There are two sides to the fire sprinkler debate. The first camp is builders and government regulators that think fire sprinklers are too costly and can cause water damage. The second camp are fire crews, insurance companies, and fire protection activists who believe that the fire protection aspect of fire sprinklers outweigh those arguments. After all, studies have shown that fire sprinklers reduce the likelihood of a fire related death by 82%.
Let's look at camp one first - those against fire sprinklers. Some cities are not passing fire sprinkler regulations because they believe that it will add too much cost to new properties and that the water from a fire sprinkler activation will cause too much damage. However, the cost to add sprinklers to a property is relatively small - especially compared to the cost of a fire. Fire sprinklers generally add 1-1.5% to the total building cost - about the price of upgrading carpet. The other argument is water damage. Accidental discharge risk is low - 1 in 16 million - the same as your odds of having identical quadruplets. As for discharge during a fire, high-pressure fire hoses use 125 gallons of water per minute. Fire sprinklers activate only sprinkler heads in the immediate area of the fire, using 8-24 gallons of water per minute, greatly reducing the amount of water used.
Fire crews, insurance companies, and fire protection activists are in camp two. The miniscule cost to add fire sprinklers to a building is worth the value in safety. Fire sprinklers can extinguish or contain a fire, providing valuable time for occupants to escape and minimize damage. In residences, homes without fire sprinklers have an average cost of damage at $46,000 per fire compared to $2,166 for homes with fire sprinklers. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that the trend moves across all property types. Stores average $44,000 in damage without fire sprinklers and $26,000 with fire sprinklers. Educational facilities can expect $18,000 in damage from fires without protection while fire sprinkler protected buildings average $7,000. Healthcare facilities on average have $8,000 in damage from an unprotected building fire and only $3,000 in damage when the building has properly maintained fire sprinklers.
While life and property savings is benefit enough, here are five of our under the radar benefits of fire sprinklers.
1) Cuts Greenhouse Gas Emissions
According to FM Global, greenhouse gas emissions from a fire are cut by 98% with fire sprinklers. In addition, fire sprinklers reduce carbon emissions by 7.8 to 21.6% per fire in comparison to fires without fire sprinklers.
2) Less Water Pollution
Fire sprinklers reduce the amount of water used to fight a fire by 91%. Fire sprinklers work quickly. The fire sprinkler head closest to the fire will activate once the fire reaches a certain temperature. Only that fire sprinkler will activate, unless the fire is big enough to activate other nearby fire sprinkler heads. Only a small amount of water is used early on, reducing the amount of water needed over the fight of the fire. If the fire is not extinguished by the fire sprinkler, it will contain it enough that minimal water from a fire hose or even a fire extinguisher will be enough to extinguish it.
3) Lower Property Insurance
According to the report "Fire Sprinklers Save Lives and Money: The Economics of Retrofit," fire sprinklers are estimated at saving office buildings 46% in insurance costs for the property and 43% reduction in insurance costs for contents. This estimate is based on a typical 10 year old, 10 story, 110k square foot construction with typical contents and occupancy. In order to maintain these insurance savings, buildings need to maintain the fire sprinklers. An annual inspection with a report sent to the insurance company is required to maintain this benefit. The first year an inspection is skipped, it will reduce the insurance discount by about 5%, the second year will raise insurance costs by approximately 20%, and by the third year, costs will be the same as an unsprinklered building.
4) Less Property Downtime
One of the most difficult aspects of a fire is the loss of the property usage. With fire sprinklers, downtime is reduced to nearly nothing. A room protected with a fire sprinkler usually only leaves the room unusable for a few hours while smoke and water is being cleaned. It also leaves the rest of the building unharmed in most cases. A fire that ignites in a building without fire sprinklers can easily spread and destroy the entire building.
5) Adds Property Value
When surveyed, 74% of home buyers said they would be more likely to buy a home with fire sprinklers than without, adding inherent value. In addition, 7 out of 10 homeowners believe that fire sprinklers add value to a property.
While fire sprinklers add some cost to a build (about $10,000 added to a $1 million construction project), the benefits outweigh the cons in more ways than just safety and damage control. While reducing deaths from fire by 82% and property damage by 67% is a clear benefit, the lesser known advantages are a tipping point: a reduction in greenhouse gases, water pollution, lower property insurance, reduced property downtime, and added property value. When choosing whether or not to install fire sprinklers, think about the complete package. Can you afford not to install them?
Written by: Sarah Block, Director of Marketing & Education