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Home Fire Safety

Home Sprinkler Systems

A Smart Choice

Every year, more than 400 Canadians die in fires in their own homes. In only three minutes, a room can become engulfed in flames. Those at highest risk are the very young and older adults who may have difficulty making a quick escape.

In the time it can take the Fire Department to arrive on the scene, fire sprinklers can control or possibly put out the fire. In 90 percent of cases, fires are put out with just one fire sprinkler. Fire sprinklers protect property, save lives and may even help cut homeowners' insurance premiums. Fire sprinkler systems provide a level of protection that no other technology can offer.

How Sprinklers Work

The key to effective fire protection is to identify and control the fire early, before it can create deadly heat and large volumes of carbon monoxide and smoke. Each fire sprinkler has a temperature-sensitive element. When heated by fire, the fire sprinkler closest to the fire will open automatically, spraying water on the burning materials. Fire sprinklers are linked by a network of pipes which, just like regular plumbing, are usually hidden within ceilings or walls. A fire sprinkler system ensures an early and direct response to fire. Depending on the intensity of the fire, a home fire sprinkler will activate in as little as one minute, or less.

A fire sprinkler operates when the fire is small and uses much less water than fire department hoses. Home fire sprinklers are designed to control the fire until the fire department can respond. In a home without fire sprinklers, the fire department often arrives after the fire and toxic smoke has reached dangerous levels. The fire department would have to apply a number of hose streams at approximately 4,900 l/min (1,300 us g/min) for a longer time period due to the increased size of the fire and that is only if the fire area is accessible and the building still salvageable.

Contrast that with a home fire sprinkler system flow rate of approximately 49 l/min (13 us g/min) per activated sprinkler (normally 1 or 2 sprinklers) until the fire fighters arrive (5-10 minutes). The difference in water damage, not to mention fire damage, is obvious. Residential fires in homes without fire sprinklers cause approximately $45,000 in total damage from fire and water compared to $2,500 in a home with residential sprinklers.

Facts about Fire Sprinklers

Amount of Water Damage

A fire sprinkler will control a fire with a tiny fraction of the water used by fire department hoses, because a sprinkler activates during the early stages of a fire before the fire department can arrive. Residential fire sprinkler systems spray water only in the immediate area of the fire, usually with just one sprinkler operating. As a result, the fire is kept from spreading and widespread water damage is avoided.

Accidental Discharge

Accidental sprinkler discharge is extremely rare. The odds of accidental sprinkler discharge due to manufacturing defects are 1 in 16 million. Each sprinkler is individually activated by heat. One study concluded that home sprinkler accidents are generally less likely and less severe than standard home plumbing mishaps. Burnt toast and cigarette smoke will not trigger sprinkler operation.

Sprinkler Aesthetics

With a variety of unobtrusive designs, modern residential sprinklers are inconspicuous and can be mounted flush with walls or ceilings to blend in with the home's decor. Some sprinklers can be concealed. Sprinkler systems operate off the domestic water supply and, just like regular plumbing, pipes are hidden within ceilings or walls.

Affordable Protection

Recent technology breakthroughs make sprinklers more affordable and easier to install in homes. On average, a home sprinkler system costs approximately 1-1.5 percent of the total cost of the home in new construction. When included in a 25 year amortized mortgage your payment may increase by an average of $40.00 per month, less than many other utilities or cable TV costs.

Installation Guidelines

Fire sprinkler systems are installed in accordance with engineering designs that have been established through many years of research and experience by testing laboratories, codes and standards organizations. Like electrical wiring and household plumbing, the fire sprinkler system must meet specified standards and pass required tests and inspections before the home will be approved for a certificate of occupancy.

The Importance of Residential Sprinklers

Residential fire sprinklers provide excellent fire protection because they can control or extinguish fires and limit smoke development and spread. This is particularly important for young children, older adults and people with disabilities who are at higher risk of being injured or killed in a fire because they may be unable to react quickly.

Sprinklers also reduce the risks faced by firefighters who otherwise must fight fully-involved fires and enter burning buildings to rescue trapped occupants. Moreover, sprinklers can greatly limit property loss due to fire. Vancouver has required sprinklers in new residential construction since 1990. In a 2001 report, residential sprinklers were credited with reducing average annual fire losses by more than 90%. The city has experienced zero fire deaths in homes protected by functioning sprinklers.

Similarly, Scottsdale, Arizona has required residential sprinklers in new home construction since 1985. A recent study indicates that the average fire loss in Scottsdale residences with sprinklers was $2,166, compared to $45,019 in those without. Residential sprinklers are a vital component of this comprehensive home fire safety strategy. The early suppression and containment of fire has proven essential to reducing fire injuries, deaths and losses. Requiring sprinklers in large residential buildings as described above will significantly increase public safety across the province.

Additional Information

Home Fire Sprinkler Organization 

OAFC Position Paper: Residential Sprinklers

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