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Benefits of Residential Sprinkler Systems

The NIH Fire Marshal has long recognized the value of fire sprinkler systems to protect lives and research at the NIH. Over the course of the last several decades, residential fire sprinkler systems have also become commonplace in homes. Montgomery County and Prince Georges County in Maryland were two of the first jurisdictions in the country to require residential sprinklers in low-rise apartments, townhouses, and single-family residences.

According to the Maryland State Fire Marshal, 51 Marylanders died due to fire in 2020 and 65 in 2019. Out of last year's 51 total fire deaths, 33 occurred in residential properties, a significant decrease compared to 2019. Where residential sprinklers activated, there were no deaths or injuries. The life safety value of residential sprinkler systems is amplified in situations where one or more occupants have a condition that may delay their evacuation.

Although intended for life safety, residential sprinkler systems also greatly reduce property loss when fires occur in rooms protected by sprinklers. Families can usually return quickly, with much of their house and furnishings preserved.

The following videos illustrate the value of residential sprinkler systems. Anyone unable to view the videos may contact the NIH Fire Marshal at the number below for a verbal explanation.

This video shows a living room fire with fire sprinklers installed and without: https://youtu.be/EehF0UHYaYk.

This video explains how fire sprinklers can save lives and protect property: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRpGTMRGKd8&list=PL69D1444B992E92E8&index=12.

Many homes were built prior to the residential sprinkler system requirements. Technology has improved and prices have been reduced to the point where retrofitting an existing home can be accomplished reasonably. In addition to the life safety advantages, economic incentives include:

  • Insurance savings: many insurance companies reduce premiums for residential sprinkler systems that are approved by the local jurisdiction.
  • Tax incentives: for example, Montgomery County provides a 50 percent property tax credit for residential sprinkler system installations. For more information please see: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/finance/taxes/tax_credit_exempt.html#p15.

There are several myths about sprinkler systems that are misleading. Here are the facts:

  • Smoke does not activate sprinkler systems. They are activated by heat.
  • Sprinklers do not open all at once. Each sprinkler is individually activated.
  • Sprinkler leaks are rare. The systems are pressure tested prior to approval to ensure piping integrity.
  • Sprinklers emit far less water than firefighters would apply, since the fire is much smaller.

The sprinkler system installer should provide the homeowner with instructions on inspecting and maintaining the system. Here are some important tips to follow:

  • Keep the sprinkler control valve fully open.
  • Do not block sprinklers with tall furniture, shelving, or large equipment.
  • Do not paint sprinklers or their cover plates.
  • Do not hang anything from sprinklers.
  • Take care not to bump sprinklers when moving furniture or other objects.
  • Consider installing cages (head guards) to protect sprinklers in areas such as unfinished basements or recreation rooms.
  • Before you do any renovations or install built-in furniture, check with your local fire marshal to see if sprinkler modifications would be required. In many cases, careful planning will keep you from having to add or relocate sprinklers.

If you have any questions regarding sprinkler systems, please contact the NIH Fire Marshal at 301-496-0487 or use their hazard reporting tool for situations on campus: https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/ser/dfm/Pages/Community-Complaint-Report.aspx. You may remain anonymous when reporting a hazard, but it always helps to have a contact so we can obtain information as needed.



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