Bryan Cooper

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Fire Safety

Fire DetectorsYou’ve done everything right in your new house. Fire extinguishers have been placed in the kitchen and garage, and smoke detectors have been installed on each level. You think you’re prepared for the possibility of a fire. Well, if a fire does start in your home, and you are there, and you hear the smoke detector go off, and you can find a fire extinguisher in the smoke and confusion, you might be able to put out the fire before it does serious damage. At the very least, you and your family will get out safely before the fire spreads.

But if you are not at home, the shrill warning of the smoke alarm will only add to the crackling of the flames as your home burns to the ground. Smoke detectors are important, and no home should be without them. Their widespread use has reduced residential fire deaths. But the fact remains that smoke detectors do not put out fires.

That’s why more and more individual homeowners, and an increasing number of municipalities, are turning to residential sprinkler systems for protection against fire.

Since their invention in 1874 automatic sprinkler system, have logged enviable safety records in commercial buildings. But these sprinklers require a greater water flow than is available in the average residential water supply system. And the sprinkler heads can be large and unsightly.

But recent developments in residential sprinkler systems now allow effective fire suppression using residential water supplies. The new recessed sprinkler heads, while not invisible, are certainly less obtrusive.

Residential sprinkler systems work much like the ones you see in office buildings and hotels. The ceiling-counted sprinklers heads connect to water-filled popes. When a fire breaks out, the heat from the fire melts a fusible link in the sprinkler head, and water sprays over the area. Only the head or heads heated by the fire turn on; all the others stay off.

Sprinklers Concerns Will my sprinklers go off for no reason?
There’s only about 1 to 16 million chance of a sprinkler head going off accidentally.

Will all the sprinklers go off at once in a fire?
No, only the one or two sprinkler heads near the fire will go off. The others are not affected.

Won’t the water do a lot of damage to my house?
Residential sprinklers will typically require a lot less water to put out a fire than the fire department would have to use, so there is less water damage.

Will the sprinkler heads make my house look like a factory?
The new residential sprinklers are much smaller than commercial heads. Most are recessed and virtually invisible when installed.

How much will all this cost?
The typical cost for installation of a residential sprinkler in a new house is about $1.50 to $3.75 per square foot.

What about maintenance?
After a head is used, it must be replaced. Be sure to obtain two or three spare heads for replacements.

What about freezing pipes?
If the area above pipes is insulated with R-19 and the insulation and the pipes are directly above gypsum drywall, the pipes should not freeze. It’s important that insulation not be placed below the pipes.

The main difference in residential sprinklers heads is that they respond much faster to fire than commercial sprinklers. This is necessary to provide adequate protection using the limited water-flow rates of a typical home.

Keep in mind that residential ceilings are usually lower, and flammable materials such as draperies and wall paneling often extend close to the top of the wall. This means the spray patterns of residential sprinklers must be different from commercial sprinkler heads.

Residential sprinklers heads also produce finer droplets of water than commercial heads do. This helps lower the air temperature in the fire area to prevent flashover, the rapid spread of heat that causes a room to burst into flames. The cooler air also allows the occupants a safer escape route from the house.

For a more rapid response time to small fires, residential sprinklers are usually set to “fuse” (turn on) at 145 degrees or 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Commercial sprinkler heads typically fuse at a higher temperature.

In rural locations where fire department response time may be lengthy, residential sprinklers provide an added safety measure. If a public water supply is not available. However, a storage tank and pump must be installed.

Installing a residential sprinklers system is different from other residential plumbing and should only be done by a licensed fire-protection contractor. This ensures that the system won’t leak and that it will work properly.

Although a sprinkler system can add several thousand dollars to the cost of a typical house, part of this cost may be offset by reduced fire-insurance premiums. Saving on insurance usually run around 15% per year.

Some municipalities already require residential sprinkler systems for new single-family homes. The use of sprinklers also can allow construction in areas that lack an adequate water supply for conventional fire protection.