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Facts and myths about sprinklers

The facts about sprinklers

Sprinklers can:

  • Reduce death and injury from fire
  • Reduce the risks to fire fighters
  • Protect property and heritage
  • Reduce the effects of arson
  • Reduce the impact of fire on the environment
  • Reduce fire costs and the disruption to the community and business
  • Permit design freedoms and encourage innovative, inclusive and sustainable architecture
  • Protect mental health and wellbeing
  • Promote and support business continuity

Automatic sprinkler systems have enjoyed an enviable record of protecting life and property for over 150 years.

Sprinklers reduce injuries by at least 80 per cent, reduce property damage by 90 per cent and substantially reduce damage to the environment from fire.

More than 70 million sprinkler heads are installed worldwide each year …

The UK lags far behind the rest of the world with only 1.8 million sprinklers installed in 2003

Fire sprinklers are widely recognised as the single most effective method for fighting the spread of fires in their early stages.

Sprinklers protect the lives of firefighters and are fully supported by fire services.

The installation of fire sprinklers could virtually eliminate fire deaths.

Why are sprinklers important for life safety?

In a large, fast moving fire people often do not know which way to go and may not be able to use hose reels or fire extinguishers.

Sprinklers are completely automatic. They work by themselves and can stop heat and smoke from trapping people.

How can we be sure sprinklers will work in a fire?

Most sprinkler systems are very simple. There are normally no moving parts to fail. The pipes are full of water, usually from the mains. The sprinklers over the fire burst open when they get hot and spray water on the fire. If you have water in your pipes the sprinklers will work.

What do sprinklers cost?

The cost will vary depending on what your building is made of, what you store in it, what you use it for and how good your water supply is.

A useful comparison is that sprinklers cost less than carpet. But unlike carpet, which wears out, your sprinkler system will protect you for the life of the building.

How do sprinklers operate?

Fire sprinklers are individually heat-activated and connected to a network of water pipes. When the heat from the fire plumes hot gases reach the sprinkler and at a specific temperature (usually about 68 deg. C) that sprinkler activates delivering water directly to the source of the heat.

Why are sprinklers so effective?

A fire starts small. If detected and tackled early enough a fire can be controlled with very little water. Fire sprinklers operate automatically even if you are not at home releasing water directly over the source of the fire and sounding the alarm.

How reliable are sprinklers?

Records from Australia and New Zealand (where all fires must be reported) between 1886 and 1986 show that sprinklers controlled 99.7 per cent of all fires where they were fitted.

What about smoke?

Smoke damage is a major cause of loss in fires. In serious cases smoke is the main cause of death. Sprinklers wash the larger particles out of smoke reducing its density and toxicity. In addition the water cools the smoke making it less harmful.

Quick response sprinklers are now available that will attack a fire even earlier in its growth. Fast attack dramatically reduces the amount of smoke that a fire can produce.

What is the life safety record for sprinklers?

Apart from explosions there have never been multiple fatalities in a fully sprinklered building in the United Kingdom.

The total number of deaths from fire, world-wide in sprinklered buildings is only 50 compared to thousands in unprotected buildings. This is a record no other fire system can match.

Can sprinklers reduce damage to the environment?

Sprinklers can increase the sustainability and life expectancy of buildings, by limiting fire development and significantly reducing the amount of smoke, CO2 and other pollutants. Sprinklers use much less water to put a fire out than fire brigade hoses – and lead to much less water damage.

Do sprinklers allow greater building design freedoms?

Sprinklers can allow much more interesting use of space. New building codes work on a performance-based approach to the safety of a building, so by including sprinklers, designers can achieve greater freedom to fulfil their overall vision. They can include features such as:

  • Larger compartment sizes
  • More open spatial designs
  • Reducing exit door widths
  • Reducing periods of fire resistance to elements of structure
  • Reducing constraints such as distances between buildings

The Myths

When there is a fire all the sprinkler heads go off at once

Wrong. Each head is independent and only the head(s) adjacent to the fire go off.

Water damage is as bad as the fire damage

Wrong. A Typical sprinkler discharges 55 litres per minute. A firefighting hose discharges up to 750 litres per minute. Reports of water damage from fires in buildings with sprinklers are often exaggerated. Only the sprinklers over a fire open. All the others stay shut. A sprinkler opening by accident is almost unheard of. If there is a fire the water from one or two sprinklers is a small price to pay for saving a complete building, its contents or even a life.

Sprinklers can go off accidentally

Wrong. Records show that the chance of an accidental discharge from a sprinkler is in the region of 16 million to one.

Sprinkler Systems are expensive

Wrong. It is estimated that the costs of a sprinkler system can be recovered over a period of about 10 years. This is achieved through reduced insurance premiums and in larger organisations through less disruption to business continuity when a fire occurs.

A smoke detector provides enough protection

Wrong: Smoke detectors save lives by providing a warning system but can do nothing to extinguish a growing fire or protect those physically unable to escape on their own. Too often, battery operated smoke detectors fail to function because the batteries are dead or have been removed.

In a fire all the sprinkler heads go off together

Wrong. Only the sprinkler head(s) directly affected by the fire is triggered.

Water from the sprinkler causes more damage than the fire

Wrong. Sprinklers attack the fire quickly and directly so less water is needed. As they also operate the fire alarm, the flow can be quickly turned off when the fire is out.

A smoke detector will always provide enough protection

Wrong. Operational smoke detectors do save lives, however they do nothing to extinguish a growing fire.

Sprinklers go off accidentally

Wrong. The odds of winning the lottery are greater than the 16 million to one chance of a sprinkler malfunction.

Sprinklers are ugly and unsightly

Wrong. Modern sprinklers are specially designed to meet the needs of architects in offices, hotels, shops, hospitals and prestige buildings. They are compact and elegant. In most buildings the public are usually unaware that sprinklers are fitted.

Miniature sprinklers are little bigger than a 50p coin and are neat and robust. They can be fitted with ceiling rosettes and painted to match any colour scheme.

Concealed sprinklers are recessed and covered by a flat plate flush with the ceiling. They are unobtrusive and almost invisible. Concealed sprinklers are ideal for clean areas, where there is restricted headroom or vandalism is a problem.