Frequently asked questions
There are many misconceptions relating to sprinkler systems.
Although no specific research has been done into the general
public's view of residential sprinklers, we know anecdotally
that people are concerned about installing sprinklers in their
homes. Concerns range from sprinklers being an ugly addition
to the home, to sprinklers malfunctioning and activating when
there is not a fire. This section provides answers commonly asked
questions on the use of sprinklers in a domestic environment.
Do sprinklers go off accidentally?
It is possible for a sprinkler to discharge accidentally but
it rarely happens. In fact, if a sprinkler is not subjected to
freezing, overheating, or mechanical damage, statistics from
the USA suggest only 1 in 16,000,000 sprinklers per year will
What about water damage?
Concerns over water damage due to fires in sprinklered buildings
are often exaggerated. The amount of water which is put on a
fire by fire brigade hoses in an unsprinklered building is nearly
always 10 times more than that which sprinklers would have discharged.
It is also true that if the fire is not controlled in its early
stages, then greater damage will be done by the fire and the
extinguishing of the fire by the fire brigade.
During a fire, only sprinkler(s) closest to the fire activate,
limiting the total amount of water needed to suppress a fire.
Aren't sprinklers ugly?
Owing to advances in sprinkler technology, sprinklers generally
blend into the décor of a room. As with central heating,
the pipes can be concealed behind ceilings, out of sight until
needed to extinguish a fire. Sprinkler heads are also available
in a range of colours and sizes.
Will special tanks and pumps be required?
Sprinklers are increasingly less demanding in terms of water
flow. In most instances they operate from the domestic water
supply and do not require any special water supplies or pumps.
However, where water supplies are particularly poor, additional
features such as water tanks and pumps may be necessary.
What about maintenance?
It has been argued that homeowners will be incapable of maintaining
sprinklers to an acceptable standard and that pipes may burst
in the winter if allowed to freeze. The same is true of domestic
central heating systems, which are considerably more complex,
and homeowners seem to be able to look after their pipes and
have their boilers serviced.It is true that sprinklers are more
at risk since they contain static water which is not ordinarily
so a frozen sprinkler pipe will be less likely to be discovered
and more likely to burst. However, if a sprinkler system has
been properly installed to the recognised standard for domestic
sprinklers, with a built-in maintenance regime, it will be protected
from freezing. But no system is fool-proof and risk-free and
homeowners may need to be prepared to accept this slightly increased
risk as a reasonable cost of improved fire safety.
What about installation?
The installation of a residential sprinkler system is arguably
less complex than that of a conventional domestic plumbing system.
A basic concept of sprinkler protection is that sprinklers must
be installed throughout all areas of the building. Fitting a
system to existing or new buildings can also be made easier by
the use of PVC plastic piping.
How much does a sprinkler system cost?
The cost of a system is dependent on the size of the property
and whether the system is installed during the construction stage
or is retrospectively fitted. Generally a system for a new property
would be 1-2% of the total build cost. To fit a sprinkler system
to a house that is already built will cost a few thousand pounds.
Who should I contact for more advice?
A number of fire brigades have developed considerable experience
and expertise regarding residential sprinklers. In particular,
Merseyside, West Yorkshire (through the Kirklees pilot) and Wiltshire
(through the Studley Green project). The main contact point for
sprinklers in The Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service is:
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service
Tel: 0151 296 4000
Fax: 0151 296 4594