Saving Lives and Property with Fire Sprinkler Systems

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John Rensten/GettyAbout 2,600 people die in home fires in the U.S. each year, and fires caused $7.2 billion in residential losses in 2013.
It seems like there is another deadly fire every night on the 6 o'clock news. It's a homeowner's nightmare -- a house fire caused by faulty wiring, a kitchen accident, an act of nature or simple carelessness. Yet many of those fires could have been less disastrous if there were fire sprinkler systems in the houses or apartment buildings.

About 2,600 people die in home fires in the United States each year. However, smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems reduce the risk of death in home fires by 82%, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

House fires also cause immense property damage, and the numbers are staggering. The NFPA reported $7.2 billion in residential property losses in 2013. Property loss was shown to be significantly reduced In homes with sprinkler systems, from an average of $45,000 for unsprinklered homes to $2,166 in those equipped with sprinkler systems, according to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Tyco Fire Protection ProductsCan you find the sprinkler? Newer flush-mounted sprinkler heads on walls and ceilings make systems less obtrusive.
Many homeowners do not consider installing a fire sprinkler system. Swayed by common misconceptions as well as perceived aesthetic issues, even safety-conscious homeowners sometimes steer away from sprinkler systems. That's beginning to change, however, as more homeowners learn about the benefits of the systems and as less conspicuous sprinklers become available. In addition, some communities are beginning to mandate the installation of sprinkler systems in new homes. They already are required in new home construction in the states of California and Maryland as well as in the District of Columbia. (See a state-by-state list of detailed requirements here.)

In an ironic twist, many homeowners believe that sprinkler systems will cause more damage to a home than the fire itself, but that is not true. According to the Scottsdale Report, a fire sprinkler system delivers eight to 10 times less water than the hoses used by firefighters to put out the flames, resulting in less water damage to a home. A fire hose dispenses up to 250 gallons of water per minute, while a typical residential sprinkler head will release just 15 to 20 gallons of water per minute. Typically, only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate -- spraying water directly on the fire. According to industry experts, 90% of fires are contained with just one sprinkler head.

There are other advantages to installing sprinkler systems besides the obvious ones of saving lives and property. Some insurance companies offer discounts for homes with fire sprinkler systems and homeowners may also qualify for a tax rebate. In addition, sprinkler systems can increase the resale value of a home. Today's prospective homeowners are much more conscious about health and safety issues, and they may be willing to pay a premium for a home with a sprinkler system.

It's easiest to install a sprinkler system when a home is under construction and the joists are exposed. However, fire sprinkler systems can be retrofitted into existing homes. (One of the deterrents to including these systems in a house is cost. But according to the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the cost has gone down from $1.61 per sprinkled square foot in 2008 to $1.35 in 2013.)

Some important facts to consider regarding sprinkler systems:
  • Sprinkler systems can contain and extinguish a fire in less time that it would take for a fire truck to arrive at the scene.
  • Home sprinkler systems use a fraction of the water used by fire department hoses and create about 70% less damage to the home.
  • Modern sprinkler systems are inconspicuous; many are mounted flush with the wall and ceiling.
  • Each sprinkler head is designed to go off when it senses significant heat change.
  • Typically, only the closest sprinkler to the fire will activate.
  • With a fire sprinkler system, the risk of dying in a fire is cut by about 80%.
Finally, according to a bit of sprinkler industry humor, homeowners have a clear choice: "A puddle of water or a pile of ashes."

(See a video below from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition on how sprinklers work.)

How Home Fire Sprinkler Systems Work
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