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Choose a Safer Home

Choose a Safer Home


Building a house? From floor plan to floor coverings, from cabinet design to counter tops, there seem to be endless choices to make when it comes to your new home. There is one choice that should be made, though, and it can save your life, and your new home. The choice is to have a residential fire sprinkler system installed during construction.

In America, in 2005 there were 396,000 residential fires, these caused 3,055 civilian fire deaths, 13,825 civilian fire injuries, and $6.9 billion in property damage. This was an average year. This does not count the injury and loss of life of our firefighters involved with residential fires. Studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s United States Fire Administration indicate that the installation of residential fire sprinkler systems could have saved thousands of lives; prevented a large portion of those injuries; and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses.

Millions have installed smoke alarms in their homes in the past few years, but a smoke alarm can only alert the occupants to a fire in the house … it cannot contain or extinguish a fire. Residential fire sprinkler systems can! This is why organizations like the National Association of State Fire Marshals; National Fire Protection Association; Home Safety Council, and the Residential Fire Safety Institute are actively promoting fire sprinklers to be installed in all homes. Losing 3000+ people a year to home fires is unacceptable.

When a fire starts at home it can become deadly in just three minutes. Fire sprinkler systems supply powerful fire protection, automatically, before the fire can spread, and before the fire department gets called, thus slowing or stopping the flames and poisonous smoke so you and yours can get out safely. This is an investment in your new home that really pays you back when its needed!

How do they work? Each sprinkler system is unique to the home where it is installed. It is designed by a state licensed sprinkler designer. Piping is networked through your home and is fed by the same water source as the plumbing for the home, the water main, or, if a well is used a storage tank may be needed. Quick-response sprinkler heads are connected to the piping in the walls or ceilings. These heads may be concealed so that only a flat three inch circle is visible. Each sprinkler head is temperature sensitive, when the heat from a fire reach about 165F, water flows from only that particular sprinkler head. Only the extreme heat of a fire will cause the sprinkler to operate. In most cases that will be all that is needed to stop the fire.

There is very little maintenance needed with a modern residential fire sprinkler system. Keep the sprinkler water valve on and perform a simple test you can do yourself, or hire your contractor, to verify water flow and the working of the fire bell or alarm system.

Let’s clear up some myths about residential fire sprinklers:

Myth – When one sprinkler goes off, all the sprinklers activate.
Only the sprinkler over the fire will activate. The sprinkler heads react to temperatures in each room individually. Thus, fire in a bedroom will activate only the sprinkler in that room.

Myth – A sprinkler could accidentally go off, causing severe water damage to a home.
Home sprinklers are specifically designed and are rigorously tested to minimize such accidents. Furthermore each sprinkler system is pressure tested at a much higher pressure than your house plumbing and yet it will only run at household pressure, so it much less likely to leak than the plumbing.

Myth – Water damage from a sprinkler system will be more extensive than fire damage.
The sprinkler system will severely limit a fire’s growth. Therefore, damage from a home sprinkler system will be much less severe than the smoke and fire damage if the fire had gone on unabated or even the water damage caused by water from firefighting hose lines.

Myth -Home sprinkler systems are expensive.
Current estimates suggest that when a home is under construction, a home sprinkler system should cost between 1 and 2% of the total building price. This is often the price of upgrading carpet or counter tops.

Myth – Residential sprinklers are ugly.
Residential sprinklers are now being designed to fit in with most any decor. These can lay flush with the ceiling with less than a quarter of the profile of smoke detector. If you so desire they can be factory painted to match your decor.

Certainly price is a factor in your choice of this safety system. Because every system is designed for the individual home, it is very difficult to set a per square foot price. But 1% to 2% of the total building price is very close. It depends on the water supply and the complexity of the ceilings, where most of the sprinkler heads will be installed. (This price will fall dramatically when all homes in a community have fire sprinklers installed, because permit charges, water purveyors fees, and other hidden charges will be reduced or eliminated). When done during new construction, the price of these systems is rolled into your mortgage, just like the electrical or heating system. All major insurance companies offer a valuable discount off your premiums, if there is a fire sprinkler system, so shop around. When you consider the tax deduction on your mortgage and the insurance discount, your sprinkler system will cost you less a month than some people spend on coffee drinks. Remember this price gives you something like a firefighter on duty in your house 24/7.

Most importantly, keep this in mind, when you add smoke detectors to a home the chances of surviving a fire are about 50%. When you include a fire sprinkler system along with the smoke alarms, you increase that figure to 82%. Now remember that in your home, these figures are for you and those you care for the most. Of all the choices that will be made when building your new home, this is the only one that could someday literally save the life of you or your loved ones.

Michael Cox serves as sales and marketing manager for, a design and distribution company in Bellingham Washington, dedicated to NFPA 13d sprinkler systems. This firm supplies design, tools, pumps, and installation materials to plumbers and others who are contracting to install 13d systems. Specializing in multipurpose or flow through design using PEX tubing as a primary material. He has worked in life-safety and fire prevention for more than two decades, holds a Washington State certificate for sprinkler design, and has worked with AHJs and Fire Chiefs through out the state. He is currently teaching a seminar program designed to prep plumbers and others to get their state certification.

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3 Responses to “Choose a Safer Home”

  1. I want to design and build my own residentail system where can I get do it your self help or guides? Whats needed and where to get it? Cost?

  2. Ted,
    What you can do to design and build your own fire sprinkler system, depends a lot on where you live. Go and talk with your local Fire Marshal, or Fire Chief. Where I live, the system MUST be designed and wet-stamped by a State certified designer. This insures that the design will meet the needed water flow requirements, and all sprinkler head locations are in the proper place by code. But a homeowner can certainly do the install, if they have the skills and tools. This requirement, or others that cannot be done by the average homeowner, varies with fire and building jurisdictions. As far as the how-to part, if you are knowledgeable about standard plumbing techniques and can follow a blueprint, this may just be your kind of project! But, have a chat with your local authorities, in most cases they are so thrilled that a homeowner wants to go above and beyond to protect his/her family they will go out of their way to help you. For your information: The code is NFPA13d and the code book (very small) can be purchased on-line at their website

    What materials and costs depend on a bunch of variables…….:
    Full system (New House, required in your area) or Partial system (sometimes allowable in retrofit projects).
    Your water source – (well or city water)
    Water Meter Size – (you may need to upgrade to get enough water)
    Your climate: avoiding freeze can increase cost in both sprinkler and insulation materials.
    Permit fees
    Water Company expenses

    And a few dozen more details will have an impact on what you will have to buy to install your own.

    That being said, the firm I work with helps a good number of homeowners partially do-it-themselves every year.

    Michael Cox

  3. Hi, I’ve been trying to get info. Concerning training and certification in installation and maintenance of residential fire sprinkler systems. I am seeking this certification for a company in Trinidad, which is in the Caribbean. Can you recommend somewhere.



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Michael Cox