Residential Fire Sprinkler Questions

Before We Go Full Steam Ahead With Residential Sprinklers,
There are Questions ??? Which Must be Answered.

By Nick Markowitz Jr.
Fire Investigator and Alarm contractor

With the passage of ICC regulations now requiring fire protection sprinklers in residential properties, there are many questions which need answered before we start enforcing them. That is if the builders and their cronies do not see to it that we exclude that part of the ICC Fire Code here in Pennsylvania and many other states.

Having spent many years dealing with commercial fire sprinklers and their problems due to the below zero cold weather we get, and low water pressure we have in this area, I am already familiar with all the problems which are going to follow us over into the residential area.  First off, what about the residential systems? Will they be required to be monitored 24/7 by a monitoring company or will a simple bell do like we have on some commercial systems?  When that bell does go off, lets hope someone hears it and calls 911 . If a bell or horn does not do it, like in rural areas, will insurance companies then require monitoring to get a fire policy?

While we’re talking about insurance companies, will they raise residential rates due to all the damage a sprinkler system can cause? A customer of mine built a big home in Fayette County and was among one of the first to install a residential sprinkler system in the late 1980’s.  Upon notifying his insurance company he installed them, his policy went up 50% instead of going down because now there was the danger of all the water damage should a sprinkler head pop.  Needless to say he turned them off and depends on the smoke detectors.

Which brings up another question, if a residential owner turns off his required sprinkler system and then has a fire will the insurance company not pay, and could he face a code violation citation? Then talking about accidental trips what about the cold weather we have here and home systems popping during the winter?  Homes are often vacant while people are vacationing down south “We call them Snow Birds” or selling their home.  This is when traditionally we turn all water off in homes and lower or turn off heat all together.  Will we then have to insist on dry or anti freeze systems and monitored low temp alarms being used to prevent accidents?  Better yet, what about pre-action systems in a home?  How many heads will get knocked off by kids playing or people moving furniture etc.?

Then we have the problem with water supply.  Will municipal water suppliers demand a separate water meter and then require you pay commercial rate for sprinkler water?  You better believe it,  if they can get away with it.  Then again, what about the water pressure itself?  If there is not enough pressure, or homes are driven off a well, will we be required to install inground tanks and water pumps to supply adequate pressures like we do with commercial buildings?  These will also have to be supervised and monitored electrically?

You also would have the additional cost of back flow devices.  Will it be required they’re tested every year just like they do in commercial buildings?  Will the residential sprinklers need annual testing as well?  What about water hardness, corrosion, and scale?  Will systems be mandated for this testing and inspection as well like we are suppose to do with commercial systems every 5 years?

Yes I see many problems coming.  How many more trips will local fire departments make in the coming years, especially in the winter time?  The big question 20 years from now when that sprinkler system is really needed, will it even work just like the Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) which are required in the Electrical Code?  Well as usual I guess we are going to find out the hard way like we did with GFCI Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, which 10 years out stopped working and a new design standard needed put in place.  I am just waiting for all the usual confusion and everything else that goes on every time we pass new codes and years of effort to get things straightened out.  Just once I would like to see a code completely thought out and field tested to look for and eliminate problems before they happen, so that wasted money and man hours are left at a minimum.  Sprinklers YES problems NO.

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