FIRE SPRINKLER Q/A 

Q. Why am I required to have a sprinkler system?

A. Sun City Fire District does require fire sprinkler systems for dwellings under specific circumstances. Sprinklers are simply the most recommended and affordable option in most cases. 

All Newly constructed Residential-related Occupancies (excluding R-3 occupancies regulated by the 2009 International Residential Code) for which a building or construction permit is obtained shall be protected by a fully automatic sprinkler system.  

Existing buildings, structures and occupancies shall be retrofitted with fire sprinkler systems to meet current code standards when one or more of the following conditions exist:

  1. 50% or more of the roof structure is replaced or repaired; or
  2. Building fire resistance has decreased (removal of existing fire-rated assemblies results in an increase of the original basic fire area [The aggregate floor areas bounded by rated assemblies]); or
  3. Building area has increased larger than 1500 sq. ft. of additional area from the original building footprint; or
  4. Building Occupant Load has increased significantly; or
  5. Building Occupancy Classification has changed:
  6. Regardless of building area, undergoes a change of occupancy within Hazard Level 1. (Table 901.4.3.1); or
  7. Change of occupancy over 1500 sq. ft.; or
  8. Change of occupancy under 1500 sq. ft. to a higher Hazard Level (Table 901.4.3.1); or
  9. Fire, damage or tenant improvements in buildings exceeds 50% of the square footage or 50% of the building valuation; or
  10. As otherwise determined by the Fire Code Official.

Q. Why are residential sprinkler systems so highly recommended?

A. There are several answers. 

  1. A residential sprinkler system is a life safety system first, with the added bonus of actively protecting property. The intent is to provide the occupants more time to get out of the building and keep the fire under control or extinguish it while it is still small. 
  2. The effects of the sprinkler also limit the production of toxic gases (smoke). 
  3. A residential system will have a bell on the outside to alert neighbors of a possible fire OR you can tie the system into a monitoring company and you will have early reporting even if you’re not home. 
  4. A sprinkler system begins to work before the fire department arrives, without additional risk to your safety. 
  5. Sprinklers are quite affordable, if done at the construction stage. Starting at less than $1 per square foot; which is not that expensive when you consider the investment you’ve made in your home.  Also, insurance premiums are reduced if you have a sprinkler system. 

Q. If I have smoke detectors, why do I need a sprinkler system, and vice versa?

A. These 2 systems are independent of one another with entirely different purposes. The greatest cause of fire deaths are fires that release a great deal of toxic smoke, especially when people are sleeping. Most fires are smoke-charged smoldering fires started in some common plastics, and upholstered furniture. These fires can smolder for quite a while without developing enough heat to activate a sprinkler. A smoke detector is designed to provide you an early warning, to get you out of the building before all the toxic gases in the smoke can overtake you. 

On the other hand, a sprinkler system will extinguish or control a fire, even if no one sees it.  In a house fire, active-flaming fires are very common, and sprinklers systems are made to control the fire.

Q. Aren’t fire sprinklers those ugly things I see hanging on pipes in warehouses and factories?

A. Yes, that’s one type, but read on. Highly effective, ugly sprinklers are installed in warehouses and factories, where looks aren’t important, and have been for nearly 200 years. Since that time sprinklers have become required in office spaces, hotels, apartments and other places where aesthetics matter. Great advances have been made in design, such as recessed sprinkler heads. Residential options can be stylish and obtrusive and come in several pleasant looking styles. Recessed sprinkler heads are covered by a simple disc on the ceiling that melts away in a fire condition to expose the sprinkler head (the white disc above is all you will see). Most can be ordered in custom colors too.

Q. Won’t fire sprinklers soak everything in sight, in seconds like on TV?

A. NO.  Nothing is farther from the truth about how fire sprinklers activate. Hollywood likes to achieve a dramatic effect by showing a deluge water system going off everywhere, soaking everyone and everything instantly. The truth is that each residential sprinkler head works independently from the others. Each sprinkler head is activated by heat at the point of one sprinkler head.  Only the sprinkler head activated by heat will go off.  One sprinkler head typically controls a vast majority of fires. Another truth is, a residential sprinkler head uses a minimum amount of water to control a fire. Fire sprinklers use all of water’s properties to work, not just the volume of water. Remember that Fire needs three things to activate – Ignition or Heat Source, Fuel Load and Oxygen.  A sprinkler system cools the Heat source so the fire cannot maintain combustion.  Residential fire sprinklers use between 8 & 24 gallons per minute, compared to 50 to 125 gallons per minute for the hose nozzle brought in by fire fighters. That means that a sprinkler can run between 2 & 15 minutes before equaling the water use of the first minute of a fire-fighting nozzle. During a 10-year study in Scottsdale, AZ, some surprising statistics were discovered. The average amount of water used to extinguish fires was 15 times greater in non-sprinkled homes than in sprinkled residences.

Q. Will a fire sprinkler system leak and ruin my belongings?

A. First, there are very few statistics of residential sprinklers leaking, and most of those leaks are from freezing temperatures (which doesn’t happen in our climate). Second, many safeguards are present to protect your belongings. Safeguards such as:

  1. Materials superior to the grade of standard plumbing piping and fixtures.
  2. Additional skill levels (certifications) are required of installers. The number of inspections involved during installation are greater than that of typical plumbing.
  3. There is no wear and tear on the piping because it only gets used during a fire situation.
  4. An alarm will sound based on water flowing through the sprinkler system, so any leak in the system will sound the alarm.

Q. Are there other advantages for using sprinklers?

A. Yes, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) rates fire departments on effectiveness, which includes the availability of water. In the Sun City Fire District we have a rating of “2” (“1” being the best). Insurance companies base their premiums on the ratings. However, most insurance companies today also give a 10% – 20% discount for a residential sprinkler system. (The savings will eventually pay for the system.) And you have peace of mind. 

From the same Scottsdale study, the average dollar loss in fires in sprinklered homes was $1,945.00, while the average for non-sprinklered homes was $17, 067.00.

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