Fire sprinkler systems are commonly installed in public places and buildings where, in the event of a fire, a widespread sprinkler system could significantly reduce the damage of a fire. These kinds of sprinkler systems are less common in residential homes, but there are some reasons why they could be. At first thought, pondering the installation of fire sprinklers in a home may conjure horrific images of water gushing from the ceiling at the slightest puff of smoke reaching the sprinklers. In fact, you may think that a residential fire sprinkler system is simply more cost and hassle than the potential benefits it provides.
Home fire sprinkler systems are becoming more common as the industry begins to dispel myths like the above mentioned and address safety concerns about sprinklers and house fires more clearly. On some level, if you enjoy the potential safety of sprinklers in public spaces, why not at home as well? To answer this, it helps to look at what fire sprinklers actually do and how they are triggered.
What Are the Benefits of Fire Sprinklers?
The most obvious benefit to fire sprinklers is that they can quickly put out flames in their room of origin, preventing the spread of fire to other rooms. Fire sprinklers don’t actually activate from smoke; they are triggered by extreme heat. Only the heat given off from a flame near the sprinkler head could activate the device. This means that fears about a sprinkler malfunction where a little smoke from your simmering soup on the stove activates the water and soaks all of your belongings, is largely unfounded. The fire sprinklers on the market today are much more advanced in design and are unlikely to ruin your things by going off when there is no threatening fire.
Fire sprinkler systems can be very effective at reducing the damage caused by a fire and, of course, increase the likelihood that you will survive a house fire. When used in conjunction with smoke detectors, fire sprinklers can be especially effective. The sprinkler itself actually emits less water than hoses and is a very precise system for putting out a fire. The biggest benefit, of course, is that the sprinklers can detect and put out a fire automatically. This is very important if a fire breaks out in a part of your home where you are not located, or in your basement.
How Are They Activated?
Fire sprinklers are engineered to respond to extreme heat. In order for the sprinkler to activate, temperatures in the range of 135 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit need to be present. These high temperatures must also be close enough to the sprinkler head to cause a glass trigger to burst and release the water. Most fire sprinklers today have this glass trigger filled with a glycerin liquid that will expand with high temperatures, burst, and activate the sprinkler itself. This design is meant to prevent accidents with the sprinklers discharging when there is no fire present.
The fire sprinkler system is like any other plumbing system. There are pipes running from an exterior water source into the home through pipes. Once the sprinkler is activated, the water runs through a network of pipes located in the walls and ceiling and into the sprinkler head. The water is discharged in downward and outward directions to maximize the area of coverage to extinguish flames.
What Kinds of Sprinklers Are Best?
There are basically two kinds of fire sprinkler systems: the wet pipe system and the dry pipe system. The wet pipe system is popular because it relies on steel pipes that are constantly filled with water to discharge immediately upon activation. There is slight pressure in the pipes to cause a quick release, but a less powerful soak. The dry pipe system uses pipes filled only with compressed air. Once the sprinklers activate, the pipes release the compressed air first and water then fills the pipes at a higher pressure. The water takes longer to release but is much more pressurized than the wet system.
Deluge systems and pre-action systems also exist. In the first, a trigger detector is separate from the sprinkler head and there is a manual control to release the water. These are used in spaces with high risks of fire that require quick extinguishing.
The second uses two triggers before finally releasing water. The first trigger is a false alarm trigger that sounds to alert but doesn’t release water. Once the second trigger is activated, water is released from the sprinkler heads.
The latter two are mostly confined to industrial/business use while the former may be used residentially. Check with local fire sprinkler retailers and evaluate installment costs, maintenance costs, distribution in your house, and the overall safety benefit to individual need ratio before deciding to put in a home fire sprinkler system.
Article contributed by Ben Vaughn.
Ben Vaughn writes on home plumbing maintenance tips and understanding fire sprinkler systems for scotthale.com