Fire Sprinklers

Since January 1, 2011, the building code requires that all new homes have a fire sprinkler system installed. Prior to then most people did not need a fire sprinkler system unless their home was larger than 4000 square feet, or more than a certain distance from either a fire hydrant or a fire station. I built a home for myself in 2001 and since I was 250 feet away from the road it was determined that I needed to install sprinklers. At first I was unhappy with this requirement as it cost me around $8,000. But after I was living in the house, I took comfort in the knowledge that if a fire occurred I had a very good chance of being able to get everybody out safe and alive.
Fire sprinklers are installed by specialty companies that have engineers trained in sprinkler design. It used to be that installers had to be certified by the state as well, but now any plumber can install the system. Actually anybody who has ever worked on garden sprinklers could install them, it’s not difficult. The sprinkler heads are hidden behind a flat disk that retracts into the ceiling with minor exceptions. Sprinkler installed in the attic or any area where the pipes are not protected by sheetrock must be made of ridged metal pipes. It is a good idea to install sprinklers in the attic as many fires occur there.
Several years ago I was visited by a student of mine who told me a story about how his home in Rancho Murieta burned down and how he and his wife barely got out alive. He decided to apply an oil finish to his redwood deck off the master bedroom. When he finished applying the coating he threw the rags into a bucket on the deck. The smell was so powerful from the oil finish that he and his wife decided to sleep in the guest room at the other end of the house. Sometime during the evening they awoke with the whole house engulfed in flames. The rags had spontaneous combusted setting the freshly oiled deck ablaze. He had turned on the whole house fan to remove the smell of the oil and the whole house fan blocked the smoke and fumes from reaching the smoke detector in the hall. They escaped out the bedroom window. Modern codes require many more smoke detectors and requires them to all be tied together so this scenario could not happen today.
One other story, just a couple of years ago a client who I had built a home for in El Dorado Hills awoke in the middle of the night to the shrieking of alarms and horns. It was around 3 AM and waking from deep sleep it took him a minute to figure out what was going on. He eventually went down stairs to discover that a sprinkler head in his granddaughter’s bedroom was shooting water all over the place. He then had to remember where the shut off for the sprinklers was. So it took several minutes to get the water turned off in which time much damage was done to his home.
He said that the best thing was that his granddaughter was not staying there at that time because there is no way he would not have assumed that she had done something to cause the sprinkler to burst. She was about 16 years old at the time and teenagers do often do silly things.
Fast forward to this year. I just finished building a home in Folsom. To tell the truth I really don’t pay much attention to the sprinkler design. After the workers finished installing the sprinklers I realized that there was no flow switch or alarm bell. Turns out in Sacramento Metro Fire District, Folsom and a few other places they do not require a sprinkler alarm and flow switch. The logic is that since they know hook up the water line to a toilet and every time the toilet flushes a small amount of water moves through the sprinkler pipes keeping the water fresh. That may be a good idea, but no alarm, not so much.
This home was a two story just like the home that was damaged in El Dorado Hills and the Master bedroom was on the upper floor. If a similar occurrence happened, the owners would sleep through their lower floor getting destroyed by water damage.
It seems crazy to me that you would want to save a hundred dollars by not installing the flow switch and alarm bell and risk nobody being notified when the system was going off. The bell is on the outside of the house and is tied into the smoke detectors in the house so even if nobody was home the neighbors would be aware that something was wrong.
Just another thing that you must be aware of and make sure you check for.

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