What you need to know about sprinklers

There is clear evidence that sprinklers are effective in stopping fires spreading and putting them out, reducing the amount of damage to both property and the environment and ultimately saving lives.

Sprinklers can:

  • Reduce death and injury from fire
  • Reduce the risks to fire fighters
  • Protect property and heritage
  • Reduce the effects of arson
  • Reduce the environmental impact of fire
  • Reduce fire costs and the disruption to the community and business
  • Permit design freedoms and encourage innovative, inclusive and sustainable architecture
Frequently asked questions:

Why are sprinklers so important?
There is clear evidence that sprinklers are effective in stopping fires spreading and putting them out, ultimately saving lives.

Fire and rescue services across the country advocate the use of sprinklers, and play a key role in promoting a better understanding of the benefits of sprinklers as part of a package of fire safety measures.

How do sprinklers operate?
Fire sprinklers are individually heat-activated and connected to a network of water pipes. When the heat from the fire plumes hot gases reach the sprinkler and at a specific temperature (usually about 68 deg. C) that sprinkler 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. The pipes are full of water, usually from the mains supply. The sprinklers over the fire burst open when they get hot and spray water on 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. Fire sprinklers operate automatically even if you are not at home releasing water directly over the source of the fire and 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.

What about smoke?
Smoke damage is a major cause of loss in fires. In serious cases smoke is the main cause of death. Sprinklers wash the larger particles out of smoke reducing its density and toxicity. In addition the water cools the smoke making it less harmful.

Quick response sprinklers are now available that will attack a fire even earlier in its growth. Fast attack dramatically reduces the amount of smoke that a fire can produce.

What is the life safety record for sprinklers?
Apart from explosions there have never been multiple fatalities in a fully sprinklered building in the United Kingdom.

The total number of deaths from fire, world-wide in sprinklered buildings is only 50 compared to thousands in unprotected buildings. This is a record no other fire system can match.

Can sprinklers reduce damage to the environment?
Sprinklers can increase the sustainability and life expectancy of buildings, by limiting fire development and significantly reducing the amount of smoke, CO2 and other pollutants. Sprinklers use much less water to put a fire out than fire service hoses - and lead to much less water damage.

What do sprinklers cost?
The cost will vary depending on what your building is made of, what you store in it, what you use it for and how good your water supply is.

A useful comparison is that sprinklers cost less than carpet. But unlike carpet, which wears out, your sprinkler system will protect you for the life of the building.

How sprinklers can benefit different building types:

It’s clear that sprinklers are effective in saving property and life. There are also additional benefits dependent on the building they are installed in.

Residential care homes
Older people, people with mental health problems and those with mobility issues are groups that are most at risk from fire. We consider that all residential care homes should be fitted with sprinklers. In Scotland there is already a requirement within Building Standards for all new build residential care buildings to have automatic
fire suppression systems installed and we think that there should be the same level of protection throughout Britain.

Schools
Hundreds of schools in the UK have a fire each year. The impact of these fires is significant, not just in financial terms, but also in terms of the devastating effect on the communities they serve and the disruption to students, teachers and families. The effects on children's education are not confined to lost course work but often include longer travelling times, disrupted social groups and poorer facilities. If sprinklers were considered at the design stage of building a new school or the refurbishment of existing buildings, the costs can be kept to a minimum (as low as one per cent of build costs).

Domestic premises
Fires in the home still account for the greatest number of fire deaths and injuries each year. While it would be ideal for all domestic premises to have sprinklers, it is recognised that this is not practical or realistic. We advocate the fitting of sprinklers in the homes of people most at risk from fire - younger people, older people, people with mental health problems and those who have mobility problems. We work in partnership with developers, local authorities and social housing landlords to encourage the installation of sprinklers in the homes of the most vulnerable people.

Commercial premises
There is a compelling case to be made for sprinklers in any commercial premises on the basis of loss of production or interruption to business as this is a real impediment to business continuity and productivity. It is a recognised fact that 85% of small and medium businesses that suffer a serious fire either never recover or cease trading within 18 months. The installation of sprinklers in these types of premises could prevent this. Losses due to fire would reduce and fewer businesses would be forced to relocate.

Building design

Sprinkler installation can also help in the design of a new building by allowing much more interesting use of space. New building codes work on a performance-based approach to the safety of a building, so by including sprinklers, designers can achieve greater freedom to fulfil their overall vision.

They can include features such as:

  • Larger compartment sizes
  • More open spatial designs
  • Reducing exit door widths
  • Reducing periods of fire resistance to elements of structure
  • Reducing constraints such as distances between buildings
The legal position:

Some property owners are required by law to install sprinkler systems.
These include:

  • New residential blocks over 30m high
  • Uncompartmented areas of shops or self storage buildings with an open plan area over 2000m2

To find out more about sprinklers email firesafetyadmin@manchesterfire.gov.uk.