Are Home Fire Sprinkler Systems Worth It?

Fire sprinkler systems for new construction homes are becoming a mainstay of American homes. A full 74% of prospective homebuyers stated that they would be more inclined to purchase a home with fire sprinkler systems than one without the protection offered by this life and property saving safety feature. In some areas, they are being required as part of the International Building Code. But how do you know if the costs and benefits add up to be worth it when designing your home? We analyze that question below:

Fire Damage Risks and Costs in the US

Between 2015-2019, fire departments across the US responded to more than 377,399 annual residential fires, which resulted in 2,761 annual civilian deaths, 11,582 annual injuries to civilians, and over $7.7 billion in annual property damages, according to data released by the National Fire Protection Association. 74% of all fire deaths were caused by home fires, of which 64% occurred in single-family homes- which tend to have less sprinkler coverage when compared to highly-regulated multifamily properties.

On the bright side, properly working residential fire sprinklers will control fires 96% of the time. Overall this means that residents are 81% less likely to die in a home fire, and 70% less likely to experience major property damage as long as there is a system installed in their home.

What types of fire sprinkler systems are available for new construction homes?

A stand-alone system uses plastic (CPVC), steel piping or copper piping, in combination with strategically located sprinkler heads in order effectively mitigate fire damage. It is called a “stand-alone” system because it's a separate system from your domestic (potable) water system and is kept separated with a backflow preventer.

If your home uses well water, it will also need a pump and storage tank to ensure that the sprinkler system can supply enough water to get the job done. Sizes for stand-alone water tanks vary based on local building codes and the size and scope of a given sprinkler system, but tend to be sized to supply about 10 minutes of water. It is also not uncommon for larger, custom tanks to be installed in larger new custom and luxury home construction.

If you’re considering the use of a stand-alone system, keep in mind that the water contained in such a system does not circulate, thus exposing the water to stagnation. The chances of this are reduced with the use of certain types of tubing, like specially-designed plastic tubing that reduces or eliminates the possibility of corrosion or sediment deposition.

Residential Fire Sprinkler System Installation
Residential Fire Sprinkler System Installation

New Construction Fire Sprinkler System Costs

The cheapest and easiest way to install a fire sprinkler system is during the home’s initial construction. You, or your general contractor, will need to hire a specialized installer for the system since most plumbers don't do this kind of work.

The total cost to purchase and install an indoor sprinkler system is determined by several different factors. The average cost per square foot to install a sprinkler system ranges between $1.25 and $3.00. Your costs will be determined by several factors, including labor and materials costs in your market and local regulations which may affect the type and scale of the system you need to install.

Home Insurance Savings From Installation of a New Construction Fire Sprinkler System

Aside from a potential increase in the value of your home, you will also likely realize significant savings on your home insurance bill. The NFPA reports that a recent poll of casualty and property insurers found that homeowners can benefit from an average of a 7% savings on home insurance premiums with the installation of a home fire sprinkler system. That's about a $200 annual savings on a typical $500,000 home policy.

Required Home Sprinkler System Maintenance

Residential fire protection systems require very little maintenance but there are a few things that need to be regularly maintained and tested to ensure they’ll work when the need arises. There are several steps homeowners should take (or have a local fire sprinkler company handle) to ensure their system is running in tip-top shape, including:

Visual Inspection: (As Needed) Inspect exposed piping, valves, and sprinkler heads. You want to ensure that there is nothing blocking the water from getting where it needs to go.
Flow Test: (Annual) Opening system test valves to ensure that the water is flowing and that integrated alarm systems work.
 
Flush: (Annual) The stagnant water can breed bacteria and accumulate sediment (depending on the type of pipe). If it ever does go off, it's better to have cleaner water coming out.

Putting it all Together:

Listen, we've all got much sexier things to spend time and money on when it comes to new construction. It can be really hard to grasp the value in a fire sprinkler system and whether or not it is worth the cost. The answer is that it depends. One of the best studies that attempted to quantify the cost/benefit of home sprinkler installations found that the benefit only really exceeds the cost when installations are done at scale in multi-family developments. But the huge caveat here is that they placed a value on lives, and injuries. You may value your life more than they did and come to appreciate the sense of security that a fire sprinkler system allows and resultantly sleep better at night knowing that you and your family are safer. Our recommendation is to get a quote on the install and then make a decision from there.

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