Sprinklers in Single Family Homes, say what????
I don’t believe I have ever seen a fire sprinkler system in a stand alone, single family home.
Unlike large office buildings, apartment buildings, or warehouses, where fire sprinkler systems are common, I always assumed that single family homes were exempt from needing sprinklers.
So, when I went to apply for a building permit to build a home in the mountains outside of Denver, I was shocked to find out that the fire department would require the home to have fire sprinklers. They base the need on distance to nearest fire house and nearest credible fire hydrant. We are about a 10 minute drive to the nearest firehouse, which I would think would be close enough, but I guess not. And our fire hydrant did not have enough flow of water out of it. There are some rules/ distances, etc regarding this in the IFC, but ultimately at the end of the day, its just whatever policy your local fire district wants.
Surprisingly enough, sprinklers have actually technically been a requirement in all single family homes per the International Residential Code, since 2006. Regardless of home size, location, or construction type. IRC 313.2 states:
R313.2 One- and two-family dwellings automatic fire systems.
An automatic residential fire sprinkler system shall be
installed in one- and two-family dwellings.
Period. Its just simply required. Only exception is for alterations or additions to existing building without sprinklers.
So, why don’t we see every newer house since 2006 with sprinklers? Because most jurisdictions amend their local codes to delete this requirement. Only CA, MD, & Washington DC now keep this requirement.
Most jurisdictions delete this requirement for various reasons, but the obvious one is the uproar it causes from citizens, builders, etc , because with this new requirement, comes increased cost.
My Sprinkler System
A single family residential sprinkler system is a system designed as NFPA 13D. I won’t get into the nitty gritty here about this type of system, but it is much less robust than a commercial system, and uses much less water. It can be made from PEX piping, so it really isnt that much different than your plumbing system in a house.
My project is still ongoing, and we are trying to determine if there is enough water pressure and flow to use for the sprinkler system. We are on a small water district, that is gravity fed from a large cistern uphill from us. If it turns out that the existing water supply doesnt meet the minimum requirements, then we will have to put in a ~400 gallon tank and pump inside the house to run the system. Fingers crossed that we dont need this, but it is also doable if we need to.
Costs & Coming to grips with reality
Google costs for sprinkler systems and you’ll see some people say its as low as $1-$3 per sf in new construction. Well, maybe in California, where its more prevalent, but here in Colorado its more like $3-$5 per sf.
The experts say prices will come down some day as it becomes more and more common and there’s more competition. The materials are really pretty inexpensive, but it is still a niche in some places that does require a specialist to design and install.
At first I was shocked when I heard we needed sprinklers, but I have mostly come to terms with the reality of it. I still am kind of mad about having this extra expense and headache, but mostly I am mad at myself for not knowing to do the due diligence with this issue. We thought we crossed every I and dotted every T when doing due diligence for the land purchase and design for our new home, but we missed this one.
But, trying to look at the glass half full, if you do some research as to the benefits of sprinklers, its kind of a no brainer. They offer an incomparably high amount of safety. They could save my life, or my families life some day. If a fire ever occurred, the expense of the sprinkler system will have been worth it times a zillion.
What I would recommend to anyone thinking of building a new home, especially in a more rural area, is just to be aware of the sprinkler requirements, check in with your local fire department or building department early on to know what will be required for your house, and know that if you must install a new sprinkler system in your new home, that it is a good thing, just make sure to budget for it!