How Fire Sprinklers Work in Your Fire Protection Strategy

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Sprinkler systems are a crucial part of the fire safety infrastructure of any building; they mitigate damage, keep building occupants safe and contain a blaze before it spreads out of control. In fact, a study by the NFCC has established the performance effectiveness of sprinkler systems as 99% across all types of buildings. 

Sprinklers are present in numerous commercial buildings but many people are unaware of how they work. With this in mind, the team at ASCO Fire Group has written this article to ensure you’re aware of the importance of fire sprinkler systems.

Fire sprinkler close up

How do sprinkler systems work?

Contrary to popular belief, sprinklers are not triggered by smoke – instead, they are activated by heat. During a fire, heat rises and spreads towards the sprinkler on the ceiling – as soon as the ambient temperature reaches 60°C, the glass bulb in the sprinkler will shatter and open the water supply valve. This water supply is pressurised, meaning the surrounding area will be thoroughly soaked; this douses the flame before it has a chance to spread and cause serious damage.

A common trope beloved by Hollywood movies is that as soon as one sprinkler is triggered, the whole system activates simultaneously and the entire building becomes drenched with water. Although this may look cool in films, it isn’t representative of real life; sprinkler systems are isolated and will only ever be mobilised individually. This prevents unnecessary water damage to multiple areas of the building.

The different types of sprinkler systems

There are four main types of sprinkler systems, each suited for specific environments:

  • Wet pipe sprinklers – This is perhaps the most common sprinkler system and is extremely popular in commercial buildings due to its reliability and affordability. A constant supply of water is maintained in the pipes above the sprinkler head to ensure rapid activation.
  • Dry pipe sprinklers – In colder climates, wet pipe systems are not a possibility due to the risk of pipes freezing; this is where dry pipe sprinklers come in. This sprinkler system is instead filled with pressurised air or nitrogen, which will force the water supply valve open when subjected to extreme temperatures. 
  • Pre-action sprinklers – Similar to dry pipe systems, pre-action sprinklers have pressurised air present inside their pipes. Contrastingly, this system requires a two-step activation process; in addition to heat being detected, an independent fire detector must also be triggered in order to release the water. This provides an extra layer of security against accidental discharge and makes this system ideal for locations where water-sensitive materials are housed – archives or museums, for example.
  • Deluge sprinkler – Whereas most other sprinkler systems are individually activated, deluge systems will release water to all sprinkler heads at once. Deluge sprinklers are typically found in use in high-risk areas – such as chemical plants or aircraft hangars  – due to their effectiveness at extinguishing large fires.

How often should sprinkler systems be maintained?

All sprinkler systems must comply with BS EN 12845 standards and these guidelines state that all sprinkler systems must be inspected annually. This service should be performed by an independent third party for maximum safety and peace of mind. During the inspection, your technician will check all components of the sprinkler system, before testing the trigger response and pressure gauges. This identifies any defects quickly and ensures that they can be rectified to guarantee your safety in an emergency.

ASCO Fire Group is a leading fire safety specialist operating in Edinburgh, Glasgow, West Lothian and beyond. We have a huge range of fire sprinkler systems available to suit the needs of any commercial or domestic property. Our BAFE-accredited technicians have a wealth of experience and can handle even the most complex of sprinkler installations with ease. For more information or to discuss your needs with a member of our team, contact us today.

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