Retrofitting homes with lower cost sprinkler technologies

Posted: May 27, 2020

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) is funding research to find ways to significantly reduce the cost of retrofitting existing homes with lifesaving residential fire sprinkler systems. We hope to reduce both the amount of water needed and the complexity of installing sprinklers, while providing time for occupants to escape a fire in their home.

Obstacles to retrofitting homes

More than 80% of fire deaths occur in homes. Residential fire sprinklers are a proven technology that reduce the risk of death in a home fire while at the same time reducing damage to the contents of the home.

Major obstacles to more widespread adoption of residential fire sprinklers are the cost and difficulty of retrofitting sprinklers into existing homes. While the cost of installing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 13D fire sprinklers in new homes is very reasonable in areas where there are several companies that specialize in home fire sprinklers, this is not the situation in most of the country.

When retrofitting fire sprinklers into existing homes, there are added costs that impede widespread adoption. In many instances of new and existing homes, a water tank and/or pump is needed to provide the water needed for a residential fire sprinkler to work. Furthermore, complex rules that govern the placement of sprinklers increase both cost and complexity of installation.

Reducing retrofit complexities

USFA is working with the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute to optimize the flow rate and distribution of water needed to prevent flashover in a residential fire scenario.

Information learned in early project phases will be used to develop a low cost, retrofit option for homeowners using the existing domestic water supply.

Early research results

The first phase of our research examined the concept of focusing a spray of water from a ceiling mounted nozzle directly onto the burning fuel. For the scenario tested, a nozzle flowing 6 gallons per minute of water was able to prevent flashover and control the fire ignited on a sofa.

Next steps

The second phase of our research is underway. The team will examine whether a conical water spray pattern that directly cools the fuel can be scaled up to prevent flashover in larger rooms, while maintaining the reduced water flow demand for the system.

Results from these early investigations will be used to help guide future work. Later research phases will explore the concept of cooling the hot gas layer in the fire compartment rather than spraying water towards the burning fuel. It is hoped that this approach will prove useful to eliminate flashover, or at least delay the occurrence of flashover until the occupants of the home have time to escape.

The U.S. Fire Administration looks forward to a day when Americans can be truly fire safe in their homes and is working toward this goal.

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