Every hotel room, corporate office building, and manufacturing plant has them. They sit virtually unnoticed on the ceiling-until something catches fire. Then, they spew out gallons of high-pressure water in continuous jets onto whatever's burning-and save thousands of lives every year by doing so.
Fire sprinklers, designed to suppress fires by spraying the fire itself and the surrounding area with water, are an absolute must in high-rises, hospitals, large commercial and industrial establishments, and any other place where large numbers of people assemble under one roof. Fire sprinklers are also required in any place with overnight sleeping facilities. A well-placed fire sprinkler system can both ensure the occupants' safe escape and prevent major property damage in the event of a fire.
Why Use Fire Sprinklers?
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), hotels equipped with sprinklers sustain over 75% less damage those without sprinklers and save some $8000 in losses compared to unequipped buildings. Considering, too, that the death rate in a sprinklered building has never gone above two people (besides fire-fighting personnel, or when explosions were involved), a fire sprinkler system is a worthwhile investment. While fire sprinklers have traditionally been reserved for large buildings, sprinkler systems are now affordable enough for smaller buildings and private homes, as well.
How Do Fire Sprinklers Work?
Basic fire sprinkler systems consist of sprinkler heads with heat-sensitive seals that hold back pressurized water in the building's pipes. When the temperature in the room rises above a certain level, the seals open and release jets of water onto the fire. Usually, the sprinkler heads operate independently to minimize the number of sprinklers drawing on the water source and thereby maximize pressure. This type of system is called a "wet" system.
"Dry" systems, meanwhile, are used in special cases where the room is not heated, and use air pressure to set off the sprinklers. "Pre-action" systems, which are reserved for buildings that can't afford unnecessary water damage (i.e., museums, art galleries, libraries), are connected to the building's fire alarms and smoke detectors, so the alarm will go off before the sprinkler does.
Other types of fire sprinkler systems include "deluge" systems, which activate all the sprinkler heads at once to drown out the fire and keep it from spreading, and "clean agent" gas or foam systems, which are meant for environments with flammable liquids.
Installation, Layout, and Cost
Installation considerations are based mainly on the size of the area and the location of the greatest fire hazard. In a large dining hall, for instance, you'll need more sprinklers than in a hotel room, and you'll probably want to put most of the sprinkler heads closer to the kitchen than to the main entrance.
The NFPA has a table of standards that can be used to calculate the layout you need. As for price, most basic systems cost from $2-5 per square foot, while specialty systems can go as high as $10 per square foot. Obviously, a large, multi-story building will be more expensive to equip with sprinklers than a smaller building or a private home. Find out from the sprinkler company whether the sprinkler package you choose includes fees, maintenance, inspection, etc.. Check, too, whether the government will waive any of the fees for your particular building.
Whether you're equipping your hotel or factory according to regulations, or adding an extra level of fire protection to your home, a fire sprinkler system is a valuable fire-fighting tool that can save both your property and your life.