If you have a home fire sprinkler system installed in your house or if you will be buying a home in the foreseeable future, you should read this article.
Home fire sprinkler systems are something almost nobody thinks about but something that is becoming more and more important. I don’t know exact dates but about 20 years ago the City of Brentwood began requiring residential fire sprinkler systems be installed in all new home construction. As time went by the other cities in the area jumped on board and required them too. That means there are a lot of home fire sprinkler systems in eastern Contra Costa County. I might also add that a lot of people have no idea they have them.
We bought our home in Brentwood about 13 years ago. It has a fire sprinkler system. When we bought the house we did not think about it. We had a home inspection, of course, but that inspection did not include the fire sprinkler system. Also, when we bought the house we got no information at all on the system. It was just there.
As a licensed contractor, I know that commercial fire sprinkler systems require regular inspections and maintenance. When I would think about it I would take stabs at trying to find out about inspections, maintenance, etc. for my home system. I tried calling the contractor who installed it. There was a sticker on the system equipment in the garage. They were out of business.
I even called the Brentwood fire department and asked if they knew who could inspect the system and teach me about it. They had no clue. I called some fire sprinkler system companies, but they only worked with commercial systems. Finally, I connected with the folks at Thorpe Design, Inc. (925-634-5758). They do commercial systems but also residential as well. A great guy named Mike Faria came out to inspect our system and teach me all about it.
After the inspection and further research on my own, I have some good insights on home fire sprinkler systems to share with you.
Here are some components of a system. First is the system equipment where the valves, alarm, etc. are. Here is our system equipment in our garage (see photo on the right).
There are two different ways spray heads are installed in the ceilings. They are either uncovered or covered. Typically places like the garage have uncovered and inside the home, they are covered.
If there is a fire the heat breaks the bulb in the spray head and that head and that head only sprays water. If the head is covered, the cover will drop first and then the bulb will break and the head will spray. The cover is attached with a special solder that melts at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The bulb breaks at 155 degrees after the solder melts and the cover drops.
There are things that homeowners and any workers like contractors, painters, etc. should know to keep their systems properly functional. Here are a few important ones.
Never paint or caulk the sprinkler caps or heads. The paint will ruin the ability of the cap and bulb to work right. If you must paint, remove the cap and mask the head. Then replace the cap after painting.
If you have uncapped heads, look at them to see if you can see the colored bulb clearly. Above is an example of one that has been painted over and you cannot see the bulb. This one is in my garage and had been painted over by the previous owner. The rest of the ones in the garage are O.K. We must replace this head as it will not work right. The photo below shows a fire sprinkler head that is not painted over. You can easily see the color of the bulb.
If the heads are capped, have the caps been painted? If so, you need new ones. Are they dented at all? If so, you need new ones. Unknowledgeable people often try to force the caps into place and even hit them with a hammer.
How often to get the system inspected? There is disagreement on this. Some say every 5 years. Some say more often. You can actually do much of the inspection yourself. More info on that will follow. The alarm testing and flushing of the system might be more than you want to handle. Especially if the alarm is monitored by an alarm company.
The most important thing to remember is that the sprinkler heads are typically good for 20 years. Remember what I said about Brentwood starting to require them 20 years ago? You should be thinking seriously about replacing those heads before the 20 years are up. I know I am.
I’m running really long here so I will finish with links to more info.
Here’s a short video on how home fire sprinkler systems work:
For safety sake, make an appointment with yourself to inspect your home fire sprinkler system as soon as you can.