5 fire sprinkler myths
Think you know all you need to know about fire sprinklers? Maybe not, says the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), which points out several misconceptions surrounding these property safeguards.
Being more sprinkler-savvy might be smart, especially when considering homeowners insurance. Besides protecting a residence, installing fire sprinklers could snag a policy discount. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) -- which surveyed various insurers including State Farm, Allstate, Farmers, Travelers and Nationwide, among others -- says that many homeowners can trim as much as 10 percent from their premiums. The average discount is about 7 percent, according to the NFPA.
The IBHS, an active supporter of local and state legislation requiring fire sprinklers be installed in new homes, spells out the five most common sprinkler myths:
1. One goes off, they all go off
Not so. The IBHS explains that sprinkler heads react to temperatures in each room individually. That means only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate. "In fact, 90 percent of fires are contained by the operation of just one sprinkler," the IBHS says in a statement.
2. Sprinklers go off by themselves, ruining homes
Major accidents can happen, but the IBHS notes that "records show that the likelihood of this occurring is very remote." The association adds that fire sprinklers are rigorously tested and designed to prevent such accidents.
3. Sprinklers damage more than the actual fire
An uncontrolled fire will cause more damage than the water used to extinguish it, says the IBHS. "The sprinkler system will limit a fire's growth," the association says. "Therefore, the damage from a residential sprinkler system will be much less severe than the smoke and fire damage if the fire had continued unabated."
4. The systems are too expensive for most homeowners
Not cheap, but not exorbitant either, according to the IBHS, which says a sprinkler system costs about the same as new carpeting, a paver stone driveway or a whirlpool bath -- "none of which save lives." Quoting the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the association says that amounts to about $1.61 per square foot in construction costs to install a sprinkler array.
5. Mandatory sprinklers will slow the building of new homes
The IBHS says the NFPA looked at the issue in 2009 by comparing residential construction in four counties in Maryland and Virginia. Two of the counties required sprinklers be installed, the other two did not. "The study concluded that the presence of sprinkler mandates did not have a negative effect on the number of homes being built," according to the association.
The IBHS underscores the value of fire sprinklers by pointing out that the U.S. Fire Administration says a residential fire breaks out every 87 seconds in America. The sprinklers, the IBHS notes in its statement, "reduce civilian fire deaths by an estimated 83 percent, reduce direct property damage by more than two-thirds per fire, and are responsible for an estimated 65 percent reduction in firefighter injuries."
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's. Follow him on Twitter @destoups.