HPAC Magazine

The case for residential sprinkler systems

August 1, 2015 | By Steve Goldie

There is a dual benefit to adding fire protection system installation to your service offering.

Let me state right out of the gate that I have never been known as Mr. Safety. I am not the parent who wants to bubble wrap his kids to prevent any and every possible bumped head or scraped elbow. I am more like the guy who tests for gas leaks with a cigarette lighter. So when I was asked to do an article on residential fire protection sprinkler systems, I was more than a little bit surprised to find myself thinking that maybe it is time we made such things mandatory in single-family new home construction.
Code requirements vary across the country and as far as I understand, Vancouver, BC, is the only jurisdiction that mandates sprinkler systems in single-family residential construction. In Ontario, the latest Ontario Building Code update mandated sprinklers in multi-family residential construction units over three storeys. That seems to be pretty much in line with most of the country.
The average number of fire deaths in Canada is about 400 annually. Not a huge number statistically speaking out of a country of 36 million, however if just one of those 400 happens to be your family member then “statistically speaking” just sounds cold and hurtful.
The pertinent question should really be; could this death have been avoided?
For this question, the statistics have quite a lot to say. Here is the first statistical fact that caught my attention; of those 400 annual fire deaths in Canada, 85 per cent of them occurred in single-family residences. Eighty-five per cent of anything sounds like a pretty big number to me. The second statistic is even more attention grabbing, especially in light of the first one; no fire fatalities have occurred in a residential property protected by a sprinkler system installed to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 13D standards. NFPA 13D is a residential sprinkler design standard focused on one- and two-family dwellings and manufactured homes.  The NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization founded in 1896 and devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards.
On one hand we have 85 per cent of all fire deaths occurring in single-family dwellings, on the other we have a 100 per cent success rate in preventing fire deaths in single-family dwellings in which approved sprinkler systems have been installed. Statistically speaking that is a fairly compelling argument. These numbers are compiled from a significant sample size, coming from reviews of the effectiveness of residential fire sprinklers in two large North American jurisdictions, one in the U.S. and the other in Canada.
Scottsdale, AZ has had a sprinkler mandate in place since 1986, and previously mentioned Vancouver has had a by-law since 1990. Both require all new residential developments to be built with sprinklers. Since the regulations in each jurisdiction came into effect, there have been zero fire deaths in homes built to these standards. Zero deaths. As I said, this is a very compelling argument. Almost a no brainer one might say. Who could argue against such common sense and effective initiatives?
The main opposing voice has been that of the home building lobby, citing higher building costs that could dampen the market and cost jobs. Considering the average cost in new home construction is about $1.35 per square foot of sprinklered space, or put another way, about one to 1.5 per cent of the total cost, it seems to me to be a pretty good value. Amortized over a 25-year mortgage it would be far less than most people’s monthly cable bill. To date however, the opposition has won the day in most jurisdictions, and have even convinced some municipalities to pass legislation outlawing forced sprinkler bylaws.
Legislated or not, sprinkler systems in single-family homes should be an option that more people ought to consider when building or purchasing a new home. Progressive mechanical contractors should also be offering their customers this life saving option.
Two common types of home sprinkler systems are acceptable under the NFPA sprinkler installation standard; stand alone systems and multi-use systems.
Stand-alone sprinkler systems use a dedicated sprinkler piping supply, so that water flows only when a sprinkler is activated. The water in these systems would, over time, become stagnant which means they would require the installation of a testable back flow device where they are connected to the potable water system.
Multipurpose systems combine plumbing and sprinklers into one plumbing network, sharing the home’s plumbing pipes so that  every time water is run anywhere in the home, fresh water moves through the lines. This type of system ensures the water never becomes stagnant, eliminating the need for the cross contamination protection of a back flow protector.
If this sounds like it makes sense to you, talk to your wholesaler and learn if this could become another part in the basket of goods you offer your customer, not only can it add to your revenue stream, it may just help save a life.  <>

Steve Goldie learned his trade from his father while working as a plumber in the family business. After 21 years in the field, he joined the wholesale side of the business in 2002. His expertise is frequently called on to troubleshoot systems and advise contractors. He can be reached at sgoldie@nextsupply.ca.
See Steve at the Modern Hydronics-Summit 2015 on September 10, 2015. For more information, see www.modernhydronicssummit.com.



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