water needed to fight fires. If you need to point a fire house at your house fire, it’s going to take more than 8 times as much water than automatic fire sprinklers use.

That’s right — if the fire department shows up and needs to put out your house fire, they’re going to do so by dumping a swimming pool in your living room.

LeakFiction: Everyone knows fire sprinklers leak all the time or go off for no reason.
Fact: According to the NFPA’s U.S. Experience with Sprinklers report, a survey found that the vast majority of residents living in sprinklered homes never experienced leaks or maintenance issues. The report also showed how sprinklers controlled 96% of the fires in which they activated and in the majority of the time when sprinklers failed to operate, it was because the system had been shut off.


MoneyFiction: Those complex fire sprinkler systems are expensive to maintain!
Fact: Home fire sprinklers are considerably simpler than traditional systems used in large commercial buildings. Home sprinkler inspection is mostly limited to (a) are the sprinkler heads obstructed by something I put in the way that stops the water from coming out? And (b) don’t turn off the main control valve.


Fire SprinklerFiction: Even if I just have a small stove fire, every sprinkler in the building is going to go off, ruining everything.
Fact: Fire sprinkler systems are designed so that only those sprinkler heads closest to the fire and exposed to the heat activate. Around 85% of the time, it’s just one sprinkler that activates. With a much smaller water flow than a fire hose and the close proximity to the fire, coupled with the quick sprinkler response time, fires are quickly contained, leaving the rest of the building dry and undamaged.


WaterFiction: Everyone knows the water damage from sprinklers is worse than fire damage.
Fact: Just nope. Fire sprinkler systems significantly reduce property loss and damage due to a fire. The system controls heat and smoke very quickly, giving occupants time to safely evacuate and limiting the spread of damage. And what water damage there is will be much less severe than that from a high-output fire hose line which uses more than 8 times as much water to extinguish a blaze.


Cold TemperaturesFiction: Fire sprinkler systems just won’t work where it’s cold because the pipes will freeze and cause water damage.
Fact: With proper installation (and this is the part where we stress the need to hire only professional installers) fire sprinkler systems will never freeze in cold settings. Chicago is one region where many jurisdictions have passed sprinkler requirements for new homes, which are unaffected by the cold winters the area experiences.


BuildingFiction: Fire sprinklers are ugly. My house will look awful.
Fact: New fire sprinkler models are available which are very unobtrusive and can be mounted flush with walls and ceiling and even concealed behind decorative covers. They’re also more attractive than a giant hole burned through your roof.


SmokeFiction: When I accidentally set off the smoke alarm because I burned some popcorn, the sprinklers will all go off.
Fact: Each individual sprinkler head is designed to only activate when it senses a significant heat change. You could blow burnt popcorn stink, cooking smoke, and shower steam at them all day long without a problem and they’re typically not tied to the smoke alarm systems in any way.


For any additional questions about how your property can be made safe against fire, contact Best Defense Fire Protection today!


Icons courtesy of Theresa Stoodley, Shane David Kenna, Arthur Shlain, jngll, Quentin B., İsmail Nural, Aleks, Ralf Schmitzer, and Chris from the Noun Project

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