Fire sprinklers have been used to protect commercial buildings for more than 100 years. More recently, a new type of sprinkler system has been developed for residences which offers an unprecedented level of fire safety for both lives and property. These systems will be addressed in this section.
How Much do Residential Sprinklers Cost?
The cost of a sprinkler system is about $1.50 per square foot in a new home (for a 1000 square foot home this is $1560). In existing homes they range from $2.50 to $5.00 per square foot, depending on how difficult it is to run the pipes. This assumes the availability of an adequate and reliable water supply.
How do Residential Sprinklers Differ From Commercial Sprinklers?
The sprinklers that you have come to expect in hotels, offices, and other commercial buildings are there primarily to protect property and to protect people who are not in the immediate vicinity of the fire's point of origin. Sprinklers work by limiting the size and impact of the fire to a small area. Sprinklers in commercial buildings use larger quantities of water because fires in these types of buildings can involve large fuel loads.
Sprinklers used in the home are a special type referred to as residential sprinklers. These sprinklers use a fast acting element to allow the sprinkler to activate when the fire is still in its very early stages of development. No matter what type of building sprinklers are in, inadvertent operation of the sprinkler system is extremely unlikely. Smaller fuel loads coupled with activation when the fire is smaller allow these sprinklers to require much less water, so much so that the typical home's domestic water system is usually sufficient for such systems.
Why Are Sprinklers so Powerful?
The primary reason is that as soon as it activates, the sprinkler sprays water on the burning object and puts out or controls the fire. In fact, the sprinkler system not only stops the growth of the fire, it also acts directly on the potentially deadly effect of the fire, for example, by lowering the air temperature.
This means that a combination of sprinklers and smoke alarms can save most potential victims of home fires. The principal exceptions are victims who are very close to the fire when it begins, such as victims of clothing fires, explosions, or flash fires. For some potential victims, there is no substitute for prevention.
What About Water Damage?
Once a fire begins, only one or two sprinklers near the fire activate and discharge water. Residential sprinklers discharge water at a low rate, so your home will not be flooded. (Flooding is not a danger with sprinklers in commercial buildings either.) After the fire is out, the supply valve can be simply shut off - but never do this yourself. Always call the fire department and let the professionals determine when it is safe to shut off the water.
Do You Need Smoke Alarms Too?
YES! Smoke alarms will tend to react first, providing extra time to escape. In some fires, sufficient smoke can be released to impair judgment or even threaten persons with preexisting medical problems before enough heat is released to set off the sprinkler. Also, smoke alarms provide early warning of fires that may start out of range of the sprinklers, such as within a wall space. Therefore, it is important that smoke alarms be installed in all of the places discussed in Chapter 2.