A fire sprinkler system is an active fire protection method, consisting of a water supply system, providing adequate pressure and flowrate to a water distribution piping system, onto which fire sprinklers are connected. Although historically only used in factories and large commercial buildings, systems for homes and small buildings are now available at a cost-effective price. Fire sprinkler systems are extensively used worldwide, with over 40 million sprinkler heads fitted each year. In buildings completely protected by fire sprinkler systems, over 96% of fires were controlled by fire sprinklers alone.
Types of Fire Sprinklers:
Wet pipe systems
By a wide margin, wet pipe sprinkler systems are installed more often than all other types of fire sprinkler systems. They also are the most reliable, because they are simple, with the only operating components being the automatic sprinklers and (commonly, but not always) the automatic alarm check valve. An automatic water supply provides water under pressure to the system piping.
Wet pipe antifreeze
Wet systems may be charged with an antifreeze chemical, for use where pipes can’t reliably be kept above 40 °F (4 °C).
While such systems were once common in cold areas, after several fires caused by systems running too high a percentage of antifreeze, the regulatory authority in the United States effectively banned new antifreeze installations. A sunset date of 2022 applies to older antifreeze systems in the USA. This regulatory action has greatly increased costs and reduced options for cold weather sprinkler systems.
Dry pipe systems
Garage sprinkler system in New York City
Dry pipe systems are the second most common sprinkler system type. Dry pipe systems are installed in spaces in which the ambient temperature may be cold enough to freeze the water in a wet pipe system, rendering the system inoperable. Dry pipe systems are most often used in unheated buildings, in parking garages, in outside canopies attached to heated buildings (in which a wet pipe system would be provided), or in refrigerated coolers. In regions using NFPA regulations, wet pipe systems cannot be installed unless the range of ambient temperatures remains above 40 °F (4 °C).
Water is not present in the piping until the system operates; instead, the piping is filled with air at a pressure below the water supply pressure. To prevent the larger water supply pressure from prematurely forcing water into the piping, the design of the dry pipe valve (a specialized type of check valve) results in a greater force on top of the check valve clapper by the use of a larger valve clapper area exposed to the piping air pressure, as compared to the higher water pressure but smaller clapper surface area.
“Deluge” systems are systems in which all sprinklers connected to the water piping system are open, in that the heat sensing operating element is removed, or specifically designed as such. These systems are used for special hazards where rapid fire spread is a concern, as they provide a simultaneous application of water over the entire hazard. They are sometimes installed in personnel egress paths or building openings to slow travel of fire (e.g. openings in a fire-rated wall).
Water is not present in the piping until the system operates. Because the sprinkler orifices are open, the piping is at atmospheric pressure. To prevent the water supply pressure from forcing water into the piping, a “deluge valve” is used in the water supply connection, which is a mechanically latched valve. It is a non-resetting valve, and stays open once tripped.
Pre-action sprinkler systems are specialized for use in locations where accidental activation is especially undesirable, such as in museums with rare art works, manuscripts, or books; and data centers, for protection of computer equipment from accidental water discharge.
Pre-action systems are hybrids of wet, dry, and deluge systems, depending on the exact system goal. There are two main sub-types of pre-action systems: single interlock, and double interlock.
The operation of double interlock systems are similar to deluge systems except that automatic sprinklers are used. These systems require that both a “preceding” fire detection event, typically the activation of a heat or smoke detector, and an automatic sprinkler operation take place prior to the “action” of water introduction into the system’s piping. Activation of either the fire detectors alone, or sprinklers alone, without the concurrent operation of the other, will not allow water to enter the piping. Because water does not enter the piping until a sprinkler operates, double interlock systems are considered as dry systems in terms of water delivery times, and similarly require a larger design area.
Foam water sprinkler systems
A foam water fire sprinkler system is a special application system, discharging a mixture of water and low expansion foam concentrate, resulting in a foam spray from the sprinkler. These systems are usually used with special hazards occupancies associated with high challenge fires, such as flammable liquids, and airport hangars. Operation is as described above, depending on the system type into which the foam is injected.
“Water spray” systems are operationally identical to a deluge system, but the piping and discharge nozzle spray patterns are designed to protect a uniquely configured hazard, usually being three-dimensional components or equipment (i.e. as opposed to a deluge system, which is designed to cover the horizontal floor area of a room). The nozzles used may not be listed fire sprinklers, and are usually selected for a specific spray pattern to conform to the three-dimensional nature of the hazard (e.g. typical spray patterns being oval, fan, full circle, narrow jet). Examples of hazards protected by water spray systems are electrical transformers containing oil for cooling or turbo-generator bearings. Water spray systems can also be used externally on the surfaces of tanks containing flammable liquids or gases (such as hydrogen). Here the water spray is intended to cool the tank and its contents to prevent tank rupture/explosion (BLEVE) and fire spread.
Water mist systems
Water mist systems are used for special applications in which it is decided that creating a heat absorbent vapor is the primary objective. This type of system is typically used where water damage may be a concern, or where water supplies are limited. NFPA 750 defines water mist as a water spray with a droplet size of “less than 1000 microns at the minimum operation pressure of the discharge nozzle.” The droplet size can be controlled by the adjusting discharge pressure through a nozzle of a fixed orifice size. By creating a mist, an equal volume of water will create a larger total surface area exposed to the fire. The larger total surface area better facilitates the transfer of heat, thus allowing more water droplets to turn to steam more quickly. A water mist, which absorbs more heat than water per unit time, due to exposed surface area, will more effectively cool the room, thus reducing the temperature of the flame.