Home Fire Sprinklers

Home fire sprinklers were introduced in 1975 by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) as the standard NFPA 13D for one- and two-family dwellings. The standard is intended to provide the occupants enough precious time to safely evacuate the home before being overwhelmed by flames, heat, or the byproducts of fire such as smoke, toxic fumes, and gases. This can take only 3 minutes in modern homes where you had 20 minutes back in 1975. A secondary incentive for home sprinklers is suppressing the fire to the incipient stage or even extinguishing completely. This allows the fire department enough time to respond to the home and finish extinguishing the fire and overhaul the home to ensure the fire did not extend into the walls or ceiling. The average home without a sprinkler will sustain approximately $45,000 worth of damage where with a fire sprinkler system in place the average is around $2,100. 90% of all fires with sprinklers are contained with only one sprinkler head. In homes with sprinklers, the system activated 95% of the time and is 97% effective at containing the fire to the room of origin. The times the system did not activate was primarily due to the system being disabled. 

In 2009, the International Residential Code (IRC) and other national standards include fire sprinklers as a minimum safety requirement for all new one- and two-family dwellings. This is the standard that homes are designed and built to include a fire sprinkler system. That means the components of the home are engineered to have that suppression system in place. Municipalities have over time opted to remove the requirement for the fire sprinkler systems to allow builders to avoid installing them unless requested by the homeowner. Approximately 8-10% of homes have sprinklers but considering most unincorporated areas do not follow the code, most of your sprinklered homes are in cities. Here are some local areas that require some form of home sprinkler systems: Ashland City, Brentwood, Cheatham County, Collierville, Franklin, Germantown, Kingston Springs, Piperton, and Pleasant View.


Intended for Life Safety
Home fire sprinklers are not as they are portrayed in Hollywood where a lighter sets off every sprinkler in the whole building. Fire sprinklers heads are designed to be activated at a set temperature such as 155 degrees and open only the heads that reach that temperature. In 90% of fires with a sprinkler system, the fire is contained with only one sprinkler head and with a 95% activation rate where sprinklers were 97% effective at containing the fire to the room of origin. Systems that were turned off, drained, or disabled do not activate.

Home fire sprinklers are intended to give the occupants precious time to safely evacuate the home and allow the fire department to respond and finish the job. The first sprinkler head typically activates at 40 seconds from ignition and 90% of the time that single head will suppress the fire. Light weight construction homes with modern furnishings can reach deadly temperatures of 1,100 degrees and fill the house with the smoke and toxic gases in 3 minutes from ignition. A monitored alarm system typically takes about 2 minutes to complete the process to dispatch the fire department. The fire department averages 5 1/2 minutes from dispatch to arrival on scene. That's approximately 7 1/2 minutes for the fire department to get on scene. By this point the house is full of black smoke and the fire has extended from the room of origin into other areas of the home. 

Home Fire Timeline

For more information on home fire sprinklers, visit the sites linked below. 
Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition
National Fire Protection Association
United States Fire Administration

Homeowners

If you are lucky enough to live in a home with a built in automatic suppression system, here are some things you should know. Fire sprinklers are not a complicated system and if you know what you are looking for and what the components do, you can take care of the system for years to come yourself or if you feel better, there are numerous fire protections service vendors that can perform the inspection, testing, and maintenance if needed.
  • Every home sprinkler system is equipped with a riser that is typically behind a panel in the garage. This riser has a pressure gauge to read the water pressure on the system, a drain valve for testing and draining the system, and a shutoff valve below the riser.
    • In the event of a fire leave the system activated until the fire department arrives and shuts the system off once they verify the fire is contained and they can extinguish it.
    • If there is an false activation or leak, you can shut off the system and drain it until you get a fire protection specialist out to repair the issue or replace the head.
  • Your system should be tested annually and you can perform this with a few easy steps.
    • First check the gauge and verify there is pressure and record that pressure.
    • Attach a garden hose to the drain valve and run the hose to a location that is safe to run water.
    • Open the drain valve by lining the handle up with the pipe and verify that the pressure on the gauge does not drop too far below your initial reading.
    • After 60 seconds you can shut the drain valve by turning the handle a quarter turn or perpendicular to the pipe and replace your system to its normal operating condition.
  • Annually before winter, you should check your insulation to verify it is in place and the pipes are covered. This can be done by making access into the attic and if you can see the orange fire sprinkler pipe than it is not correct. There should be insulation positioned between the pipe and the unconditioned side. For pipes in attics there should be insulation draped over it and stapled in place.
Pipe Insulation

Take a look at the Insulation White Paper for further details on insulating fire sprinkler pipes.