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A Note About Fire Sprinkler Malfunctions

Posted on: November 25, 2013

One of the most common questions we get about fire sprinklers is about their potential to damage a building. Such concerns are not unfounded—it is true that water damage can add up after a fire sprinkler goes off. However, the level of protection afforded by fire sprinklers more than mitigates the potential risks.

Even so, there are always people who are concerned that a sprinkler head error or system malfunction, commonly referred to as accidental leakage or discharge, will cause their sprinkler system to erupt and cause major damage to their building and the equipment inside it.

As it turns out, the rate of accidental discharge for fire sprinkler systems is extremely rare—the American Fire Sprinkler Association estimates that the rate of fire sprinkler malfunction not directly caused by human error is about 1 in 16 million. For comparison, the odds of you being struck by lightning are only 1 in 1 million! Systemic leaks in your fire sprinkler system are no more likely to occur than they are in your plumbing system, and in the unlikely event that one does occur, it’s usually in an older fire sprinkler system that has not been properly maintained.

The Five Most Common (Though Still Rare) Sprinkler Malfunctions

Occurrences of fire sprinkler malfunctions are exceedingly rare. But when they do happen, it’s usually the result of:

Overheating – sprinkler heads are activated by heat, going off when the temperature in a specific location gets too high. When installing a fire sprinkler, make sure you take into consideration the hottest your room can get, even during the summer heat. Different sprinkler heads are designed to go off at different temperatures, so if your ceiling temperature gets to 155 F, you’ll want to install a 200 F sprinkler head, and so on.

Freezing – in the exact opposite scenario, the water in fire sprinklers can freeze if proper precautions, including adding antifreeze and insulating the pipes, aren’t taken into account. Freezing water can cause pipes to expand, crack, and burst, and then leak when the system thaws out. Common solutions to this problem include adding anti-freeze solutions to the pipes, adding insulation around the system, or installing dry fire sprinklers that leverage air pressure and specially designed valves to keep water out of the system until needed.

Corrosion – like any water-based system, fire sprinkler pipes are subject to corrosion that can impact the functionality of the system and potentially lead to leaks. Annual fire sprinkler system inspection should keep you protected from this.

Mechanical damage – poorly installed and maintained fire sprinkler systems are at risk of mechanical damage, which can be caused by over-tightening fittings, not properly installing sprinkler heads, and a variety of other installation mistakes. Hiring a qualified fire sprinkler installation company like Confires will reduce the likelihood of these errors to almost zero.

Human sabotage or error – the most common cause of fire sprinkler malfunction is human error. Common examples of this are hanging items from the fire sprinkler, knocking into it with a forklift, painting over the sprinkler head, etc. Make sure people in your building know not to touch your fire sprinkler heads for any reason!

If you want to all but eliminate the risk of fire sprinkler malfunctions, call Confires for a fire sprinkler inspection today!

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