Over the past several years, sprinkler systems have been a hot topic in the residential real estate scene. While many local jurisdictions already require sprinklers to be installed in multifamily structures, the same is not necessarily true single-family homes and townhomes. To date, California and Maryland are the only two states to enact statewide legislation requiring the installation of sprinklers in newly constructed one- and two-family residences.

This doesn’t mean that regulations are absent entirely. Many local communities adopt their own policies regarding residential sprinkler systems. Some states have been halted by legislative action, but it’s always a good idea to know where your local city hall stands on the issue.

As always, change is accompanied by questions. Many homebuyers may be curious about how effective the system truly is relative to its cost. Here are some trends, facts and figures about fires in the home and the move toward sprinkler requirements:

Fire sprinklers are deployed selectively.

Much like commercial systems, residential sprinklers are engineered to respond one at a time, as needed. They are triggered by heat and designed to operate independently, decreasing the risk of widespread water damage to the home. Residential sprinkler systems are designed to react very quickly to a real fire, suppressing the fire and giving all of the occupants of the home the time necessary to escape the home, and the effects of the fire, safely.

Fire sprinklers are not activated by everyday events.

We’ve all been there – standing precariously on a chair waving a magazine at the smoke detector after a stir fry goes tragically wrong. But, these types of events, along with smoking and candles, are extremely unlikely to activate a sprinkler system. Sprinklers are designed to activate at specific temperatures selected based on the hazard, and environment in which they are placed. The heat required to shatter the frangible bulb, or to fuse the soldered components which keep the sprinkler orifice plugged, is simply not present unless there is a threatening fire growing out of control.

 Fire sprinklers save lives.

According to the Fire Sprinkler Initiative, the most effective fire safety measure is a combination of smoke detectors and a sprinkler system. The data backs it up; those with the former decrease their risk of a fire fatality by one-third. Those with both decrease their risk of a fire-related death by more than 80%. (Source: Fire Sprinkler Initiative)

Fire sprinklers rarely malfunction.

Reports of home sprinkler systems discharging accidentally are few and far between. Statistically, basic plumbing is far more likely than a sprinkler to cause water damage in a home.

Fire sprinklers aren’t the bane of interior design.

The mention of sprinkler systems often conjures images of creaky metal dials and intrusive piping. But that simply isn’t the case anymore. The industry has taken strides to integrate sprinklers into any interior aesthetic, whether by camouflaging, recessing them, or concealing them altogether.

In most states, the question of one- and two-family residential sprinkler systems is still that – a question. Even though they are not uniformly required, there is a growing sentiment that they definitely have value in modern construction and fire engineering. In the next post, we’ll discuss the controversy surrounding this issue and present the main arguments of both sides.