Residential Sprinklers

When fire sprinklers were first invented 140 years ago the Insurance Industry was quick to recognise the benefits of a fire sprinkler system and they encouraged the development of the emergent Industry and still do to this day. However their interest was in property protection so the life safety aspect of fire sprinklers was ignored until recently. In 1973 the America Burning report was published. It identified the fact that over 75% of all fire casualties occurred in the home and amongst other things it recommended the development of a residential fire sprinkler system.

Residential and Domestic Sprinklers

All fires start small but they grow very rapidly. If a fire can be detected soon enough, and fought immediately, it will take surprisingly little water to control it. But if it is allowed to grow unhindered conditions in the room of origin will become un-survivable within a few minutes. The key to controlling a fire is quick reactions. Normally without sprinklers the first you might know about a fire is when a smoke alarm goes off, or someone spots the fire. A call has to be made to the Fire Brigade, who can usually get to you within 15 minutes or less. When they arrive it then takes a couple of minutes to set up their equipment and so the fire may have had some 20 minutes from the initial alarm to really get a hold. What was a small fire has become a major one. With a life safety sprinkler system, if any of the sprinkler heads detects a fire, it immediately starts to spray water on the fire and an alarm is sounded to warn occupants to escape. Life safety sprinkler systems usually put out the fire, but should this not happen the system will control the fire, slowing its growth and reducing toxic fumes. So the Fire Brigade will have a much simpler task when they arrive and much less damage will have been caused. Most importantly the occupants will have had time to escape or be rescued and the firemen will not have to risk their lives. A life safety sprinkler system is designed to use just enough water to control the fire. Typically a life safety sprinkler head discharges 40-45 litres of water a minute compared to a fireman’s hose at perhaps up to 1,000 litres a minute. This minimise’s water damage and turns a potential disaster into just an inconvenience.

Categories of residential and domestic accommodation

There are many different ways of categorising domestic and residential accommodation. Whichever categorisation scheme you choose it is not always clear how other schemes will compare with it. However as we are discussing domestic and residential sprinkler systems conforming to BS 9251 : 2005 and DD252 : 2002, we should use their definitions.

BS 9251:2005 covers two occupancy types:

  • Residential (multiple occupation include apartments, residential homes, HMO’s, blocks of flats, boarding houses, aged persons homes, nursing homes, residential rehabilitation accommodation, dormitories) and
  • Domestic (individual dwelling houses, individual flats, maisonettes and transportable homes).

Hospitals, detention centres, schools and hotels are not covered by BS 9251:2005

Ten things you should know about Fire Sprinklers

  1. Fire Sprinklers are far and away the most efficient and effective safety devices  known, having a better than 99% success rate in service worldwide.
  2. Fire alarms by themselves can only warn of fire and depend on someone calling the Fire Brigade. Fire Sprinklers not only warn of fire they also act immediately to extinguish the fire, even if no one is present.
  3. Over 50% of all fire casualties are either young or old, or physically incapacitated and cannot help themselves. Fire Sprinklers, even if they do not put out the fire, will at the very least raise the alarm and extend the time available for escape or rescue.
  4. Fire in the home is responsible for most fire deaths and injuries in the UK. Your chance of experiencing a serious fire in the home in your lifetime is around 1 in 5.
  5. Residential Fire Sprinkler are not expensive, costing typically less than 2% of the cost of an average new house, or about the cost of carpeting a house but, unlike carpets, they are designed to last at least 50 years.
  6. Fire Sprinklers are very reliable. Statistics show the chance of finding a defective sprinkler head is 1 : 16,000,000 (one in sixteen million). Less than your chance of winning the Lottery.
  7. Houses which suffer major fires are seldom able to be lived in afterwards and are often demolished. Rooms protected by fire sprinklers can usually be back in use within a few hours, and the rest of the house is usually unaffected.
  8. Each sprinkler is individually triggered directly by the heat of a fire and will have reacted long before the Fire Brigade is even called. Only the sprinkler directly affected by the fire goes off , using typically 10 gal/min of water to control the fire.
  9. Sprinklers use between 1/25th and 1/100th of the water used by EACH Fire Brigade hose – so in the event of a fire water damage is minimised. In fact sprinklers use even less water than this because they tackle the fire immediately, when it is still small. Smaller fires need much less water to control them.
  10. Modern Residential Sprinklers are small, neat and unobtrusive and visitors are seldom able to spot them. They are available in a variety of finishes and colours to suit any decor, and are even available in concealed versions.

Statistics

The latest statistics can be found on the Department of Communities and Local Government on the Fire Statistics page

Additional Information

BS 9251:2005 Sprinkler systems for residential and domestic occupancies. Code of practice

The Residential Sprinkler Association (RSA) has a website devoted to this subject and has for more detailed information than I can provide. The RSA represents a wide variety of people and organisations committed to promoting the wider use of fire sprinklers for life safety. They include, Fire and Rescue Service, Sprinkler head manufacturers, Pipe and fittings manufacturers, Sprinkler Installers and Consultants all dedicated to reducing fire casualties. Visit their site The Residential Sprinkler Association (RSA) Website.

LPS 1301

A new approval scheme for installers of residential sprinklers has been launched by LPCB. LPS 1301 has been prepared by an expert group drawn from installers, local government and insurers.

LPS 1301 (Requirements for the approval of Sprinkler Installers in the UK and Ireland for Residential and Domestic Sprinkler Systems) requires the approved installer to take responsibility for each stage of delivery of a complete sprinkler system; this applies even where the installation and supply of piping and hanging materials is by others. This scheme should provide reassurance that sprinkler systems are appropriate for the occupancy and/or the hazard class of the premises in which they are installed, and will operate reliably in the event of a fire.DCLG Final Research Report – Effectiveness of sprinklers in residential premises – an evaluation of concealed and recessed pattern sprinkler products.

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March 17, 2011[Last updated: February 5, 2012]

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