Published on October 1, 2016.

Tell it True

Debunking 10 Myths about Home Fire Sprinklers

1. Myth
Every time I burn the bacon, I’ll set off a sprinkler.

Fact
Home sprinklers are activated by temperature, not smoke. You may set off a smoke alarm, but you won’t trigger a sprinkler—unless the burned bacon becomes a sufficiently large fire.

2. Myth
I have smoke alarms so I don't need fire sprinklers.

Fact
Smoke alarms are essential in every home. But they can only detect smoke from a fire. Fire sprinklers detect the fire and automatically control it, saving lives and property.

3. Myth
Smoke alarms will give my family enough time to safely exit if there’s a fire.

Fact
Maybe. While smoke alarms are a critical first step in home fire safety, studies have shown that fires in modern homes can grow quickly and reach flashover in as little as two to three minutes—conditions that can be avoided with home fire sprinklers, providing you and your family with valuable time to escape.

4. Myth
When a fire occurs, every sprinkler will activate and everything in the house will be ruined by water damage.

Fact
Because home sprinklers are triggered by a rise in temperature, typically only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate. Water is sprayed directly on the fire, leaving the rest of the house dry and secure. Roughly 85 percent of the time, when there’s a fire, just one sprinkler operates.

5. Myth
The fire department will be able to put out the fire and save my things.

Fact
In the 9 to 12 minutes it typically takes a fire department to respond, an uncontrolled fire will grow and spread through the home, causing tremendous smoke and fire damage. In a fire, sprinklers can control and may even extinguish a fire in less time than it would take the fire department to arrive.

6. Myth
Newer homes are safer homes.

Fact
In a fire, unprotected lightweight construction used in many modern homes burns quicker and fails faster than traditional materials. New homes can contain modern furnishings made of synthetic materials, resulting in a greater fuel load, faster fire propagation, and a more toxic environment.

7. Myth
Home fire sprinklers leak or activate accidentally.

Fact
Sprinkler leaks are very rare and are no more likely than leaks from a home’s plumbing system. A sprinkler is calibrated to activate when it senses a significant heat change. They don’t operate in response to smoke, cooking vapors, steam, or the sound of a smoke alarm.

8. Myth
Sprinklers are unattractive and will ruin the aesthetics of my home.

Fact
New home fire sprinkler models are unobtrusive, can be mounted flush with walls or ceilings, and can be concealed behind decorative covers.

9. Myth
Sprinklers are not practical in colder climates, since the pipes will freeze and cause water damage.

Fact
With proper installation, sprinklers will not freeze. NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, includes guidelines on proper insulation to prevent pipes from freezing.

10. Myth
The water damage caused by sprinklers will be more extensive than the fire damage.

Fact
In a fire, sprinklers quickly control heat and smoke. Any water damage from the sprinkler will be much less severe than the damage caused by water from firefighting hose lines. Fire departments use 10 times as much water as home fire sprinklers, and often much more, to extinguish a fire.