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Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems in California Homes

By Galen Vistica

Did you know that fire sprinklers are now required to be installed in newly constructed homes in California?  

Don’t be worried; if your home is already built you don’t have to install a sprinkler system.  But all townhomes, one-family, and two-family dwellings that were built after January 1, 2011 will have a sprinkler system.  This means that over time more and more of us will be dealing with these systems in our homes.  This article is designed to teach you about them and come against the many concerns and stigmas surrounding fire sprinklers.  

The biggest concern most people have when they think about fire sprinklers is that they will all activate when the smoke alarm goes off.  This is completely untrue and is easily explained with a basic understanding of how fire sprinkler systems work.

First, the smoke detector is not part of the sprinkler system in any way.  It is completely separate.  When the smoke detector goes off, it merely sounds an alarm.  The detectors are not linked to each other or to any aspect of the sprinklers.  Second, each of the sprinkler heads operates independently.  They are all tied to the same plumbing system, but each head is individually activated.  Smoke will not activate a sprinkler, and neither will a small fire like a match or candle.  They only activate when they sense a large amount of heat, usually around 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  To see a couple short videos of how sprinkler activations work, click on the links below.

Home Fire Sprinkler Animation


California Residential Home fire sprinklers systems/Another concern of many homeowners is that the system will require frequent and expensive maintenance.  Fire sprinklers were designed to be low-maintenance.  As with most systems in your home, any repairs will require the expertise of a specialist, but these occasions are rare.  There is no mandatory maintenance to do, and the only suggested maintenance is that you ensure the sprinkler heads are unobstructed and that the water valve to the system is open.  It couldn’t be easier.  

Leaking and freezing weather

California Residential Home fire sprinklers systems/There has been concern with how often the systems leak and damage homes.  Thankfully, this is no more of an issue than the previous one.  The plumbing for the sprinklers is very similar to the plumbing for the rest of a house.  There is no more risk of sprinkler pipes leaking than there is for any of your other pipes.  But, because the piping is so similar, freezing weather is a consideration with these systems.  Usually, the only necessary measure against freezing is proper insulation, which should be done with the initial installation.  If your home plumbing has problems with freezing, then a sprinkler system may freeze as well.  But issues such as these are very rare, even in areas that freeze.  There is a special antifreeze mixture that can be added to the water in your sprinkler pipes that will prevent freezing; so if you’re worried about the cold, ask your sprinkler contractor for more information.    

Fire damage is less expensive than water damage.

California Residential Home fire sprinklers systems/Another misconception about fire is that fire damage is less expensive than water damage.  The unfortunate truth is: fire damage will completely destroy your entire house if given the chance.  If there is a fire in your home, it likely won’t be put out without some water damage occurring.  So, your best option is to find a way to minimize water damage.  The best way to do that is through the use of a fire sprinkler system.  Firefighters will use more than 10 times as much water to put out a fire as a sprinkler would.  This is because the fire department’s hoses flow much more water than sprinklers and because the fire will have grown by the time the fire department arrives, so you will have greater water damage and greater fire damage.  

Price for a new system.

California Residential Home fire sprinklers systems/According to a study done by NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) paying for a sprinkler system is not too terribly expensive, and there are incentives for purchasing one, beyond protecting your home.  The study indicates that the average cost of a sprinkler system to be installed at the time of initial building construction is $1.61 per square foot.  To help you see how much money that is, it works out to be approximately the same price as having new carpet laid down in your house.  I mentioned additional incentives, these come from insurance companies.  There are premium discounts offered for having a sprinkler system in your home because they know there is a significantly smaller risk of there being a fire at your residence.  To get more information about premium discounts for sprinklers, contact your insurance provider.  

Fire sprinkler statistics.

California Residential Home fire sprinklers systems/Residential fires kill more than 3,000 people every year.  We all hear about large fires that make national news where dozens of people die, so we assume that’s the main way people die from fire.  Unfortunately, the reality the statistics represent is frightening.  Eight out of every ten fire deaths happen in peoples’ homes.  These are rarely the fires that make national news, so they don’t seem to be very prevalent, but the harsh reality is, you are more likely to die from fire at home than anywhere else.  According to FEMA, fire sprinklers increase your chance of surviving a fire by over 80%.    

If you want to do some research of your own, two of the best sites are www.homefiresprinkler.org  and www.firesprinklerinitiative.org