Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham established the High Rise Taskforce, to provide fire safety reassurance, building by building, across the city-region.
As part of Greater Manchester’s commitment to ensuring the safety of residents in high rise buildings and our ambition to develop a world-class approach to fire safety, a number of social housing providers and local authorities are exploring the retrofitting of sprinkler systems within their blocks.
The information on these pages will help inform the public, dispel myths and answer any questions residents might have about sprinklers and how they operate.
Why are sprinklers so important and why do we need them?
There is clear evidence that sprinklers are effective in stopping fires spreading and putting them out, ultimately saving lives.
Research shows that sprinkler systems are highly reliable and operate on 94% of occasions. When sprinklers do operate they extinguish or contain the fire on 99% of occasions. When used in both converted and purpose built flats, sprinklers are 100% effective in controlling fires.*
(*statistics provided by the National Fire Chief’s Council)
Fire and rescue services across the country advocate the use of sprinklers, as part of a package of fire safety measures, and are working to promote a better understanding of the benefits of sprinklers.
How do sprinklers operate?
A sprinkler system has individually heat-activated heads which are connected to a network of water pipes. When the heat from the fire through hot gases reach the sprinkler head at a specific temperature (usually about 68 deg. C) that sprinkler head activates delivering water directly to the source of the heat.
How can we be sure sprinklers will work in a fire?
Most sprinkler systems are very simple. There are normally no moving parts to fail and the pipes are to a higher standard than domestic plumbing pipes. The pipes are charged with water, usually from the mains supply. The sprinkler head closest to the fire will activate and release water to supress the fire. If you have water in your pipes the sprinklers will work.
Why are sprinklers so effective?
A fire starts small. If detected and tackled early enough a fire can be controlled with very little water. Sprinklers operate automatically, even if you are asleep or not at home, releasing water directly over the source of the fire and, dependent on the type of system installed, sounding the alarm.
How reliable are sprinklers?
Evidence shows that sprinkler systems are highly reliable and operate on 94% of occasions. When sprinklers do operate they extinguish or contain the fire on 99% of occasions*.
(*statistics provided by the National Fire Chief’s Council)
What if they go off accidentally?
The chances of this happening due to a manufacturing defect are incredibly rare and unlike some fire alarms they don't give a false alarm as they need heat from a fire to activate them.
I’ve seen how sprinklers work on the television – I don’t want my home to be flooded?
This only happens on TV! Each sprinkler head must be activated by heat so only the head affected by fire will activate - this is usually enough to stop a fire developing and spreading and will sometimes extinguish the fire completely.
The amount of water released by sprinklers is a lot less than firefighters tackling a fire using hoses. This means that there is less likelihood of water damage from a sprinkler system compared to the fire service trying to put out a fire that has spread throughout the room or flat.
What about smoke?
Smoke is a serious issue if you have a fire in your home. Not only can it cause serious injury and in some cases death as people escape from their homes, it also seriously damages belongings. A fire which is allowed to develop will normally cause smoke damage to all rooms – this can mean that all furniture and clothing is affected and often destroyed.
Sprinklers keep people safe by washing the larger particles out of smoke reducing its density and toxicity, giving people longer to escape without being affected by smoke. In addition the water cools the smoke making it less harmful.
We already have smoke alarms. Isn’t that enough to prevent a fire?
The best way to keep safe is by reducing the risk of fire in your home but we know that fires cannot be prevented completely.
Smoke detectors save lives by alerting people to a fire so they can leave their home. However, they don’t stop fires developing or spreading. That’s why GMFRS and other fire and rescue services believe sprinklers can play an important part in keeping residents safe as part of a package of fire safety measures.
Don’t sprinklers look unsightly and ugly?
Modern sprinklers are compact and in many buildings may not even be noticeable.
Miniature sprinklers are little bigger than a 50p piece and are neat. They can be fitted with ceiling rosettes and painted to match any colour scheme.
Concealed sprinklers are recessed and covered by a flat plate flush with the ceiling. They are unobtrusive and almost invisible.
I don’t want the disruption – can you force me to have them installed in my flat?
It only takes a few hours to install sprinklers in each flat and the aim is to minimise disruption where possible. The installation process is relatively simple, requiring low levels of any on-site building work.
Will I have to change my home insurance if sprinklers are fitted?
We are not aware of any increases to home insurance premiums as a result of residential sprinklers being installed.
Sprinklers have been compulsory in all new residential buildings in Wales since 2016 and are required in all new high rise buildings over 30m.
Many new high rise buildings across the country therefore have sprinkler systems and we are not aware of problems obtaining insurance – you may find that your insurance goes down.
The chances of a sprinkler activating accidentally is very rare – 16 million to one - and evidence shows that sprinklers are effective in suppressing fires, causing less damage to property than a fire or water from a firefighter’s hose.
Why are sprinklers not being fitted in stairwells and landings?
Sprinklers are being installed in individual flats because this is where fires are more likely to start and so will be most effective. They will contain any fire within the flat preventing it from reaching the communal areas.
Communal areas, including stairwells and landings, should already be clear of any items that can cause a fire or burn. Residents can help prevent fires by making sure they don’t store items on landings or stairwells, they keep the areas free of rubbish, and not propping open doors.
What if I smoke in my flat or burn food in the oven/grill – will this set off the sprinklers?
It’s not possible to activate a sprinkler accidentally by smoking or overcooking food as the heat would not be high enough to reach and/or activate the sprinkler head.