What Should I Consider When Looking for a Fire Sprinkler System?

Diana Bocco

A fire sprinkler system is the best defense against home fires. Fire sprinklers can be installed in any room by attaching a set of overhead pipes fitted with sprinkler heads similar to shower heads. These small pipes are connected to either a water tank or the house's main source of water, and can be easily concealed with paint, special cover plates, drywall, or a dropped ceiling.

A fire sprinkler system provides excellent defense against home fires.
A fire sprinkler system provides excellent defense against home fires.

A fire sprinkler detects a fire through a series of heat-sensitive seals that melt when a certain temperature is reached (usually 155 degrees Fahrenheit (68.3 degrees Celsius)), or through glass bulbs that literally explode from heat pressure. In both cases, once the fire is detected, the fire sprinkler system automatically sends an alarm signal to the fire department while trying to suppress the fire with highly-pressurized water. Many fire sprinkler systems now come equipped with an additional alarm that alerts the home owners of the fire, so they can escape the building in time. According to statistics, 99% of fires are successfully controlled by sprinklers. Modern fire sprinklers are very effective, with a failure rate of less than 1 in 16 million.

A fire sprinkler is designed to spray water to suppress a fire.
A fire sprinkler is designed to spray water to suppress a fire.

Because of the way fire sprinklers work, only the heads over the fire area activate at any given time. This helps control the fire while preventing major water damage.

There are several types of fire sprinklers available. The standard fire sprinkler discharges an average of 20 gallons of water per minute in a controlled pattern, and can extinguish a residential fire in less than five minutes. A quick-response (QR) fire sprinkler acts basically the same way but it activates at a lower temperature, so it can help control the amount of smoke and carbon monoxide produced by the fire. QR fire sprinklers are the standard choice in office buildings, hotels, and hospitals, but they can also be ideal for large basements and storage areas, including attics and garages.

Only a certified contractor can select and install a fire sprinkler in a private home, since the system must adhere to national standards established by the National Fire Protection Association, standard code NFPA 13. Costs vary depending on many factors, including the size of the house and the number of sprinkler heads installed, but a simple fire sprinkler system can be installed in a new home for as little as $5,000 plus contractor fees. Refurbishing an old house to install a fire sprinkler system is considerably more expensive because of the work involved, and can easily reach $20,000 for a 3,000-square-foot home.

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