Were real life like the movies, your entire house would be soaked every time a fire started anywhere in the building. But not all home fire sprinkler systems work like that; they vary in design and the chemical makeup of the suppressant. What you need for your home may be very different from something you find in an office building or warehouse.
The Differences Between Suppression Systems
Fire suppression systems are often portrayed as a minor inconvenience when water starts to rain from the ceiling. In reality, sprinkler systems going off can mean big problems for whatever is in the building with them. Many fire suppression systems run on what is called a "closed circuit," which means they aren't, for example, attached to a municipal water system. Instead, they are supplied by a pressurized tank of liquids and chemicals.
As a result, when sprinklers go off, they could be raining down chemicals and water that have been sitting in the pipes for years. This can wreck fabrics and other materials, but the mixture can put out fires quickly.
Chemical Mixes and Purposes
The difference lies in what chemicals you'll find inside the pipes. For example, high-expansion foam systems are used to minimize water damages in small spaces, while low-expansion systems cover much wider areas. In addition, the chemical makeup varies by what the system is protection. In areas with sensitive materials like electronics, books and system controls, you'll find heptafluoropropane and fluorinated ketone, while in areas that don't get much human traffic, you'll find carbon dioxide.
One exception is personal home systems, which are commonly hooked up to a municipal water supply and produce only water.
Individual vs Universal Activation
The other difference you'll see is that many systems activate only single sprinklers, rather than turning on the entire sprinkler system for an isolated fire. Common sprinkler heads have a chemical in glass that, when heated, shatters the glass and allows water or chemicals to flood through. Because only the hot sprinklers activate, this saves you plenty of water damage by flooding only the burning area.
What You Need For Your Home
If you're interested in getting such a system installed in your own home, there are a few things you should do first.
- If you want your system to be set up to run off a municipal water supply, contact your water company and ask if this is allowed. In some cases you may actually need to run the system off a second water line.
- Contact your insurance company. It's unlikely that your premiums will go up -- as this will probably be considered a preventative measure -- they will need to know about an installation like this before you proceed.
- You can add a sprinkler system to an already finished house, but it will require extensive planning. In addition, you'll probably need to have sections of your walls and ceiling removed to add the piping. When factoring the costs for the installation, add in the costs for the removal and restoration of your walls, ceilings and other affected areas like your attics and closets.
- Set aside time for installation. While laying the pipe is easy, setting up the sprinklers and testing the system can take a little longer. Get an estimate from your contractors on how long this might take so you can prepare your children and pets for the construction.