Canada's Condominium Magazine

What every condo resident should know about automatic fire sprinklers; why they’re important; how to prevent expensive water damage

Newer high-rise condominiums are equipped with automatic sprinkler systems. But most condo owners and residents, don’t understand how this vital life-saving system works. This lack of understanding could result in inadvertently damaging a sprinkler system reducing its overall effectiveness — or in the worst case, it could cause thousands of dollars in water damage to condo and contents.

It is estimated that 80 percent of the 2500 people killed in house fires each year, would have survived if a sprinkler system had been activated.  Understanding how they work, including basic care and maintenance, will help ensure that your home is fully protected.

 

Nothing is more important for your safety than automated sprinklers. 2500 people are killed in house fires each year, but 80% would have survived if they had sprinklers. Know where your sprinklers are to avoid accidentally triggering them by impact or heat.

 

So, what do you need to know about automatic fire sprinklers?

At a bare minimum, you need to know that their role is to stop a fire in its tracks. 

“There are so many misconceptions around how automatic fire sprinkler systems work,” said Greg Patterson, president Technicraft Product Designs. “Automatic fire sprinklers are not set off from smoke and they don’t all go off at once.” 

Patterson emphasized that automatic fire sprinklers do not work the way that they are shown in the movies.  “In cases of fire, they are triggered by heat, “said Patterson. “They will only go off if they are close to the fire.  They don’t discharge simply because another sprinkler in the condominium discharged. “

Most people know that if you have fire alarms, you should be checking their batteries regularly. But do you know what to do to take care of the automatic fire sprinklers in your home? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Automatic fire sprinklers are designed to protect, but most people living with them don’t understand what to do to make sure that they are functioning properly.

 

Enough water flows out of a sprinkler to fill a bathtub in just minutes, with potential for extensive (and expensive) water damage. While this is a life-saver in a real fire, sometimes fire sprinklers are accidentally triggered. Plan ahead to manually shut them off if needed.

 

The importance of regular inspections

The best way to make sure that your automatic fire sprinkler is working properly is through regularly scheduled inspections.  Typically, fire protection companies have on hand different technicians to inspect the various fire safety systems, one for the alarms, another for the extinguishers and a third for automatic fire sprinklers. This is because each of these systems requires a different area of expertise.

Know your Rights

Upon the completion of the inspection, the technician should provide a copy of his findings to the business or building owner.  As a condo resident, you have the right to know the results of that inspection! Be your own advocate, ask for a copy, and if the inspector has identified any problems, and if so, act to make sure that the repair is done in a timely manner.

Regular inspections are a critical part of making sure that the system is functioning effectively. But it’s our day to day activities that could comprise the system or damage the head resulting in accidental discharge.

Preventing Accidental Discharge

Accidental discharge, although rare, can happen.  In the cases, where it does occur, stated Patterson, it is usually preventable.  At a bare minimum, every resident should know where each of the sprinkler heads is located and avoid any contact with them.  This is particularly important when moving any furniture as an accidental bump could damage a sprinkler head resulting in water discharge.

Although it is tempting, sprinkler heads aren’t exposed for you to hang your clothes to dry or any other item. Even if they are in the washroom or laundry area.  For best protection, the area around the sprinkler head should always remain open, including avoiding putting boxes or shelves around the sprinkler head.

When a sprinkler head is accidentally activated, water is released at pressures as high as 170 psi and up to 75 gallons per minute.  Fast shut off is critical to prevent extensive damage to homes and businesses. “Having a shut off tool on hand, like the Shutgun, will help shut off the accidentally discharged head quickly, while still protecting the home in the case of fire,” said Patterson.

 

Shutgun’s quick “shut down” tool can prevent damage to your condo and contents. Enough water flows out of a sprinkler in one minute to fill a bathtub! Not all sprinkler events are real fires.

 

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