Author(s): Mary Elizabeth Woodruff. Published on October 1, 2016.

The Residential Sprinkler is Born

April 1981: The Grinnell Model F954 receives UL listing


IN 1981, WHEN A DEVICE developed by Grinnell received the first listing as a residential sprinkler, it was the culmination of an eight-year process that would become one of the most important chapters in home fire safety.

Like so many modern fire-safety stories, it began in May 1973 with “America Burning,” the report issued by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. The Commission was charged with studying the fire problem in the United States and making recommendations to reduce loss and improve safety. One key recommendation was that “the proposed U.S. Fire Administration support the development of the necessary technology for improved automatic extinguishing systems that would find ready acceptance by Americans in all kinds of dwelling units.” The report noted that residential sprinkler systems would save lives and reduce injuries from fire and reduce the direct and indirect costs of fire loss.

The same month “America Burning” was released, the NFPA Committee on Automatic Sprinklers appointed a subcommittee to develop NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. Life safety, rather than property protection, was a primary goal of the proposed standard, as was the need to make such systems affordable. Automatic sprinkler systems had been in existence since the late 1800s, but their use was primarily for industrial and commercial properties; the first edition of NFPA 13D, issued in 1975, was based on expert judgment and the extrapolation of the best information available at the time.

Between 1975 and 1980, when the second edition of NFPA 13D was published, numerous sprinkler-related research projects and field tests were conducted across the country. In one important series of tests, in California, a two-story, single-family stucco house in Los Angeles was used for an array of fire scenarios. Prototype testing involved 60 fires, using both smoldering and flaming scenarios, initiated in the living room, kitchen, and second-floor bedroom. Data relating to gas levels and temperatures, as well as eye-level smoke obscuration, were recorded in each test. The data produced from the extensive testing conducted during this period informed the 1980 edition of NFPA 13D, a complete re-write from the previous edition.

With the publication of the second edition of NFPA 13D, however, no product had been listed for use specifically in a residential property. But quick-response residential sprinklers had been developed to put water on a fire faster than in a commercial or industrial property; the intent of these new systems was to control the fire with the cost-effective sprinkler configurations and the water resources available in a typical residential home, giving residents time to escape. In theory, the final step toward implementation was for these new residential sprinklers to receive the necessary listing.

In April 1981, Grinnell Model F954 passed the requirements of UL 1626 and received the first listing as a residential sprinkler. The device went into production by year’s end. The era of effective, efficient, affordable sprinkler protection for homes had begun.

MARY ELIZABETH WOODRUFF is the manager of Library and Informational Resources at NFPA. Top Illustration: Simplex Grinnell