Want a better way to protect your home and family against fire? Install a fire sprinkler.
Experts say in-home fire sprinklers reduce the chance of dying in a fire by 80 percent. Some say a sprinkler is the most effective piece of fire safety equipment you can install.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA, the presence of fire sprinklers reduces the likelihood of a fire fatality by 80 percent and property damage by 71 percent. Hundreds of municipalities nationwide, as well as two states — California and Maryland — mandate sprinklers in all new residential construction.
Daphene Koch, associate professor of building construction management at Purdue University, predicts a national mandate. “Residential sprinklers are going to become required by code in our lifetime,” she says. “In the last three years, as the economy is getting better, people are getting more willing to add sprinklers.”
Fire fatalities increased in Indiana in 2013 – 65 over 46 the year before, according to the state fire marshal’s office. Capt. Aleatha Henderson, director of public education with the Indianapolis Fire Department, says they strongly recommend sprinklers to increase homeowners’ chances of survival in case of a fire. “The best practice for home fire safety is to combine a smoke detector, an escape plan and a residential fire sprinkler,” she says.
Sprinkler installers say the equipment buys additional time to escape and often extinguishes a fire before it spreads. “Once a fire starts in a home, in three to five minutes you might see flashover, the point at which everything in the room is consumed by the fire,” Riffey says. “And the optimal response time for a fire department is three minutes. But a sprinkler usually activates between one minute and 1 1/2 minutes after a fire starts, cooling it down. It preserves lives and property.”
Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association, says some misperceptions make homeowners reluctant to install sprinklers. “Perceived cost is the biggest obstacle, but installing sprinklers in a new home can be very reasonable,” she says.
Can I Hire a Handyperson for Fire Sprinkler Installation?
The same logic applies here as tackling the job yourself. You certainly can hire a handyperson to install fire sprinklers, especially if you can find someone in your area that's up to snuff on local ordinances and fire codes. However, it’s better to hire someone with experience, even if it costs a little more on the front end.
After installation, though, you may be able to hire a handyman to test valves, water pressure, and flush the pipes every six to twelve months to save money while keeping your building safe.
Fire sprinkler installation tips
If you’re considering adding sprinklers in your homes, experts say to make sure your installer submits inspection and approval plans to the local fire marshal or other applicable authority in your area. “There are a lot of calculations about water and spacing to be done, so you want to hire someone who’s familiar with the process,” Riffey says.
If your already have a system, experts recommend hiring a professional to do annual maintenance, which includes checking sprinklers to make sure they’re not blocked, opening the drain valve to ensure unimpeded water flow, and having a licensed plumber inspect the system’s backflow prevention device.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that was originally published December 18, 2013.