Fire Sprinklers System – Maintenance and Safety


Fire Sprinklers System - Maintenance and Safety

Pat yourself on the back if you have decided to install fire sprinklers in your existing or new home. These safety systems are designed to give you a window to escape unharmed in the event of a fire. A report from July 2017 by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – U.S. Experience with SprinklersOpens in a new tab. – shows that sprinklers can reduce property damage by more than 58% and deaths related to residential fires by more than 81%.

Now that you have decided to install a sprinkler system in your home or structure, you are likely going to have some questions like- how do I choose among the various sprinkler systems that are available? What steps can I take to keep the sprinkler in a great condition? What should I consider before installing fire sprinklers on my property? These important questions will be answered in this article.

How to choose a sprinkler system

Since there are different sprinkler systems available, it is likely going to be a challenge for you to choose the one that will suit the needs of your property. To make an informed decision, it is important that you learn as much as you can about the common sprinkler systems that are available.

1. Wet pipe

Wet Pipe Sprinkler System

Wet pipe sprinkler systems are filled with water at all times and discharge water when there is a rapid increase in heat in the area in which they are installed. They are best suited for climate controlled building and should never be installed in areas or spaces that aren’t able to maintain above 35 to 40F.

According to NFPA 13Opens in a new tab., the responsibility of maintaining the temperature of the area where the sprinkler system is installed is on the owner of the building. Yes, there are means to prevent wet pipe sprinklers from freezing (in cold regions) such as heat trace and insulation. However, these options may or may not be permitted by the local authority having jurisdiction. The reason why thermal operating elements are often not permitted is that they are susceptible to physical damage, which may make the system to dispense water inadvertently.

2. Antifreeze

Antifreeze Sprinkler System
Antifreeze Sprinkler System

This is a sprinkler system that is designed to be used in cold regions. For the system to function properly, a specific concentration of antifreeze is needed in the sprinkler piping. If you plan to use this system, you need to keep it in mind that when the antifreeze solution isn’t properly mixed, it may become flammable when discharged by a sprinkler.

Research is presently being carried out to create non-combustible antifreeze. In the main time, it is wise to install dry sprinkler systems in areas that are exposed to extreme temperatures (cold and freezing). Facilities and structures that use antifreeze systems should ensure that the solution is moderately concentrated and the solution stays well mixed.

3. Deluge

Deluge Sprinkler System
Deluge Sprinkler System

Deluge sprinklers are best suited for protecting areas with high challenge fire hazards like a flammable liquid storage plant. If there happen to be a fire in this region, it will spread so quickly that regular sprinklers won’t be able to put it out on time, as their activation time is too slow.

Deluge systems are exclusively designed to protect highly combustible gasses and liquids, not for ordinary combustibles.

The sprinkler head in a deluge system does not have a thermal heating element. So the system is activated when a fire detection device like heat or smoke detector triggers an alarm or by a manual means.

Deluge systems are permitted in cold and warm environments due to the lack of water in the piping of the system under normal conditions. When activated, water is discharged from every sprinkler connected to the system.

4. Pre-action system

Pre-Action Sprinkler System
Pre-Action Sprinkler System

When fire sprinkler systems are installed to protect valuable assets that are prone to water damage, pre-action systems becomes necessary. In these instances, there is a need for a second confirmation of a fire, in addition to the heat sensing element embedded in the sprinkler. The second confirmation is usually by a smoke or heat detector connected to a fire alarm panel or a local releasing panel. This configuration is known as a single-interlock. This means of detection can be combined with nitrogen in the system piping as a means of limiting water flow into the piping system in a double check configuration.

Upon activation, a pre-action valve is released, allowing water to flow into the system piping. Once the thermal element embedded in the sprinkler is activated, pressurized gas and water is discharged. Note that, with the activation of the second detection device, damage to the sprinkler head would prevent water from flowing out.

Since piping in pre-action systems isn’t filled with water, they can be used in cold or warm environments. To function properly, these systems need additional components like a releasing panel, pre-action valve, potential air compressor, and fire detection system.

A pre-action system is more expensive to purchase and maintain especially when compared to dry and wet piping systems, but it provides extra security that other systems do not offer.

5. Combination sprinkler

Pre-Action Sprinkler System
Pre-Action Sprinkler System

A Standpipe or combination system is a non-automatic sprinkler system that is commonly used in combination with other sprinkler systems. A pure standpipe system can be found in older buildings and garages without a sprinkler and are used to provide water for a responding firefighter.

There is no restriction as to the installation of combination sprinkler systems. In these systems, the vertical rise of a sprinkler serves as a hose both as a sprinkler system piping and a hose valve. A separate installation standard was created by the NFPA for standpipe systems.

Automatic sprinkler systems are regarded as one of the best property protection and life safety choices that can be made by a professional design team or homeowner. The building codes enforce this by creating room for flexibility in construction and design. While the building codes encourage the installation of automatic sprinklers, they may leave the design choice to the owner of the structure or building. Design choice may include, but not exclusive to the design approach, the type of sprinkler and the type of system. Having a clear understanding of the common design choice will help you as an engineer or homeowner alike to choose the best sprinkler system for their structure.

Sprinkler inspection and maintenance

Have you recently had your sprinkler system inspected? As you probably know, fire sprinklers are very important fire protection system. In order for them to function well and put out flames in the event of a fire, they need to be inspected annually or bi-annually. Most jurisdictions in the United States like Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia among others require constant inspection of sprinkler system. Irrespective of where you live in the US or any part of the world, it is important that you inspect your fire sprinkler at least once a year.

Annual fire sprinkler inspection

The NFPA requires home or building owners to inspect their fire sprinklers annually. In addition, they make arrangements for an inspection anytime they:

  • Change the layout or use of a building
  • Add a water meter or a backflow-preventer to a building or structure
  • Face water shortage or other public water supply changes.

Fire sprinkler inspection process

The following are likely going to occur during a fire sprinkler inspection:

  • Valves will be lubricated.
  • Supervisory devices and alarms will be inspected to ensure that they are working properly.
  • Main drain test will be carried out and its results will be used to verify if proper water pressure and volume are available for the fire sprinkler system.
  • Visual inspection and clearance of sprinkler heads and piping systems that is accessible from the floor.
  • Tamper switches are tested by verifying the signals received at the control panel of the alarm and by exercising the valve through the full range of motion.
  • Fire department connection will be inspected for being unobstructed and for proper caps.
  • The gauge calibration date of the system will be inspected to see if water pressure is adequate.
  • Verification of signals received at the main monitoring station.
  • Sprinkler heads and wrenches will be inspected.
  • Valves will be checked to see if they are the properly sealed and in the right position.
  • Check for the right signage on valves.

Easy ways to keep your sprinklers safe between inspections

There are a handful of things you could do to keep your sprinkler in a perfect working condition.

Below are a few of them:

  • Make sure your control valves are in the open position at all times.
  • Don’t paint your fire sprinkler heads.
  • Don’t stack anything close to your sprinkler head or within 18 inches of it.
  • Promptly report any damage to your sprinkler system to a reputable protection company.
  • Don’t hang anything from your sprinkler heads.

See, you don’t need to be tech-savvy to keep your fire sprinkler in an excellent working condition. However, when it comes to annual inspection, it is wise for you to leave it to the pros. Even if you are able to able to carry out some of the annual inspections on your own, it is wise you hire a trained professional to do it for you so that you don’t incur more harm than good.

Advantages and disadvantages of having fire sprinklers installed in your home

Over the last couple of years, many states in the US have been trying to pass binding laws that would require new homes and structure to have automatic fire sprinklers installed in them. While there are presently no state that has this requirement in place, this has gotten a lot of people wondering if there if they should or shouldn’t install a fire sprinkler system in their home. If you are presently remodelling your home or building a new home, you may be giving serious thoughts to the idea of installing a residential fire sprinkler system to protect the lives of your family and your property in the event of a fire. Learning the highs and the lows associated with fire sprinklers will put in a better position to make an informed decision as to whether you should install a residential fire sprinkler system or not.

Disadvantages of installing fire sprinkler systems in your home

Cost of installation

Buying and installing a fire sprinkler in your home is likely going to cost you a small fortune. The National Construction Estimate (NCE) shows that the average cost of installing a fire system in a home is about 4 dollars per square foot. This means that it would cost about 4000 thousand dollars to install the system in a 1000 square foot home. As you know, renovating or building a home is very expensive. So, if you are on a tight budget, you may not have enough money to embark on this type of project.

Maintenance

Another disadvantage of fire sprinklers is that they require continuous testing, inspection, and maintenance to function properly. Fire sprinkler systems need to be inspected at least once a year to ensure that they will work when there is a fire. Sprinkler heads need to be replaced every now and then, as they are prone to damage from rust and other elements. Sprinkler heads may be cleaned occasionally to remove dust and dirt. Unfortunately, the cost of repairing and inspecting a sprinkler system is somewhat expensive. The reason why it is expensive is that inspection and repairs can only be done by a trained professional and as you know, their services don’t come cheap. If you struggling to make ends meet or your budget cannot cover your home maintenance needs, then installing a fire sprinkler may not be a smart move.

Advantages of installing a fire sprinkler system in your home

Home insurance policy

Do you know that installing a fire sprinkler system in your home can help cut down the cost of your homeowner’s insurance? Your homeowner’s insurance bill can be lowered by 10% or more when you install a fire sprinkler system. Granted, it is costly to install a fire sprinkler system, but you are going to get some of the money you spent on it by lowering your insurance cost. Since sprinkler systems can last for a long time when properly maintained, you can continue to reap this reward for a long time. In the long run, this will suffice for the money you spent on the system.

Protect lives and property

As you know, the biggest benefit of installing a fire sprinkler system is that it can protect your property from large-scale fire damage and save the lives of your family members and pets. A small fire can spread quickly and become a massive inferno in a matter of minutes. According to the USFA, about 2,620 people die because of residential fires and about 13, 000 people were seriously injured in 2006. The FEMA and USFA believe that most of the injuries and death that resulted from residential fires could have been prevented had the home had a working fire sprinkler.

Why you should install a residential fire sprinkler in your home

Making the decision to install a residential fire sprinkler in your home is by no means an easy one. And this is because it is very expensive and it requires regular maintenance. But this shouldn’t stop you because the benefit you are going to enjoy when you have it installed in your home out-weighs the cost of buying and maintaining it.

According to the (NFPA) National Fire Protection AssociationOpens in a new tab., over 358,000 residential fire fires occur each year. Yes, smoke detectors have proved to be a lifesaver over the years, as they alert the occupant of a home or building of a fire before it engulfs the entire building, cutting off every exit. However, a report from the NBC shows that the speed with which a fire can ravage a home is alarming. Since the interior of many homes is loaded with combustible materials, fires are likely going spread quicker, causing large-scale damage within minutes. Back in the 1980s, residents had about 15 minutes to get out of their home safely in the event of a fire. The same cannot be said right now. Today, families have less than five minutes max to escape from their homes when there is a fire.

Since the window for you and your loved ones to leave your home unharmed have shrunken over the last couple of years, it is important that you give thoughts to installing a residential fire sprinkler in your home.

Cooking

Deaths from residential related fires are terrifyingly common these days. According to the analysis by the NFPA, about 2,560 people have lost their lives in these fires annually. As you probably know, cooking is the main cause of the residential fires, 44% of which lead to serious injury and 19% of which are deadly.

Time and time again, home sprinkler systems have proved to be a reliable fire suppression system. Countless studies have shown that the risk of death is cut by 80% when a structure is outfitted with automatic fire sprinklers. The reason why fire sprinklers are so effective is that they can effectively put out flames before it spreads and causes serious damage. Unlike other fire suppressing equipment like the fire extinguisher that needs to be operated manually, fire sprinklers are automatic systems. This means that they will trigger an alarm and put out the flames without you doing anything- amazing right?

The loss of life is obviously the costliest elements of residential fires; they are expensive to recover from, both in repairs, medical bills, and other expenses. The National Fire Prevention Association estimates that six billion US dollars are lost annually to home fires. However, fire sprinklers can reduce fire-related death by 41% and cut down medical expenses resulting from fire injuries by more than 53%.

Fire sprinklers are affordable

The cost associated with the purchasing, installing and maintaining fire sprinklers is the reason why most people linger from installing it in their homes. But you may be surprised to learn that the cost of installing sprinklers in some region is as low as $3.35 per square foot, which is equivalent to the price of installing a driveway or heated bathtub. Before making a decision as to whether to install it or not, it is wise that you visit any reputable fire protection shops or centres to learn how much it is going to cost to install a fire sprinkler system in your home.

Water damage and false alarms

According to the FEMA, water damage is the main cause of property loss, especially when compared to other risks. So, the possibility of sprinklers going off after a false alarm- dousing furniture with water may be another impediment to installation. However, experts explain that the fire sprinkler’s intelligence and technology have dramatically improved and can accurately distinguish between a live flame and film of smoke from a burning toast or cigarette.

It is facts like this that spurs people to install fire sprinklers in their home. From saving lives to protecting the property from damage- both repair cost and insurance, fire sprinklers are the most effective ways to keep flames at bay.

Important questions you must consider before installing a fire sprinkler system in your home

Are fire sprinklers reliable?

Yes, they are. In fact, they are the only system that can detect a fire, sound an alarm to notify the occupant of the building it is installed in to flee to safety and put out the flames. Fire sprinklers are designed to quickly put out fires before it spreads and this can prevent or hinder large-scale damage.

How do I choose between the various fire sprinkler systems and designs that are available?

The National Fire Protection Association, the governing body for fire protection systems and building codes, has developed 3 main types of fire sprinkler design that can protect different structures. The fire design standards know as NFPA 13R has been developed solely for residential building facilities less than 4 stories. The NFPA 13R standard doesn’t require the installation of fire sprinklers in a vacant or unoccupied area of a building. They also allow the use of cost-effective materials from a labor and material standpoint.

What is the safety record for facilities that are fully sprinkled?

A study conducted by the National Fire Protection Association revealed that about twenty lives are lost annually in buildings that have sprinklers installed in them in the United State. The study went on to show that about 4000 lives are lost annually in buildings that are not protected by fire sprinklers. 68% of the deaths recorded in sprinkled buildings were due to the fact that the fire originated in a part of the building that sprinklers were not installed in.

What is the cost of installing an automatic fire sprinkler system into an existing facility?

The cost of installing fire sprinklers into an existing structure depends on the number of rooms in the structure, the size of the structure and the amount of the structure that is occupied. That being said, fire sprinklers can be installed in a building for a cost ranging from $ 3.5 to $10 per square inch.

Can I get a fire sprinkler installed on my property for a discount amount?

Yes, you can. You see, discounts are provided for facilities and structures that meet the I3R standards by the NFPA in an effort to encourage the installation of fire sprinklers. Discounts ranging from 40 to 50 percent are applied for the first year 2 years after the installation of a fire sprinkler system. You may need to complete and remit a fire sprinkler application in order to apply for this discount.

Does the presence of sprinkles, create a window for water damage?

The presence of sprinklers in a facility doesn’t create a significant room for water discharge exposure. One in five hundred thousand sprinkler head discharges accidentally annually. Even more, a sprinkler system uses about 350 gallons of water to put out a fire. , on the other hand, use about 3000 gallons to extinguish a fire which is like going to cause serious water damage. To crown it up, the sprinkler head operates as a single unit. This means that, if one head discharges to water, other heads will blindly start squirting water. Most times, one or two sprinklers can keep the fire at bay and prevent it from spreading.

How do exactly do fire sprinklers work?

Fire sprinkler systems consist of a gird of sprinkler heads linked to a water supply pipe. Each sprinkler head consists of a fusible link or heat-sensitive glass bulb, which contains a special liquid and vapor. In the event of a fire, the liquid expands and will break the bulb when it reaches 165 F. This, in turn, will trigger the release of water from the sprinkler head.

Can fire sprinklers affect the looks of my building?

The rapid advances in sprinkler technology have paved way for better-looking sprinklers that will complement the décor of your home. Sprinklers can now be concealed behind walls and are available in a range of sizes and colour to blend into the design of the area it is installed in.

Where can I find a reputable contractor to install a fire sprinkler system in my home?

If you want your sprinkler system to work perfectly, it is important that you hire a reputable contractor who has a good track record to install your sprinkler system. Consult with Local Sororities and fraternity and ask them about the contractors they used in the past. Alternatively, you can search for the decorated contractors on the National Fire Sprinkler Association website. When selecting a contractor for your project, be sure that they can carry liability insurance. Request that they add the National Fraternity as an additional insured on their policy.

Should I install a wet pipe or a dry pipe sprinkler system in my home?

Wet pipe systems are a preferred choice for most homeowners because it has a relatively simple design and effectiveness. The major operating components of the system are the automatic alarm check valve and sprinkler heads. Automatic water supply is connected to the system to provide pressured water to the system piping. The sprinkler head doesn’t discharge this water until the temperature of the areas it is installed in exceeds 165 F. Dry pipe system are designed to be installed in cold environments or region, where the ambient temperature can freeze the water in a wet pipe system. Unlike the wet pipe system, dry pipe systems are pressurized with air. So, when there is a significant amount of heat in the area it is installed, it opens allowing the pressurized air in it to vent out from the sprinkler. As the air pressure of the piping slowly drops, water rapidly enters the piping system. The obvious reason why the dry pipe system isn’t as effective as a wet pipe system is that it delays the flow of water on the air that the system has vented out completely. The complex design of the dry pipe sprinkler system is another reason why many people refrain from installing them. Since its design is complicated, it is definitely going to be difficult and expensive to install and maintain. Even more, the system is prone to corrosion.

Final note

The importance of installing a fire sprinkler in a home or office cannot be overemphasized. Unlike other fire suppression systems, fire sprinklers can detect and put out flames without causing serious property damage. To ensure that your fire sprinkler works in the event of a fire, it is important that you clean it regularly and have it inspected by a professional on a yearly basis. While doing this might be expensive, it will go a long way in ensuring the safety of your life and that of your loved ones when there is a fire.

If you’re new to fire safety, you should also learn about fire prevention and detection. Sprinklers are assisting with fire fighting, but prevention efforts could help lower the risk of fire.

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