Restoration Guide: Fire Protection and Systems

Jeffrey Anderson

Editor's Note: This is article 16 of 16 in Chapter 8: The HVAC/Plumbing Guide of Old House Web's Home Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab guide.


Everyone knows that in the event of a house fire, smoke detectors can save lives by acting as an early warning system. However, the technology is available to save not only lives, but also property, and it has been used in commercial buildings for years. A home restoration can be the perfect opportunity to add a residential fire protection sprinkler system to your old house.

This article takes a look at residential fire protection systems and covers the options for installing a sprinkler system during your home renovation.

Section 1--Fire Protection Systems and Old House Restorations

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that in 2008 there were 386,500 reports of home fires, and in those fires 2,755 people died, and 8.2 billion dollars of damage was caused. Perhaps some of those people died because they did not have working smoke detectors, or maybe by the time they heard the smoke detector it was too late. Without a doubt smoke detectors saved some people during those 386,500 fires, but smoke detectors can't save property. Fire departments respond when they receive a report of a fire, but they can't help until they are alerted, and by the time they arrive it may be too late to save an old house constructed with old, dry wood.

A lot of those 8.2 billion dollars of damage could have been prevented, and possibly some of those 2,755 lives saved, if those homes had a version of the same fire protection systems that many commercial buildings are required to install and maintain. The perfect time to add a fire protection system to your old house is while remodeling. If you are upgrading or replacing your plumbing system, it may just be a matter of adding a few more plumbing pipes. Insurance might pay for the cost of rebuilding your old house if it is damaged by fire, but after all of your efforts in restoring it, do you really want to have to rebuild the house?

The NFPA recommends a sprinkler head in just about every room except for attics, closets, bathrooms, and garages, but the more coverage you have the better chance of saving the old house. They recommend a water flow from the sprinklers to allow a ten-minute escape time from the home.

Section 2--Fire Protection System Options

There are different materials which can be used for the piping, and the system must be protected from freezing. Fire protection systems can even be tied into the plumbing system of the house, but care must be taken that water doesn't sit in sprinkler lines and get back into the home's drinking water, as stagnant water can become contaminated.

There are a variety of sprinkler heads available for home fire protection systems. A coverage per head of 144 square feet to 400 square feet is possible with adequate system pressure, and heads may be mounted on the wall or ceiling. It is even possible to have your sprinkler heads concealed so the decor of your room is not compromised. All sprinkler heads should be approved for use in home fire protection systems.

Home fire protection systems should be designed by a fire protection professional, and the easiest and least expensive time to install them is during a home restoration when an installer can get behind the sheetrock. You may even qualify for a reduction in your homeowner's insurance by installing a fire protection system. Following are some suggestions of systems you might install in your home while remodeling.

2.1: Add a Stand-Alone Residential Sprinkler System

A stand alone system is separate from the home's water distribution system, and a water flow alarm can be tied into the local fire station. Because it is a separate system, it can be more expensive to install.

2.2: Add a Multipurpose Residential Sprinkler System

A multipurpose residential sprinkler system is tied into the water distribution system of the home. While NFPA approves of such a system, many local plumbing codes do not. Make sure you check with your local inspector before installing a system like this. You cannot connect a fire alarm to this system.

2.3: Use Copper Piping for Home Fire Protection Systems

Copper has been in use for plumbing and sprinkler systems for many years, and is approved for use in most jurisdictions. It is a little more costly than other materials used for piping and can be prone to condensation.

2.4: Use CPVC Piping for Home Fire Protection Systems

Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) has been used in homes since the late 1950s, and a special CPVC was developed for sprinkler systems in 1986. CPVC usually must be installed behind a thermal barrier, but it is less costly and easier to install than copper.




About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I. and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time.

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