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Fire Sprinkler System FAQs

Posted on: January 18, 2011

As important as fire sprinklers are to the safe operation of your business, many people have questions about their cost, how they work, etc. Your fire sprinkler system is one of the most important components in your building, so it is important to know everything you can about choosing the right one. Here are some answers to the most common questions we hear about fire sprinkler systems.

How much does a fire sprinkler system cost?

The ultimate cost of your fire sprinkler system depends on the brand and type of sprinkler system you install, but usually you can expect to pay anywhere from about $1.00 to $2.00 per square foot for new fire sprinkler system installations. Retrofitting an existing building with a new fire sprinkler system is considerably more expensive, often costing $2.50 and up per square foot.

The actual price of your fire sprinkler system will vary based on the overall size of your fire sprinkler system installation. Also, many insurance companies offer discounts on insurance premiums for buildings that have fire sprinkler systems installed, so be sure to factor that into the true, lifetime cost of the installation.

How do fire sprinkler systems work?

If you look at a typical fire sprinkler head, you may notice what looks like a small bulb with a colored liquid inside. During a fire, that liquid heats up and expands, eventually causing the vial to burst and releasing the water behind it.

The liquid inside the bulbs can be a number of different colors, with each color representing a different amount of heat to burst the glass:

  • Orange – 135oF
  • Red – 155oF
  • Yellow – 174oF
  • Green – 200oF
  • Blue – 286oF
  • Purple – 360oF
  • Black – 440OF

Since the bulbs in your sprinkler heads respond to heat, there is no risk of accidental activation of your fire sprinkler system by smoke or dust in the air. That said, the bulbs are very fragile and any tampering could cause them to go off. If a sprinkler head gets accidentally knocked off (by a forklift or truck or repairman), there’s going to be lots and lots of water flowing through that sprinkler head until the system is shut down.

Why do I need a fire sprinkler system in my building?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in buildings with working fire sprinkler systems, the average property loss and the risk of death per fire are reduced by 50% to 66% compared to buildings without sprinkler systems. Broken down by industry, civilian deaths in sprinklered buildings (between 1989 – 1998) were reduced by:

  • 60% for manufacturing properties
  • 74% for store and offices
  • 75% for nursing homes
  • 91% for hotels and motels

In addition, the average property damage per hotel or motel fire was 56% less in structures with fire sprinkler systems than without. The numbers above tell a compelling story. Fire sprinkler systems save money and save lives.

What’s the best way to design a fire sprinkler system?

Every building is designed differently, and every fire sprinkler system must be designed according to the building’s layout and contents. For example, a furniture store has quite a bit more flammable material in it than a garden center. When designing a fire sprinkler system, the design engineer will follow these steps to ensure that your building is always protected.

Determine your building’s fire hazard level – every building has a fire hazard classification level:

  • Light hazard
  • Ordinary hazard group 1
  • Ordinary hazard group 2
  • Extra hazard group 1
  • Extra hazard group 2

Factors involved in determining a building’s fire hazard level include the materials used for construction, the building’s occupancy level, the materials stored in the building and the processes performed in the building, as well things like as ceiling heights, ease of egress and the amount of floors and rooms.

Determine the fire sprinkler system design area and density – the “design area” refers to the space within your building that is determined to be the highest risk area. Once this area has been determined, the fire sprinkler designer will figure out the amount of water it would take (in liters per minute) to put out a fire in that part of the building and apply the same level of risk to the whole rest of the building to ensure even protection.

Determine which fire sprinkler system installation and design will meet your needs – actually selecting the correct fire sprinkler system can be very complicated, requiring a balance of factors such as initial water pressure, pipe friction, momentum, etc. If your fire sprinkler system is being designed by a professional fire services company, they will be able to do all the requisite calculations (with the help of a CAD system).

If you have any additional questions about your fire sprinkler system in Maryland, Virginia or Washington, DC, including how often they need to be inspected or tested, call Guardian Fire Protection Services today!

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