Sprinkler systems not just for businesses anymore

January 21, 2010 3:18:50 PM PST
Once exclusive to businesses, sprinkler systems are becoming affordable for homeowners. Plus, the money you spend can be made up for in savings on insurance. Fire sprinklers are in most buildings, but not in many homes. Yet, they can save the lives of your family. But that's about to change. Now, some legislators across the country are mandating installation of fire sprinklers in new construction.

Let's say the drapes catch on fire in your home. A fire department demonstration shows an inferno can erupt in just seconds. But what could extinguish the fire quicker and save you and your family? A fire sprinkler system actually installed through your home.

They save lives," Fairfield fire chief Christopher Tracy said. "They put out fire, and they protect property. It's a good way to go."

"Your smoke alarm, which warns you there is a fire," said Ron Hazelton, of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. "This actually puts it out."

Hazelton travels the country, simulating house fires with a demo trailer that has a clear message - death by fire is unacceptable.

First in the demo, a fire is started.

"The temperature is now building up, like over 100 degrees," Hazelton says. "The sprinkler will be activated, there we go."

A single sprinkler head puts the fire out with minimal damage.

"A fire can easily become unsurvivable in three minutes," Hazelton said. "You will have very limited time to get your family out of a home."

So how would this sprinkler system work in a real home, with your draperies and all your furniture? Some people have fears that a sprinkler would cause more damage than good.

"There are a lot of misperceptions about fire sprinklers," Hazelton said. "They can be set off accidentally, something like a cigarette. Only the heat from a fire can actually set them off."

And how expensive? Ron says installing sprinklers in an average home runs about $5,000 to $7,000, during construction. It's about double to add to existing structures.

And most modern sprinklers don't look like the classic exposed version. They're flush with the ceiling.

The bottom line is that sprinklers can contain a fire faster than firefighter can arrive.

"The way I look at it, having sprinklers in a home is like having a firefighter on duty 24/7," Hazelton said.

One other note - Ron says having sprinklers in your home can also lower the fire portion of your homeowners insurance anywhere from 5 to 30 percent. Currently, only a handful of states and some area municipalities mandate sprinklers for new home construction. But in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, there are no laws on the books.