Sprinkler Systems: Myths & Misconceptions

They have been around for more than 140 years and operate on a tried and tested principle – being set off by heat. Notwithstanding that, sprinklers have been refined and improved over the decades utilising new materials and scientific design to produce droplets that most effectively extinguish the fire. Despite this, there remains a lack of understanding and some surprising misconceptions which tragically prevent them from being installed. The Business Sprinkler Alliance dispels and debunks the myths, and demonstrates why automatic fire sprinklers can stop a fire in its tracks, providing round-the-clock, cost-effective protection for buildings.

Myth #1: A fire detection system provides enough protection.
Fire detection systems save lives by providing a warning of fire, but can do nothing to control or extinguish a growing fire.

Myth #2: Water damage from a fire sprinkler system will be more extensive than fire damage.
Water damage from a fire sprinkler system will be far less severe than the damage caused by water from firefighters’ hoses. Modern sprinklers operate very quickly to release 45 – 200 litres of water per minute, compared to 700 – 4000 litres per minute discharged by fire service hoses and jets.

Myth #3: When one sprinkler goes off, won’t they all go off?
All sprinklers going off at once might well have been perpetuated by Hollywood for comic and dramatic effect but only the sprinkler heads in the immediate vicinity of a fire will operate because each sprinkler head is individually activated by heat. Research carried out over 20 years shows that 80% of fires are controlled or extinguished by the operation of fewer than six sprinkler heads.

Myth #4: Fire sprinklers are expensive to maintain.
Sprinkler systems must be inspected, tested, and maintained to ensure a high degree of reliability. However, sprinkler systems only need two maintenance visits a year by a contractor. This costs around £500 a year for larger systems. Small systems require only an annual visit and this will cost between £75 and £100.

Any misconception surrounding the costs of sprinkler systems can be dispelled by looking at the true costs of a building over the lifespan of that building. The low whole-life costs of a fire sprinkler system make investment attractive. Fire sprinkler systems will last the lifetime of a building without major replacement or refurbishment. The industry claims a service life of around 40 years, but it is well known that there are many sprinkler systems from the 1930s which are still operational.

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are critical to physical resilience and business continuity. When a fire starts in a building fitted with a fully functioning sprinkler system it has a high probability of being contained from the outset, controlling or extinguishing the fire in advance of fire and rescue services’ arrival. In the vast majority of cases the impacted business is fully functioning within hours. They save lives, reduce the threat to firefighters, reduce the burden on the fire service, save businesses, save jobs and protect the environment.