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Posted on February 8, 2011

Fire Sprinkler System FAQs

You already know how important your fire sprinkler system is to keeping your building safe from fires. But how much more do you know about it? Understanding a few basic things about your fire sprinkler system can help you make important decisions, both when installing a new system and when having your existing system inspected. Here are some answers to the most common questions we hear about Houston fire sprinkler systems.

Why is a fire sprinkler system so important?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the average damages (both in property and fatalities) per fire are cut down by 50% to 66% in buildings with working fire sprinkler systems compared to buildings without. When broken down by industry, death rates in sprinklered buildings between 1989 – 1998 were reduced by:

  • 60% for manufacturing properties
  • 74% for stores and offices
  • 75% for nursing homes
  • 91% for hotels and motels

In addition, the average property damage per hotel or motel fire was 56% less in structures with fire sprinkler systems than without.  The numbers above tell a compelling story.  Fire sprinkler systems save money and save lives.

How much does an average fire sprinkler system cost?

While the final cost of your fire sprinkler system will vary depending on the brand and type of sprinkler system you install, you can usually expect to pay anywhere from about $1.00 to $2.00 per square foot for new fire sprinkler system installations. Retrofitting an existing building with a new fire sprinkler system is more expensive, often costing $2.50 per square foot and up.

When looking into the costs of installing a fire sprinkler system, remember to find out about any insurance benefits you will receive by having one in your building. Many insurance agencies offer insurance discounts for buildings with a properly installed and inspected fire sprinkler system.

How do fire sprinkler systems work?

If you look at a typical fire sprinkler head, you may notice a small bulb filled with a colored liquid. This bulb is basically a one-way valve that prevents water from flowing out of the fire sprinkler under normal circumstances. During a fire, that liquid heats up and expands, eventually causing the vial to burst and releasing the water behind it.

The liquid inside the bulbs can be a number of different colors, with each color representing a different amount of heat to burst the glass:

  • Orange – 135oF
  • Red – 155oF
  • Yellow – 174oF
  • Green – 200oF
  • Blue – 286oF
  • Purple – 360oF
  • Black – 440OF

The good thing about having fire sprinkler heads that react to heat is that they won’t be set off by things like smoke and dust. The bad thing is that the bulbs are very fragile and any tampering could cause them to go off.  If a sprinkler head gets accidentally knocked off (by a forklift or truck or repairman), there’s going to be lots and lots of water flowing through that sprinkler head until the system is shut down.

What type of fire sprinkler system do you need in your building?

Since every building is designed differently, every fire sprinkler system must be designed specially to accommodate the building’s layout and contents. For example, a furniture store has quite a bit more flammable material in it than a garden center so the sprinkler needs to be designed to target the elevated risk.  When designing a fire sprinkler system, the design engineer will follow these steps to ensure that your building is always protected:

Determine your building’s fire hazard level – every building has a fire hazard classification level:

  • Light hazard
  • Ordinary hazard group 1
  • Ordinary hazard group 2
  • Extra hazard group 1
  • Extra hazard group 2

Factors involved in determining a building’s fire hazard level include the materials used in the building construction, the building’s occupancy level, the materials stored in the building and the processes performed in the building, as well architectural things like as ceiling heights, ease of egress and the amount of floors and rooms that need protection.

Determine the fire sprinkler system “design area” – before your fire sprinkler system is installed, a fire services technician will determine the design area of your building, which is the area of your building that has the highest fire risk. The technician will then determine the amount of water it would take to put out a fire in that area and apply this level of risk to the whole building.

Determine which fire sprinkler system installation and design will meet your needs – actually selecting the correct fire sprinkler system can be very complicated, requiring a balance of factors such as initial water pressure, pipe friction, momentum, etc. If your fire sprinkler system is being designed by a professional fire services company, they will be able to do all the requisite calculations (with the help of a CAD system).

If you have any additional questions about the fire sprinkler system in your Houston, Texas building, including how often you’ll need fire sprinkler inspection or testing, call Kauffman Co today!

We provide estimates for new and replacement fire protection systems throughout Texas (TX) in:

  • Alvin
  • Angleton
  • Austin
  • Baytown
  • Beaumont
  • Bellaire
  • Clute
  • Conroe
  • Deer Park
  • Dickinson
  • Freeport
  • Friendswood
  • Galena Park
  • Galveston
  • Houston
  • Humble
  • Huntsville
  • Jacinto City
  • Katy
  • La Marque
  • La Porte
  • Lake Charles, LA
  • Lake Jackson
  • League City
  • Missouri City
  • Orange
  • Pasadena
  • Pearland
  • Port Arthur
  • Richmond
  • Rosenberg
  • San Antonio
  • Schulenburg
  • South Houston
  • Stafford
  • Sugar Land
  • Texas City
  • The Woodlands
  • Victoria
  • Waco
For more information, contact us online or call us now at (713) 893-1090.
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