A sprinkler system consists of pipes along a ceiling that contain water under pressure, with an additional source of water for a constant flow. Attached to the pipes, automatic sprinklers are placed at select locations. When a fire occurs, a seal in the sprinkler head ruptures at a pre-established temperature, and a steady stream of water flows.
Research compiled by Hall (2011) shows that sprinklers are an effective and reliable fire suppression strategy for buildings. However, he writes that sprinklers are still rare in most places where people are most exposed to fire, including educational buildings, stores and offices, public assembly properties, and especially homes, where most fire deaths occur. Hall notes that sprinklers are 87 percent effective. When a sprinkler system fails, the most frequent reason (65%) is that the system was turned off prior to the fire. Other reasons include manual intervention that defeated the system (16%), maintenance issues (7%), and inappropriate system for the type of fire (5%).
A sprinkler system is a worthwhile investment for reducing fire losses. Lower insurance premiums actually can pay for the system over time. NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, provides best practices for system design, installation, water supplies, and equipment. Also helpful as a “standard of care” and for protection in case of litigation is adhering to NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. Failing to update inspection documentation with an insurer can affect coverage (Morton, 2011: 30). The AHJ may also be interested in such documentation.