In March of 2017 NFPA published a 54 page document that summarized a history of 485,700 fires by occupancy over a five year period (2010 – 2014). Not surprisingly residential fires accounted for 79.2% of all fires. Residential properties are typically made of combustible construction with limited, if any, automatic sprinkler protection. Some residential areas also have a limited public water supply, where the only water supply available is what can be brought to the scene of a fire by the local fire department. The NFPA study also concluded that 2,716 fatalities and 14,651 injuries occurred over that 5 year period. 97.2% or 2,640 fatalities and 90.2% or 13,217 injuries occurred as a result of fires in residential property. The study also concluded 72.7% or $87B was the result of direct damage to the residential property. The data is consistent with past results as recorded by NFPA.
A deeper breakdown of non-residential structure fires showed approximately 100,000 fires occurred with between 65 – 90 fatalities and 1,275 – 1,675 injuries each year. There was an estimated $2.6B – $2.9B of direct property damage each year as well. USA fire departments responded to an estimated 37,000 fires at industrial and manufacturing sites each year over that five year period.
Fire sprinklers save property but also save lives. Sprinkler ordinances have been adopted by several hundred towns across the USA. Sprinklers are now required in all new homes in CA, MD and the District of Columbia. The biggest hindrance to installing automatic sprinklers in a home is cost. However the cost of installing sprinklers is dropping more and more. The recent cost was on average $1.35 per sq. ft. in a new home during construction. The cost is down from the $1.61 per sq. ft. in 2008. This cost was an estimate by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition based on 51 homes in various communities throughout the USA. One of the reasons the cost has come down substantially is the allowance of plastic pipe. Also most home sprinkler systems operate off the household water main.
Home Building developers can also take advantage of installing automatic sprinklers in new developments based on “Trade-Up Options.” What are “Trade-Up Options”? They allow the developer to install more homes in a parcel of land because of several code allowances when sprinklers are installed. Some include:
- Street width reduction
- Longer dead end streets
- T turn arounds which can add an additional lot on a cul-de-sac
- Increased hydrant spacing
- Reduced water supply mains
- Water supply reduction
All of these items listed above provide financial advantages for a developer to install automatic sprinkler protection in homes. In fact some studies have concluded that a building developer actually saves money and increases profit by adding sprinklers within a home. It is estimated that 20% more homes can be built in a development where the homes are protected with automatic sprinkler protection.
Some communities across the country are offering incentives for homes protected with automatic sprinkler protection. In fact, New Jersey has a law that eliminates the standby fees for stand alone fire service water lines of 2 inches or less.
NFPA stated that a home protected with automatic sprinkler protection had an average fire loss of $2,166; while a home without sprinklers had an average loss of $45,019.
The homeowner also sees a reduction in their residential property insurance premium.
Can it all be about cost?
NFPA stated in their October 2016 monthly NFPA Journal publication in an article called Home Fire Sprinklers that it would take 6 minutes for a fire to collapse a “lightweight floor assembly” and 19 minutes for “legacy building materials”.
What if your town is on well water? What if you have a volunteer fire department in town? Imagine the time it would take for the volunteers to leave their home, drive to the local fire department, gear up, get on the fire truck and bring the water supply to your house. Just thinking about all the variables it would seem likely that it would take well over 19 minutes before fire hose streams can be flowing on a residential home. Our advice would be to have all occupants leave a burning home immediately.
Risk Logic is an independent fire protection engineering company. We provide technical expertise on fire protection engineering issues. Please contact us if you have any fire protection consulting needs.