Home Fire Sprinkler FAQ
It has been over 30 years since the concept of residential sprinklers was born; in that time, about 100,000 Americans have lost their lives in residential fires. The solution is at hand: fire sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings. This is the last significant piece missing from America’s fire-safety plan.
In the past few years, much progress has been made toward a long-term reduction in fire losses. Codes now require smoke alarms in all new and existing dwellings and fire sprinklers are required in almost all multi-family dwellings. Codes published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) now mandate fire sprinklers in all residential construction, including one- and two-family dwellings, but the IRC has not caught up. Consequently, most homes are still constructed without fire sprinklers, and thousands of lives are lost each year to residential fires.
Does the public want sprinklers?
Opponents of residential sprinklers suggest the general public opposes residential sprinklers, but a recent poll, conducted by Harris Interactive of over 1,000 adults, revealed that:
- 45 percent of homeowners say a sprinklered home is more desirable than an unsprinklered home.
- 69 percent of homeowners say having a fire-sprinkler system increases the value of a home.
- 38 percent of homeowners say would be more likely to purchase a home with fire sprinklers than without. The reason this number isn’t higher appears tied to an unfounded fear of water damage: 48 percent of homeowners cite water damage as the reason they would not want a sprinkler system.
The results of this survey support the assertion that the general public is aware of and has warmed up to the idea of residential sprinklers. With the International Building Code now requiring all new multi-family dwellings to be sprinklered, public support for residential sprinklers will continue to grow as future homebuyers move from sprinklered apartments into new homes.
A home’s age and fire risk: aren’t new homes safe?
Opponents of residential sprinklers assert that residential fire deaths are a function of a home’s age and that new homes are safe without sprinklers. On the surface, these arguments seem to make sense, but further analysis paints a different picture.
Most residential fire deaths result from fires caused directly or indirectly by people and aren’t related to the home’s age. Fire-safety experts know that socioeconomic status, occupant density and occupants’ age and mobility are far more likely to contribute to fire deaths than a structure’s age. Also, the speed by which a fire spreads in a home is generally a function of contents and room geometry, not age.
Aren’t smoke alarms enough?
Opponents of residential sprinklers suggest that smoke alarms are good enough to protect the public and residential sprinklers aren’t justified. Everyone agrees that smoke alarms save lives and are largely responsible for the dramatic reduction in fire death rates in the U.S. over the past 30 years. However, smoke alarms are only alerting devices; they do nothing to stop the spread of fire or to protect property or firefighters.
Two issues related to sole reliance on smoke alarms are of concern. As smoke alarms age, their reliability declines. This concern prompted smoke alarm manufacturers to begin stamping an expiration date on each unit indicating a 10-year replacement cycle.
The questions before us are how many alarms will actually be replaced at 10-year intervals and what will happen to the reliability of alarms that are not replaced? Although an estimated 96 percent of U.S. homes with telephones now have at least one smoke alarm, it is estimated that the devices didn’t work in roughly 25 percent of fires in smoke alarm-equipped homes.
In contrast, residential sprinkler systems can have a life expectancy of 50 years and require essentially no maintenance, particularly for multipurpose systems. With these systems, if the domestic water is turned on, the sprinklers are on. With the combination of sprinklers and smoke alarms, homeowners get the best of both technologies.
The other issue relates to the waking effectiveness of smoke alarms. In a study completed in 2006, only 58 percent of a test group of children ages 6-12 awakened when a standard smoke alarm sounded; only 38 percent of the test group successfully evacuated. This data is consistent with fire death statistics, which show that the young and the elderly—those least capable of self-preservation even if a smoke detector awakens them—are roughly twice as likely to die in a fire than individuals in other age groups. We need residential sprinklers to close this gap.
Here are five statements about home sprinkler systems. Are they true or false?
Sprinklers Are a Good Investment for Homebuilder's
- When one sprinkler goes off, all the sprinklers activate.
False! Only the sprinkler over the fire will activate. The sprinkler heads react to temperatures in each room individually. Thus, fire in a bedroom will activate only the sprinkler in that room.
- A sprinkler could accidentally go off, causing severe water damage to a home.
False! Records, which have been compiled for well over 50 years, prove the likelihood of this occurring is very remote. Furthermore, home sprinklers will be specifically designed and will be rigorously tested to minimize such accidents.
- Water damage from a sprinkler system will be more extensive than fire damage.
False! The sprinkler system will severely limit a fire's growth. Therefore, damage from a home sprinkler system will be much less severe than the smoke and fire damage if the fire had gone on unabated or even the water damage caused by water from firefighting hose lines.
- Home sprinkler systems are expensive.
False! Current estimates suggest that when a home is under construction, a home sprinkler system could cost less than 1% of the total building price.
- Residential sprinkles are ugly.
False! The traditional, commercial-type sprinklers as well as sprinklers for home use are now being designed to fit in with most any decor.
Through the use of construction trade-offs, homebuilders and developers can achieve reduced construction costs if residential sprinkler systems are installed. Home sprinkler systems offer both safety and financial advantages to homebuyers, a rare combination.
Sprinklers Are a Good Investment for the Homebuyer
- A fire occurs in a residential structure every 79 seconds, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. To the homebuilder, this fact means that a large share of potential customers now have knowledge of the terror and destruction caused by fire.
- Families with children, senior citizens, and handicapped members have special fire protection needs. Home sprinkler systems provide added protection for these people.
- In case of a home fire, firefighters will have less risk of injury or life loss since they will be fighting a fire of less intensity.
- Allocation of community resources can be improved with the adoption of home sprinkler technology.
- Communities will be able to make better utilization of available land and thereby increase their tax base.
Insurance from homeowner underwriters will vary depending on type of coverage. The discounts now range between 5-15%, with a projected increase in available discounts.