How Do Fire Sprinklers Work? – What Everyone Should Know

Fire sprinkler on a white ceiling

Fire sprinkler systems are a common sight in a wide variety of buildings. Whether in the hallways of apartments and hotels, or the ceilings of commercial and industrial buildings, you have probably encountered them many times in your daily life, but have you ever wondered how fire sprinklers work?

Today, we will look in-depth at how automatic fire sprinklers work and why they effectively suppress fires and save lives. We will explain how they function and even look at their primary components and what can happen when fire sprinklers are accidentally triggered.

So, if you are ready to learn about fire sprinklers, it’s time to dive right in!

How Do Fire Sprinkler Systems Work?

Fire sprinkler system with red water pipes along a white ceiling

Fire Detection and Sprinkler Activation

For most fire sprinkler systems, activation is linked to a heat-sensing mechanism. Each sprinkler head has a small glass bulb containing a heat-sensitive liquid agent or a small fusible link. When a fire causes a rapid increase in air temperature, the liquid within the bulb expands, which can shatter the glass bulb, or, if the sprinkler uses a fusible link, it will quickly melt.

Whether the heat shatters a glass bulb or melts a fusible link, the action triggers a release, which activates the sprinkler head. This results in water spraying downwards in all directions. The advantage of this activation style is that each sprinkler is triggered individually, so only those in the vicinity of a fire will activate.

As you can imagine, this helps to limit unnecessary and costly water damage from the fire suppression system. Some sprinkler systems can also be activated manually, so building occupants can activate them if they see a fire.

Others can be linked to the building’s smoke detection system; however, they are less popular, as most of these systems trigger every sprinkler head simultaneously, even if it is not close to a fire.

Water Supply and Deactivation

Fire sprinkler systems are almost always connected to a public water supply. When the fire sprinkler system is activated, water will rush from this water network as it is stored under pressure in the building’s plumbing system. 

As mentioned, most fire sprinkler systems only release water from activated sprinkler heads, as this ensures water is delivered to where it is needed rather than dousing areas that were not impacted by the fire.

A fire sprinkler system can sometimes be connected to a series of dedicated water tanks. This ensures that water is delivered quickly if the sprinkler heads are activated. It also helps in areas where the municipal water system is not reliable enough to ensure the safety of the property and those within.

What Are the Components of a Fire Sprinkler System?

While fire sprinkler systems can vary in design, almost every fire protection system will consist of the following components:

Sprinkler Heads

When you think of a fire sprinkler system, the sprinkler heads are probably the first things you picture. These are the most visible components of the fire protection system, and they are dotted along the ceiling or walls of a building. Each sprinkler head has a heat-sensitive bulb or fusible link, which triggers the release of water.

The ends of the sprinkler heads have a star-like metal feature, which helps to spread the flowing water in all directions. Different fire sprinkler heads have different designs for functional and aesthetic reasons.

Water Pipes

The individual sprinkler heads of the fire suppression system are all connected to a series of water pipes. These pipes deliver water to the sprinkler heads by connecting them to the primary water source. These pipes can be left exposed in more industrial buildings, while some commercial and residential buildings will conceal them behind ceiling tiles.

Primary Control Valve

The control valve is the part of the system that can be opened or closed manually to activate or deactivate the sprinkler heads. In some cases, this is connected to a smoke detector system.

Access to this control valve can be restricted, so fire departments are often responsible for shutting off an activated automatic sprinkler system.

Fire Alarm System

In most cases, alarms are triggered alongside fire sprinkler heads. This helps alert the occupants of the building that a fire has been detected.

Are Fire Sprinkler Systems Effective?

Rendering of a fire sprinkler putting out a fire

Fire sprinklers are amongst the most effective types of fire safety equipment. The fact that they react quickly to rising temperatures means that they can extinguish fires before they have the chance to threaten lives or cause serious property damage. 

A fire suppression system is also instrumental in containing fires. Even if the sprinkler system cannot fully extinguish the fire, it can prevent it from spreading to other areas. This also buys building occupants valuable evacuation time.

The fact that automatic sprinklers are a truly unmanned form of fire safety equipment, meaning they do not have to be operated by a person, like a fire extinguisher; they can continue running while every person in the building evacuates. This helps reduce the risk of injury and death while maintaining the system’s effectiveness. 

What Happens if a Fire Sprinkler System Is Activated Accidentally?

While fire sprinklers are incredibly effective, they do not come without risks. Like any system, misfires and accidental activations can occur. Unfortunately, this can result in significant water damage to the building and the equipment, furniture, and inventory within. 

One of the most effective ways to prevent this is to ensure that a fire sprinkler system is well-maintained. It is also important to keep heat sources away from fire sprinkler heads, as this reduces the likelihood of accidentally activating the heat-sensitive trigger mechanism. 

What to Do if a Fire Sprinkler Misfires?

steps to shut off fire sprinklers using shutgun water sprinkler shut off tool

Since automatic sprinklers can release 60 gallons of water per minute, they can cause significant water damage in the time it takes for the fire department to arrive and deactivate them. Fortunately, there is a simple solution in the Shutgun!

The Shutgun is an affordable and user-friendly fire sprinkler head shut-off tool that can save you tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. Whether your automatic sprinkler was triggered accidentally or it has successfully extinguished a fire but is still running, the Shutgun allows you to turn it off by hand.

The Shutgun’s one-hand operation means you can use it safely from the top of a ladder! Given that automatic fire sprinklers cause an average of $35,000 in water damage, even after extinguishing a fire, the Shutgun is an incredibly useful investment. 

Don’t get stuck with a massive water damage bill; give yourself the ability to shut off fire sprinklers yourself! Learn more and get the world’s leading fire sprinkler shut-off tool by clicking the link below:

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