Fire Extinguisher Vs Sprinkler System

Fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems are very good at putting out fires. However, they both work differently. To decide whether a fire extinguisher or a sprinkler system is best we need to ask ourselves:

  • What kind of fire is it?
  • How big is the fire?
  • What material is burning?
  • Where is the fire?

These determine whether a fire extinguisher or sprinkler system is best.

Fire Sprinkler System Coverage

How much area coverage does a fire sprinkler system provide?

Fire sprinkler systems are located depending on two criteria:

  • They must be located high up or on a ceiling.
  • They must be unobstructed so they can provide coverage to areas that need it. Nothing can block their spray area, such as trusses, beams, or outcroppings.

Generally, a fire sprinkler head can cover 8 – 12 feet in radius and are installed based on overall square footage. For a typical house of 3000 square feet, this means it may need 35 – 40 sprinkler heads to provide full coverage.

Underwriters Laboratory has tested fire sprinkler systems and has determined that this is most effective range to meet their standards.

Fire Extinguisher Vs Sprinkler

Are Sprinkler Systems Required In Offices?

Offices are susceptible to fire and can be crowded spaces on large floors. In these cases, fire extinguishers are not enough. They can be easily misplaced in a chaotic office and may not aid in extinguishing the fire immediately. This is why an automatic fire extinguisher system is often required by law to be installed in offices.

An automatic sprinkler system for commercial buildings can help prevent loss of life and property.

You can view the requirements for fire sprinkler systems of the following building safety organizations:

International Building Code (IBC)

IBC Chapter 9 Section [F] 903.2 – This covers the requirements for automatic sprinkler systems within new structures.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

NFPA 13 – Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

OSHA – 1910.159 – Automatic sprinkler systems.

Each year, building requirements and codes may change, so check with these when determining if fire sprinkler systems are required.

Fire Extinguisher Types

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Do Fire Sprinkler Systems Turn On Automatically?

If a fire breaks out, will a sprinkler system go on automatically? Automatic fire sprinkler systems do turn on automatically when the heat surrounding them is high enough. They have internal colored glycerine beads that break when the temperatures in the environment reaches a certain point. This starts the spray down process.

Special deluge fire sprinkler systems will turn on all at once to put out large fires that can get out of control easily. These are found in power plants, aircraft hangers, factories, and so on.

How Long Do Fire Sprinkler Systems Spray For?

How long do fire sprinkler systems run for? This is a common question asked by many people, especially when it comes to residential properties.

The amount of time fire sprinkler systems spray water for depends on which type of system it is.

In most cases, the fire sprinkler system will run continuosly without stopping, even after the fire is put out. This means it can cause a lot of water damage if not shut down after the fire danger is gone.

To shut off a fire sprinkler system, a person must know where the turn-off switch or valve is. Most fire sprinkler systems tap into the water supply from the street, so it will not run out of water. Asking the company that installed the system where all the shut off points are will solve this (prior to a fire breaking out).

Each sprinkler head will spray independently and will likely have a tool called a ‘shotgun’ which allows for turning each one off individually.

Can Fire Sprinkler Systems Put Out Grease Fires?

Fire sprinkler systems may or may not be able to put out large grease fires (kitchens, oils). Spraying water often causes grease fires to explode and spread faster.

Fire sprinkler systems specially designed to handle difficult and hard to put out chemicals and flammable materials are called Special Hazard Fire Sprinkler Systems. These can spray foam suppressant, deluge, Novec 1230, or Inergen, among others.

These are comparable to Class B fire extinguishers which are made for putting out grease fires.

Make sure to check with your sprinkler system installer to make sure it can handle a grease fire.

Does OSHA Require Fire Sprinkler Systems?

As mentioned earlier, OSHA provides guidelines for design, installation, and maintenence in the its standard 1910.159

OSHA may not require sprinkler systems in buildings that are not intended to protect people. However, where a sprinkler system is required, OSHA says it must:

  • Be designed to provide complete coverage.
  • Have anti-freezing treatment to the pipes.
  • Have an alarm to alert occupants that the sprinkler has turned on.
  • The sprinkler system needs to be maintained to operate reliably.

Fire sprinkler systems may or may not be required by OSHA depending on recent changes. Make sure to check with your city ordinances to see if they are required.

Cost of Fire Sprinkler System Vs Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are far cheaper on a one-to-one basis than a fire sprinkler system. A fire extinguisher can cost as little as $30.00, whereas a fire sprinkler system costs at least $300.00 for the control valve alone, not to mention wiring and plumbing fees. An entire sprinkler system for a 3,000 square foot home generally costs $10-20,000, and much more for an office building or warehouse.

However, considering that even small fires can escalate quickly without the aid of an automatic fire protection system, you may not have a choice — if nobody is there to put out the fire you can expect the building to burn down or you can install a sprinkler system.

Fire Sprinkler System Cost Breakdown

The size and type of sprinkler system and heads will determine how much it costs. Generally, these are as follows:

  • $1 – $2 per square foot of sprinkler coverage for new construction projects.
  • $2 – $7 per square foot of sprinkler coverage for installation on existing homes and buildings.
  • $2 – $4 per square foot of sprinkler coverage for installation on high-rise buildings.
  • $5- $10 per square foot for adding a sprinkler system to historic buildings.

Fire extinguishers range from $30 – $300+ USD each depending on the size, type, and quality. Overall fire extinguishers are cheaper, but cannot provide automatic protection to the entire premises.

In Closing

Both fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems are effective at putting out fires. However, if a fire breaks out in your building, calling the fire department and having a proper evacuation plan will be necessary to stay as safe as possible.

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