A: Automatic fire sprinklers are individually heat-activated and attached to a network of piping with water under pressure. At each sprinkler head, the water is held back by a plug. The heat of a fire raises the sprinkler temperature to its operating temperature, usually 165 to 186o F, and depending on the type of mechanism used, one of the following occurs:

  • The special solder that holds the sprinkler head together melts
  • The fluid in a glass vial in the sprinkler head expands enough to break the glass
    In either case, the plug is released and the water begins to flow. Water will continue flowing until the system is mechanically turned off by an emergency responder.

  • A: Absolutely not. It takes actual heat, usually 165 degrees Fahrenheit, to set off a sprinkler.

    A: Only in the movies! Each sprinkler is independent and must be subjected to direct heat to go off.

    A: Each sprinkler system is equipped with a water flow sensing device connected to the building's fire alarm system. These devices incorporate a variable delay setting to prevent false alarms caused by changes in the campus water system supply pressure. Otherwise, every time the pressure surged, the detector would see a little water moving and activate the alarm. The water flow sensing devices are typically set at a 30 – 45 second delay.
    If you see a sprinkler operating, and the alarm hasn't yet gone off, it's probably because of this delay feature. However, you should immediately activate the nearest fire alarm or dial 911 to report the.

    How do I find out if I'm required to have fire sprinklers?

    Building codes detail where and when sprinklers are required for life safety, and NFPA codes cover the design and layout of the systems themselves. A licensed fire protection engineer or contractor can help you find out about any requirements that apply to you.

    Who designs sprinkler systems?

    The NICET-certified Fire Protection Engineering Technicians at Francis Engineering, Inc. NICET, the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies, has a stringent testing and certification program for fire protection designers. Only professionals should design sprinkler systems.

    How can I maintain my sprinkler system?

    Most importantly, have your system periodically inspected by a professional from Francis Engineering, Inc. They will undoubtedly detect any problems before they become major. In addition, maintenance will usually lower insurance premiums.


  • Test the system monthly by opening the test valve and listening for an alarm bell.
  • Know the location of the system shutoff valve.
  • Make sure the system control valve is always open.
  • Have your system reevaluated for needed upgrades when:
    • Water supply changes--addition or change of backflow preventer or water meter, or reduction of public water supply.
    • Building occupancy or use changes.
    • Building changes (walls, partitions, additions).
  • Leave the building and contact the fire department when any activation of the system occurs, even if the fire has apparently been extinguished.
  • Never:

  • Paint the sprinklers.
  • Damage sprinklers (report any damage immediately).
  • Hang objects from any part of the system.
  • Obstruct of cover the sprinklers.
  • A: Automatic fire sprinklers have been in use since 1874.

    A: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has no record of a fire killing more than two people in a completely sprinklered public assembly, educational, institutional or residential building where the system was working properly. Cases in which fatalities occur in a building equipped with fire sprinklers, the deceased are almost always in intimate contact with the fire and were burned severely before the sprinkler activated (e.g., smoking in bed, explosions, etc.). Sprinklers typically reduce chances of dying in a fire and the average property loss by one-half to two-thirds in any kind of property where they are used.

    A: "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers" (September, 2001) by Kimberly Rohr provides an excellent study of the use and experience of automatic fire sprinklers. This report was produced by and is available from the National Fire Protection Association. (http://www.nfpa.org/Research/nfpafactsheets/sprinkler/sprinkler.asp)
    Residential sprinklers have been required by the City of Scottsdale, Arizona for over fifteen years. A comprehensive report on its experience with residential fire sprinkler systems is available from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition: http://www.homefiresprinkler.org/hfsc.php

    A: The odds of sprinkler activation due to a manufacturing defect are about 1 in 16 million. Fire sprinklers have a long history of proven dependability and reliability. Although sprinklers can be damaged and activated through intentional or accidental abuse, this is rare. Sprinkler piping is no more likely to leak than existing plumbing piping in every home and building.

    A: No, fire sprinklers are designed to control a fire in its early stages where less water is required. Most fires are completely controlled with the activation of only one or two sprinklers. Fire hoses, on average, use more than 8 times the water that sprinklers do to contain a fire. According the Scottsdale Report, a residential fire sprinkler uses on average, 341 gallons of water to control a fire; Firefighters, on average, use 2,935 gallons. Reduced water damage is a major source of savings.

    A: The cost per square foot can vary widely due to great differences in installation requirements so this question can be answered effectively only after a review of the occupancy. A system installed in a warm-climate area with ample water supply and good water pressure will cost much less than a system installed in a cold-climate area with poor water pressure or an undependable/inadequate water supply. New installations will cost much less than retrofit installations. Generally speaking, most new construction will be in the range of $1-$2/s.f., while retrofits will be in the range of $2-$3/s.f. Francis Engineering, Inc. can give you free professional estimates.

    A: For the past five years, domestic sprinkler shipments have averaged about 38 million sprinklers per year.

    A: Fire sprinkler systems are installed in accordance with consensus standards developed through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These standards are very specific in defining how sprinklers are to be installed in different types of occupancies and different hazard classifications. The three primary standards that define the installation requirements are NFPA-13 (Installation of Sprinkler Systems); NFPA-13R (Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies Up to and Including Four Stories in Height); and NFPA-13D (Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes). The standards adopted by NFPA represent the best recommended practices, but the standards by themselves are not "law." Development of the consensus is a dynamic process and the standard is changed to reflect new technologies, science, and experience. Every three years a new version of the standard is issued that contains changes and updates. The requirements for the installation of fire sprinklers are adopted as law by state or local jurisdictions as a part of their building code or local ordinance. At times jurisdictions may vary some of the requirements contained in the NFPA documents. Differences in requirements will vary from city to city based on local changes made to the NFPA standards, or the year of the standard adopted by the local jurisdiction. For example, if one city adopts the 1999 NFPA 13 standard, and another city adopts the 2002 issue of the same standard, there will be differences.

    A: No, they are not always required. Many buildings were built prior to modern-day standards and are "grandfathered" so a retrofit was not required. Some local jurisdictions have seen the many advantages of fire sprinklers and required building to be retrofitted over a period of years.

    A: The Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 (PL101-391) was passed into law by Congress to save lives and protect property by promoting fire and life safety in hotels, motels and other places of public accommodation. The law mandates that federal employees on travel must stay in public accommodations that adhere to the life safety requirements in the legislation guidelines. PL101-391 also states that federally funded meetings and conferences cannot be held in properties that do not comply with the law. PL101-391 is applicable to all places of public accommodation, and requires that such properties are equipped with hard-wired, single-station smoke detectors in each guest room and an automatic sprinkler system, with a sprinkler head in each guest room. Properties three stories or lower in height are exempt from the sprinkler requirement.
    US Fire Administration has been charged with carrying out FEMA's responsibilities with respect to the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990. In addition to compiling, maintaining and publishing the National Master List, USFA is also responsible for taking steps to encourage states to promote the use of automatic sprinkler systems and automatic smoke detection systems. The USFA list of hotels and motels meeting the requirements can be viewed at: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/applications/hotel/

    A: A fire sprinkler system must be installed in compliance with the appropriate standards and local codes, and ordinances. Fire sprinkler system design and layout is based on a variety of issues related to the occupancy. This is not a job for the homeowner as a weekend project! In fact, local laws may prohibit the homeowner from installing such a system. Fire sprinkler systems are installed by contractors who know and understand the requirements defined by the installation standards. Many states require contractors that install fire sprinkler systems be licensed and demonstrate competency in the trade. Francis Engineering, Inc has over 25 years of experience designing and installing fire sprinkler systems – ask them to give you a free estimate.

    Sources of Information on Fire Sprinklers:

    American Fire Sprinkler Association
    National Fire Protection Association
    U. S. Fire Administration
    Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition
    Residential Fire Safety Institute