How long have fire sprinklers been in existence?
A: Automatic fire sprinklers have been in use since
Q: How effective are fire sprinklers?
A: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has
no record of a fire killing more than two people in a completely sprinklered
public assembly, educational, institutional or residential building where
the system was working properly. Cases in which fatalities occur in a
building equipped with fire sprinklers, the deceased are almost always
in intimate contact with the fire and were burned severely before the
sprinkler activated (i.e., smoking in bed, explosions, etc.), Sprinklers
typically reduce chances of dying in a fire and the average property
loss by one-half to two-thirds in any kind of property where they are
Q: Do any studies exist that document the effectiveness
of fire sprinklers?
A: "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers" (September,
2001) by Kimberly Rohr provides an excellent study of the use and experience
of automatic fire sprinklers. This report was produced by and is available
from the National Fire Protection Association. (see: http://www.nfpa.org/Research/nfpafactsheets/sprinkler/sprinkler.asp)
Residential sprinklers have been required by the City of Scottsdale,
Arizona for over fifteen years. A comprehensive report on its experience
with residential fire sprinkler systems is available from the Home Fire
Sprinkler Coalition at: http://www.homefiresprinkler.org/hfsc.html
Q: Are fire sprinklers prone to accidental discharge?
A: The odds of a sprinkler activation due to a manufacturing
defect are about 1 in 16 million. Fire sprinklers have a long history
of proven dependability and reliability. Although sprinklers can be damaged
and activated through intentional or accidental abuse, this is rare.
Sprinkler piping is no more likely to leak than existing plumbing piping
in every home and building.
Q: Don't fire sprinkler activation results in
a lot of water damage?
A: No, fire sprinklers are designed to control a fire
in its early stages where less water is required. Most fires are completely
controlled with the activation of only one or two sprinklers. Fire hoses,
on average, use more than 8 times the water that sprinklers do to contain
a fire. According the the Scottsdale Report, a residential fire sprinkler
uses, on average, 341 gallons of water to control a fire. Firefighters,
on average, use 2,935 gallons. Reduced water damage is a major source
Q: How much does a fire sprinkler system cost?
A: The cost per square foot can vary widely due to great
differences in installation requirements so this question can be answered
effectively only after a review of the occupancy. A system installed
in a warm-climate area with ample water supply and good water pressure
will cost much less than a system installed in a cold-climate area with
poor water pressure or an undependable/inadequate water supply. New installations
will cost much less than retrofit installations. Generally speaking,
most new construction will be in the range of $1-$2/sq.ft., while retrofits
will be in the range of $2-$3/sq.ft.
Q: How many sprinklers are installed each year?
A: For the past five years, domestic sprinkler shipments
have averaged about 38 million sprinklers per year.
Q: Why are fire sprinklers required in some
areas, and not in others? Why are there variations in sprinkler requirements?
A: Fire sprinkler systems are installed in accordance
with consensus standards developed through the National Fire Protection
Association (NFPA). These standards are very specific in defining how
sprinklers are to be installed in different types of occupancies and
different hazard classifications. The three primary standards that define
the installation requirements are NFPA-13 (Installation of Sprinkler
Systems); NFPA-13R (Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential
Occupancies Up to and Including Four Stories in Height); and NFPA-13D
(Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One and Two-Family Dwellings and
Manufactured Homes). The standards adopted by NFPA represent the best
recommended practices, but the standards by themselves are not "law." Development
of the consensus is a dynamic process and the standard is changed to
reflect new technologies, science, and experience. Every three years
a new version of the standard is issued that contains changes and updates.
The requirements for the installation of fire sprinklers are adopted
as law by state or local jurisdictions as a part of their building code
or local ordinance. At times jurisdictions may vary some of the requirements
contained in the NFPA documents. Differences in requirements will vary
from city to city based on local changes made to the NFPA standards,
or the year of the standard adopted by the local jurisdiction. For example,
if one city adopts the 1999 NFPA 13 standard, and another city adopts
the 2002 issue of the same standard, there will be differences.
Q: Aren't fire sprinklers required in all high-rise
offices, public assemblies, and hotels/motels?
A: No, they are not always required. Many buildings
were built prior to modern-day standards are were "grandfathered" so
a retrofit was not required. Some local jurisdictions have seen the many
advantages of fire sprinklers and required building to be retrofited
over a period of years.
Q: Are there any federal laws that require automatic
A: The Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 (PL101-391)
was passed into law by Congress to save lives and protect property by
promoting fire and life safety in hotels, motels and other places of
public accommodation. The law mandates that federal employees on travel
must stay in public accommodations that adhere to the life safety requirements
in the legislation guidelines. PL101-391 also states that federally funded
meetings and conferences cannot be held in properties that do not comply
with the law. PL101-391 is applicable to all places of public accommodation,
and requires that such properties are equipped with hard-wired, single-station
smoke detectors in each guest room and an automatic sprinkler system,
with a sprinkler head in each guest room. Properties three stories or
lower in height are exempt from the sprinkler requirement.
US Fire Administration has been charged with carrying out FEMA's responsibilities
with respect to the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990. In addition
to compiling, maintaining and publishing the National Master List, USFA
is also responsible for taking steps to encourage states to promote the
use of automatic sprinkler systems and automatic smoke detection systems.
The USFA list of hotels and motels meeting the requirements can be viewed
Q: Who installs fire sprinklers? Can a homeowner
install a system in his/her own home?
A: A fire sprinkler system must be installed in compliance
with the appropriate standards and local codes, and ordinances. Fire
sprinkler system design and layout is based on a variety of issues related
to the occupancy. This is not a job for the homeowner as a weekend project!
In fact, local laws may prohibit the homeowner from installing such a
system. Fire sprinkler systems are installed by contractors who know
and understand the requirements defined by the installation standards.
Many states require contractors that install fire sprinkler systems be
licensed and demonstrate competency in the trade.
Sources of Information on Fire Sprinklers:
Fire Sprinkler Association
National Fire Protection
U. S. Fire Administration