Sprinkler systems have demonstrated their value in protecting
life and property in industrial and commercial buildings for
many years. The advent of sprinklers that operate at an earlier
stage in the development of a fire have led to the introduction
of residential systems designed for domestic dwellings.
A correctly designed and installed sprinkler system can detect
and control a fire at an early stage of development and activate
an alarm. Operation of the system will rapidly control a fire
and reduce the rate of production of heat and smoke, allowing
time for the occupants to escape to safety.
Residential sprinklers can offer a broad package of fire protection
for householders, which protects not only lives, but has the
added advantage of reducing property and contents damage. Sprinklers
can help to reduce the overall expenditure on fire, by minimising
the cost of ‘after care’ for fire victims provided
by Health Authorities and Social Services and achieve this by
adding to the quality of protection the Fire Service provides.
Residential sprinklers are a relatively new concept in this
country. This module is therefore designed to explain what residential
sprinklers are; what they do; where it might be appropriate to
install a system; and answers some commonly asked questions.
The facts about sprinklers
A residential sprinkler system is a series of pipes (plastic
or copper) and water spray heads designed to detect, intervene
and suppress/control a fire when activated.
How residential sprinklers operate
Residential sprinklers are individually heat-activated. They
are connected to a network of piping which in turn is filled
with water under pressure. When the heat of a fire raises the
sprinkler to its operating temperature, usually between 57°C-79°C,
a fusible link or glass bulb will activate only that sprinkler
over the fire, thereby releasing water over the source of heat
and walls, reducing the fire-size temperatures and levels of
toxic gases within the room of origin.
The result is to keep a fire from reaching potentially dangerous
and life-threatening proportions and giving early detection.
Residential sprinklers operate automatically in the event of
a fire, even if the householder is not home, releasing water
directly over the source of heat and sounding the alarm. They
help to extinguish a fire, but should this not happen the system
will control the fire and slow its growth and reduce smoke and
toxic fumes. This means that the fire service will be faced with
a less severe fire and much less damage caused to the property.
Most importantly the householder will have had time to escape.
Experience of sprinklers
The vast majority of fire deaths and injuries happen in the
home. About 15 years ago the United States started to use specially
designed domestic sprinkler systems to save lives in dwellings.
The results have been encouraging.
Although sprinklers are not commonplace in US dwellings, the
US Government is supporting a nationwide campaign - Operation
Life Safety - to encourage their installation. In one town in
Arizona, all new homes have been required to be fitted with sprinklers
for the last 13 years. Sprinklers now protect 40% of the dwellings
in Scottsdale. Recently Scottsdale published a 10-year report,
- No fire deaths
- 80% reduction of fire injuries
- 80% reduction in property damage
- 95% reduction in water usage for fire control.
It would be misleading to mention the American experience, however,
without noting that many US homes are far more remote than most
in the UK. In the US, firefighters may not arrive for some time
in the event of a fire, so sprinklers are all the more important.