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Common questions on home fire sprinkler installations

Home fire sprinklers save lives

NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative offers insights into questions on home fire sprinklers that authorities having jurisdiction often have to answer. 

 

Fire service and safety organizations promote home fire sprinklers for life safety. Are they also intended for property protection?

The provisions in NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, do provide a degree of property protection especially where the fire occurs in a space protected by sprinklers. NFPA research indicates that fire sprinklers can reduce the risk of property damage by 70 percent. However, the standard’s focus is life safety and therefore does not require sprinkler protection in all areas of the home. The standard requires two operating sprinklers discharging for a period of 10 minutes to control the fire — a period considered sufficient for residents to safely escape a home fire.

 

Will adoption of a fire sprinkler ordinance for one- and two-family homes eliminate the need for local firefighters?

No. Home fire sprinklers installed in accordance with NFPA 13D will make it safer for the community’s residents and firefighters, but it will not eliminate the need for the fire service. The purpose of NFPA 13D is life safety, but there will still be fires that could originate in areas in which this standard does not require fire sprinkler protection. There also may be situations where the fire sprinkler performs as intended for life safety purposes but the fire is not completely extinguished.

 

A significant number of fires originate in bathrooms and garages. Why are these areas exempt from sprinkler protection in NFPA 13D?

The exemptions in the standard are not based solely on where fires are likely to originate. Two additional factors are considered. Exemptions are allowed for areas where fires originate that statistically do not lead to a large number of deaths or injuries. Exemptions are also allowed in areas that are impractical to protect cost effectively because such locations would require dry or antifreeze-type systems to protect the system from freezing. Visit our sprinkler omissions page for more information on where fire sprinklers are and aren't required in the home.

 

Can a plumber install an NFPA 13D sprinkler system?

Local licensing laws typically specify who is allowed to install home fire sprinklers. These laws can vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. NFPA 13D does not establish professional qualification requirements. Because fire sprinkler system components can be highly specialized for fire protection purposes, even jurisdictions that permit plumbers to install residential fire sprinkler systems typically require some certification confirming fire sprinkler system knowledge. 

Can the jurisdiction require separate service lines for the domestic and fire sprinkler systems?

NFPA 13D includes provisions that allow for a stand-alone fire sprinkler system — a separate service line from that of the domestic water supply. This arrangement, however, is not preferred. The ideal arrangement is to provide a combined service main so that the building occupants will have a greater awareness of the status of the water supply. The control valves on a combined service would be arranged so that if the fire sprinkler system is shut off, then there would also be no domestic water available to flush toilets, bathe, and so forth. When the occupants are inconvenienced in this manner, the water supply problem is much more likely to be addressed as quickly as possible.

 

Should an authority having jurisdiction require backup power for an NFPA 13D system?

No. Although it may be a good idea for areas with frequent power outages, no provisions within NFPA 13D require backup electrical power. A requirement for a generator or second power source would add to the cost of the overall system.

 

Why do some authorities having jurisdiction require a backflow prevention device when such devices can be detrimental to the fire sprinkler system?

NFPA 13D does not require the installation of a backflow prevention device. The notion that NFPA 13D or any other NFPA fire protection system standard requires the installation of a backflow prevention device is a common myth in the fire protection industry. They are not desired or required for fire protection because the installation of a backflow prevention device on the system introduces a potential failure point and can drastically reduce available water supply pressures. However, municipal water authorities sometimes require backflow prevention devices due to potential health concerns.


What should an authority having jurisdiction look for to determine that an attic is “intended for living purposes”?

The following are examples of attics that would typically be considered intended for living purposes and would need sprinkler protection:

Attics for which a set of walk-up stairs has been constructed
Attics that have been enclosed and are heated or air conditioned, even if not finished
Attics that have been provided electrical, lighting, and heating or air conditioning

Typically, attics with only access hatches would not be considered as intended for living purposes, even if used for storage.

 

Opponents of fire sprinkler ordinances point to NFPA 25, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, as being too burdensome for household installations. Are authorities having jurisdiction supposed to be enforcing the requirements of NFPA 25 on NFPA 13D systems?

No. Sprinkler systems installed per NFPA 13D are considered outside the scope of NFPA 25; the requirements in NFPA 25 do not apply to NFPA 13D systems. Homeowners can take simple steps to make sure home fire sprinklers are in proper working order. Follow these guidelines from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

This information is for educational purposes only. Please reference NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, when installing home fire sprinklers.