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Residential fire sprinklers – what’s to know?

Residential fire sprinkler systems are designed to tackle house fires in their early stages. The system is designed to control, if not extinguish, the fire before serious fire damage is sustained. Sprinkler heads operate at high temperature, so only the head(s) close to the fire will discharge water.


The first British Standard for residential fire sprinklers was published in 2005, the latest version is BS 9251:2014 Sprinkler Systems for Residential and Domestic Occupancies - Code of Practice. The Standard gives recommendations for the design, installation, components, water supplies and backflow protection, commissioning, maintenance and testing of fire sprinkler systems in domestic and residential occupancies.

Copper tube to EN 1057 is the ideal material to use for the pipework. Compared to the other pipework materials, copper has a smaller outside diameter and low friction losses. It requires relatively few supports, being light and easy to handle and joint, especially in confined spaces. Its excellent reliability and durability ensures that copper systems have a long trouble-free service life.

A wet pipe installation must be used, so the system is constantly charged with water, preferably direct from the mains. Sprinkler system pipework must be sized such that it will deliver a specified flow rate through the sprinkler heads.

Manufacturers of sprinkler heads produce many different designs, with different flow characteristics. Concealed sprinkler heads are ideal for residential properties as they have a minimal visual impact on the room. Each sprinkler head design is tested in a laboratory to determine the flow and spray coverage characteristics. This information is then used by the sprinkler system designer to select an appropriate head design for the water pressure available and the area to be protected.

Sprinkler protection is recommended throughout the habitable parts of each property. Statistics show that the vast majority of dwelling fires are confined to the room of origin, thus only one or two sprinkler heads would operate in a fire scenario.

Fire organisations have been promoting residential fire sprinkler systems for many years. The Residential Sprinkler Association played a role in the provision of 212 sprinkler systems at a housing development at Studley Green, Trowbridge back in 1999.

Studley Green sprinkler project

When the Studley Green housing estate became due for refurbishment decisions had to be made regarding the provision of fire safety measures for the tenants. Wiltshire Fire Brigade suggested residential sprinklers might be an answer to the problems of property loss, and possible deaths and injuries, due to fires.

The sprinkler protection installed in 212 properties at Studley Green, Wiltshire was the first large-scale installation of residential sprinklers in a social housing project in Europe. The sprinkler protected homes formed one part of a £10million project to redevelop the pre-cast reinforced concrete former Council properties on the Studley Green estate.

The sprinklers were specified, designed and installed by the purposely formed West Wiltshire Residential Sprinkler Partnership whose aim was to provide fire sprinkler protection in 212 new homes on the estate near Trowbridge. The Partnership included the Residential Sprinkler Association, Alfred McAlpine Partnership Housing Limited and local Council, Housing Society, Fire Authority and Tenants Associations.

Installation of the systems was undertaken by Actspeed Limited and Nimbus Fire Systems Limited who began work on the first of the properties in February 1999. The homes range in size from bungalows to six bedroom houses. A number of retrofit systems were required for the first phase of the project, which used copper tube and fittings for the sprinkler system pipework.

In the years since the project was commenced there have been 3 successful activations of sprinkler systems due to fires. No deaths or serious injuries resulted from these fires and no occupants had to be relocated from their accommodation as a result of those fires.

How effective can sprinklers be?

The sprinkler system is designed to control the fire, and in many instances will extinguish the fire. A demonstration in an old property scheduled for demolition clearly shows the advantages of sprinklers.

Fire damage in the sprinklered room, as can be seen above, was restricted to a small area of the sofa whilst the unprotected room, seen below, was completely burnt out. It is also worth bearing in mind that the water used by the sprinklers in controlling and extinguishing the fire was considerably less than the water used by the Brigade in fighting the fire in the unprotected room.

The sprinkler heads need not be unsightly, the cover plate for the sprinkler head can be seen on the ceiling.

Sprinkler protected room

For more information:

The Residential Sprinkler Association

Sprinkler section on come home to copper