According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), homes fires account for about 80% of all fire deaths in a typical year and more than 95% of all deaths in structure fires in a typical year. When home fire sprinklers are used with working smoke detectors, your chances of surviving a fire are greatly increased. Sprinklers are becoming more affordable and they can potentially increase your property value and lower your insurance rates.
New homes benefit from fire sprinkler protection as much as older homes. Research has shown that home fires become deadly in as few as three minutes. Fires today tend to burn faster and kill quicker, because the contents of modern homes, such as furnishings, can burn faster and more intensely. New and old homes alike are filled with these newer contents and furnishings, which provide less margin for success for smoke alarms and add to the need for fire sprinklers.
Every home needs working smoke alarms on each level, and each household should hold regular fire drills to practice how to properly respond to a fire alarm. Smoke alarms cut the risk of dying if a home fire occurs by one-half. However, many high-risk populations - infants, children, people with disabilities, older adults - can have difficulty hearing smoke alarms, difficulty being wakened by smoke alarms, or difficulty reacting quickly and effectively enough for safe escape. Some of these limitations can be removed with
changes in smoke alarm design and with education. But there will always be people who need more time to escape than any detection/alarm system can provide. Their lives depend on stopping the fire early in its development. Their lives depend on fire sprinklers.
Fire sprinklers provide a level of protection that no other fire protection technology can offer. Smoke alarms are essential: they provide valuable early warning. Fire sprinklers immediately respond to a fire while it is still small, controlling the spread of deadly heat, flames and toxic smoke - whether or not the occupants have appropriately responded to the signaling smoke alarm. Fire sprinklers make up for human error, and they provide a life-saving cushion for a time-consuming escape.
In most settings where there is a municipal water supply, sprinklers operate off the household water main. When the water supply is a well, or there is not enough water pressure, a holding tank is used. Sprinklers are linked by a network of piping, typically hidden behind walls and ceilings. The high temperature of an early-stage fire will cause the sprinkler to activate. Only the sprinkler closest to the fire will operate, spraying water directly on the flames. This quick action immediately controls and often extinguishes the flames, slowing the spread of deadly heat and toxic smoke and providing occupants with more time to safely escape.
Fire sprinklers respond only to the high temperature of flames. They do not operate in response to smoke, burned toast, cooking vapors, steam, or an activating smoke alarm. Fire sprinklers activate independently and do not spray water all at once.
Home fire sprinkler systems require very little maintenance. In fact, the sprinklers themselves require nothing more than an occasional look to ensure that nothing is hanging from them, or blocking them. Valves should be similarly checked to ensure they are turned on. The sprinkler system flow switch and water flow alarms should be tested about once a year - a simple test that can be done by the homeowner.
The cost of installing fire sprinklers in a new home is roughly equivalent per square foot to installing solid surface counter tops or other similar upgrades. The sprinkler system is paid for over the life of a mortgage, just as is the electrical or plumbing system. There is normally a increase in a home's value.
The insurance industry banks on the fact that having installed fire sprinklers protects against fire injuries, deaths and fire damage. As an incentive for customers, insurance companies may offer discounts ranging from 5% to 30% off the fire portion of homeowner premiums.
No one knows better than first responders how quickly a home fire grows and spreads, becoming lethal to occupants as well as to firefighters. The fire safety field generally and the fire service in particular have been vocal advocates for increasing home fire sprinkler installations as a means to reduce residential fire injuries and deaths.
* Information was provided in part by the nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC).
To learn more on home sprinkler systems visit the HFSC web site
Learn about home fires and sprinkler systems and play the Built for Life game.
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