Pros and cons of automatic fire sprinkler systems in residential construction

A home sprinkler system has yet to be code-mandated in residential construction; however, the safety feature is picking up traction among homeowners.  We explored the pros and cons of this safety feature for you to consider in either new construction or perhaps as you remodel your existing home. 





The obvious advantage here is the safety of homeowners or anyone in the home at the time of a fire.  NFPA reports that in 2018, there were 2,360 deaths and 7,800 injuries due to house fires in single- and two-family homes.  Had automatic fire sprinklers been installed as a first line of defense, these lives lost, and injuries incurred could have been prevented.  Furthermore, the NFPA reports that the risk of death decreases by about 80% when the home is equipped with a fire sprinkler system. 1


Reduced Property Damage

$6.5 billion dollars were lost in property damage in single- and two- family homes in 2018 as a result of house fires according to the NFPA. Fire is one of the most destructive forces in nature and depending on the age and condition of your home, it can burn down in minutes.  Having an automatic sprinkler system installed can extinguish the fire and temper the damage before the fire department arrives. 


Environmental Advantages

In a world where “going green” seems to be everywhere, you can’t overlook the environmental advantages of a home sprinkler system.  The NFPA states that sprinkler systems reduce the amount of water run-off and pollution by as much as 71%.   A sprinkler system is able to stop a fire in its infancy thus resulting in less fire damage, less water used, less greenhouse gas emissions, less trash in landfills, etc. The environmental impact of being able to stop a fire as it begins is impossible to ignore.





The most cost-effective time to install a home sprinkler system is when the house is being constructed.  A Fire Protection Research Foundation Study found the average cost of home fire sprinkler system to be about $1.35 per square foot.  This is a similar amount spent on a carpet upgrade or a whirlpool bath.  Before you consider a plusher carpet option, consider the safety of your family and loved ones. Additionally, having the sprinkler system installed can result in a lower homeowner’s insurance premium. 



We’ve likely all seen a fire sprinkler before—a small metal fixture in the ceiling or upper wall.  It’s true that they can be noticeable, but it’s also true that you have likely been in a room where one or more were present and you were none the wiser.  Sprinkler systems now offer a concealed sprinkler option which would look like nothing more than a flat white plate on your ceiling or wall.  For more home fire sprinkler options, click here.



A major deterrent according to homeowners when considering installing a home sprinkler system is the supposed maintenance.  Like most house features, maintenance is a good idea, but according to NFPA it’s not as much as you may think.  Basic maintenance includes ensuring that the sprinklers are not blocked or corroded, and the control valve is never turned off. If you reside in a colder climate, sprinklers require winterizing the same as you would winterize your house water supply.  Caring for your home sprinkler system amounts to a small price to pay for an exponential safety benefit.



Water Damage

Ironically, homeowners also cite potential water damage as another discouragement for installation of home sprinklers.  NFPA dispels the myth that something as small as the smoke from burnt toast will set off a sprinkler system.  The reality is that only the high temperature of a fire will cause the sprinkler to start.  Additionally, one sprinkler being activated does not cause all sprinklers to be activated.  The fact is that on average a fire department will use up to ten times the amount of water that a home sprinkler system will use to contain a fire.   The comparison between water damage caused by a home sprinkler system in relation to the destruction caused by an unchecked fire is quite simply, a logical fallacy. 2



When considering a home fire sprinkler system, the cons may seem wane next to the undeniable advantages.  Keep in mind, while it isn’t code-mandated yet, the sobering reality is that residential sprinkler systems save lives. 



1—Evarts, Ben, “One and two family home fires,” National Fire Protection Association, 11/2019


2—“Home Fire Sprinklers,” National Fire Protection Association, 2016