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Household Fire Alarms Forest Hill MD

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare — a house fire, caused by faulty wiring, a kitchen accident, an act of nature or simple carelessness. When most homeowners think of house fires, they probably first consider the resulting property damage, and the numbers are staggering.

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Fighting Fires

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It’s every homeowner’s nightmare — a house fire, caused by faulty wiring, a kitchen accident, an act of nature or simple carelessness. When most homeowners think of house fires, they probably first consider the resulting property damage, and the numbers are staggering. In 2006, fires in single- and two-family homes caused $5.7 billion in property loss, according to data compiled by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), based in Quincy, Mass.

But more sobering is the loss of life that often results from house fires. Every year, more than 3,000 people perish due to fires in their homes. If residential fire sprinkler systems had been installed in those homes, property damage could have been greatly reduced, and lives could have been saved.

Despite this fact, many homeowners rarely consider installing a residential fire sprinkler system, for a variety of reasons. Swayed by common misconceptions, as well as what some perceive as an aesthetic issue, even safety-conscious homeowners steer away from home fire sprinkler systems. That’s beginning to change, however, as more homeowners learn about the realities and benefits of these systems, as communities begin to mandate the installation of home fire sprinkler systems in new homes and as updated, less conspicuous systems become available.

Dispelling the Myths
In an ironic twist, many homeowners believe that sprinkler systems will cause more damage to a home than the fire itself. But that’s faulty thinking. According to the Scottsdale Report, a 15-year study of sprinkler system effectiveness compiled by Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Jim Ford of the Rural/Metro Fire Department in Scottsdale, Ariz., a fire sprinkler system delivers eight to 10 times less water than the hoses used by firefighters to put out the flames, resulting in less water damage to a home. A fire hose dispenses up to 250 gallons of water per minute, while a typical residential sprinkler head will release just 15 to 20 gallons of water per minute.

What’s more, the fire department applies hose streams to a house fire in broad sweeps, while a sprinkler system is much more targeted. According to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, 90 percent of all house fires are extinguished by a single sprinkler.

There’s another important point to consider. When a house fire occurs, a sprinkler can respond almost immediately, reducing the amount of damage caused by the fire, whereas by the time the fire department arrives (usually in 5 to 10 minutes), the damage to the home can be far more substantial. In Scottsdale, according to the study, the average cost of fire damage in homes without sprinklers was $45,000, compared to just $2,166 for homes with a sprinkler system. Damage from smoke also was reduced in homes with sprinklers, because house fires were extinguished much more quickly.

Most importantly, in Scottsdale, where sprinklers have been required in all new homes built since 1986, there have been no deaths due to fire in homes with sprinklers. However, there have been 13 deaths in homes without sprinklers.
Some homeowners worry that sprinklers will activate accidentally, for no reason, or that all sprinklers will activate for a small, localized fire. However, automatic fire sprinklers are individually heat-activated and tied into a network of pipes with water under pressure. Only those sprinklers in the immediate area of the fire will operate, optimizing the use of the limited water they distribute.

Another contention about sprinkler systems is that they will detract from the aesthetics of the home. However, newer systems feature sprinklers, or pendents, that can be concealed. The sprinklers can be inconspicuously installed on a ceiling or wall and almost completely concealed by small plates that can be matched to a room’s colors.

Advantages of Fire Sprinklers
Besides the obvious advantages of saving lives and property, there are other advantages to installing sprinkler systems. Some insurance companies offer discounts to homeowners with fire sprinkler systems installed. Savings vary by company, so shop around.

New Jersey-based ISO, or Insurance Services Offices, which provides information about risk to a variety of industries, including the property/ casualty insurance industry, recommends a discount of 13 percent on insurance policies for homes with a NFPA 13D sprinkler system (the national standard sprinkler installation for one- and two-family dwellings and manufactured homes) and an additional 2 percent if smoke alarms are also installed.

In addition, sprinkler systems can increase the resale value of a home. Today’s prospective homeowners are much more conscious about health and safety issues, and may be willing to pay a premium for a home with an installed sprinkler system.

Types of Sprinklers
Fire sprinklers are individually heat activated and tied into a system of piping. When the heat of a fire raises the sprinkler’s temperature to a specific level, a liquid-filled glass bulb shatters or a fusible metal link melts, opening that single sprinkler and releasing water directly over the heat source.

There are several types of sprinklers from which to choose. In a typical installation, they don’t all have to be the same type but should have the same operating characteristics. Homeowners can install the more attractive (and more expensive) sprinklers in the living room, kitchen, hallways and other areas of the home where they will be more noticeable, and the less attractive (and less expensive) ones in the basement or other areas where aesthetics are not as much of a concern.

Some sprinklers have higher activation temperatures and are designed for use in warmer locations, such as near an oven in the kitchen or in the vicinity of a fireplace. The appropriate temperature ratings are addressed by NFPA standards. Residential sprinklers are fast response, which means they are able to respond five times faster than commercial sprinklers, and are designed to require less water than commercial sprinklers. Design-wise, residential sprinkler options include the following.

• Pendent sprinklers protrude down from the ceiling about an inch or two. These are the most common sprinklers available, and the ones homeowners think of when they envision a typical sprinkler system.

• Recessed pendents protrude down from the ceiling about an inch, with most of the sprinkler frame concealed in the ceiling or wall.

• Concealed pendents are mostly hidden from view, appearing as small, barely noticeable plates. Some can be factory-painted to match most ceiling colors. However, the paint thickness affects the thermal response characteristics of the plate, so concealed pendents should be painted only by the manufacturer at the factory. In the event of a fire, the plate drops off and the sprinkler activates. A small space between the plate and the ceiling allows heat to access the sprinkler above the plate. The sprinkler remains thermally sensitive above the plate in its enclosure and must reach its operating temperature to activate. There are two types of concealed pendents: flat plate and domed plate. The flat plate is a bit more attractive; the domed type is less expensive.

• Flush pendents mount flush with the ceiling but generally incorporate a thermal element that protrudes below the ceiling. In general, these are not as aesthetically pleasing as the concealed sprinklers, but are more attractive than standard sprinklers
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• Sidewall sprinklers mount on a wall horizontally, rather than vertically from a ceiling, and protrude from the wall.

• Recessed horizontal sidewall sprinklers are partially concealed inside a wall. About an inch of the sprinkler frame and deflector is visible on the wall.

Installing a Sprinkler System
Some sprinkler systems can be tied directly into a home’s plumbing system. Other systems are designed to be separate and apart from the plumbing system. Some municipalities require the water used for sprinkler systems to be isolated from that used for domestic purposes.

The sprinkler system can be tied into a city water connection, or it can draw water from a separate storage tank that holds enough water to comply with the NFPA 13D standard. The tank is equipped with a pump that sends water through the system’s piping. Some companies offer the sprinkler system, tank and pump as a package.

It’s easiest to install a sprinkler system when a home is under construction and the joists are exposed. However, fire sprinkler systems can be retrofitted into existing homes, but require professional planning and installation.

The cost of installing a system in a new construction is estimated to be 1 to 1.5 percent of the total construction cost. Retrofitting a system in an existing house can be about 50 percent higher. In addition, a few municipalities have policies that charge fees, generally called tap fees, for the initial connection of the water sprinkler system (connection fees) and for maintaining the availability of water (standby charge).

According to sprinkler industry humor, homeowners have a choice: “A puddle of water or a pile of ashes.” It is clear that sprinkler systems can save lives and reduce property loss, and should be considered an important option when building or remodeling a home.

Sheri Koones is the author of? Prefabulous, as well as House About It and Modular Mansions. She’s based in Greenwich, Conn.

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