Do Sprinklers Detect Smoke?


One of the greatest tools in your home’s firefighting ammunition is the water sprinkler. It provides unmatched front-line protection and allows fires to be reduced almost instantly. While we all rely on them and make them a staple in our homes, very few of us actually understand the mechanics that go behind it. We just expect it to work.

But do sprinklers detect smoke? No, sprinklers technically do not detect smoke because they are not designed to be specifically sensitive to smoke. They are designed to only release water as a general response to a rise in room temperature. Typically, once the temperature rises above 135 degrees Fahrenheit, a glass bulb in the sprinkler will shatter, causing the water release.

So, thinking that smoke detectors and sprinklers are the same thing a common misconception but can be fatal for a new homeowner.

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What Does a Sprinkler System Do?

The sprinkler system is a creation of the 15th century made to prevent fires from burning down creator Leonardo da Vinci’s kitchen. Ironically, it has much of the same use today.

While earlier versions were not as reliable and caused significant damage, today’s improvements in design and quality mean they are much more effective.

By 2011 they had become such a safety essential that California state declared that all new residential constructions must include them! This is because said systems can reduce casualties and chances of property loss by more than 65 percent – a statistic that simply cannot be ignored.

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How Do the Sprinklers Work?

Sprinkler systems only have one job: extinguish the fire and eliminate the threat. While they don’t detect smoke to do so, they do have a complex two step process that begins with temperature detection. 

High temperatures around 135–165-degree Fahrenheit, trigger a small glass bulb containing heat sensitive liquid within the sprinkler. As the heat from the flames rises and comes into contact with the glass bulb, the liquid inside it expands and shatters the glass activating the water works.

Since each sprinkler is attached to some sort of water source, as soon as the glass shatters, the valves for the water are opened and pressurized water is forced out of the pipes, allowing it to cover a larger area. 

This system is meticulously designed to, to the very least, minimize the damage caused by the smoke and flames as the fire department make their way to the site. The technology has revolutionized so much that sprinkler systems can automatically put out fires in the room of origin and preventing fires from spreading or re-igniting.


Do All Detectors Go Off at The Same Time?

Sprinklers are not only designed to reduce the effects of fire, but also to do so in an efficient manner. That is why, unlike what we are accustomed to seeing on movies, sprinklers do not all go off at the same time! If that were the case, there are many risks associated with having just large volumes of pressurized water being brought down all at once. 

In fact, water damage at the hands of the fire department is more common than at the hands of sprinklers since fire sprinklers douse fires with about six times less water than a fire hose. By the time the fire department arrives you may not even need your home to be doused down. 

Most sprinklers function individually and require their own glass-bulbs to shatter before allowing water to spray down. Most residential fires do not require more than two or three sprinklers of function at once to be able to complete their job. 


What are the different types of Sprinkler systems?

With recent developments, there have been improvements in design and utility of sprinklers. Now, there are several types available:

  • stand-alone (not connected to home’s plumbing supply),
  • multipurpose (share the home’s water supply) and
  • automatic (use domestic water service line).

All of these are made to fit different buildings with different needs to ensure maximum utility. 

In fact, even in selecting one of the three categories above, you have options within them. For example, residential automatic sprinklers come as: wet, dry and non-water sprinkler systems.

Wet sprinkler systems more the most common type of automatic residential sprinklers. They make use of the continuous supply of water and wash down the fire. They function best in regions with normal to high temperatures as freezing can be a problem in lower temperatures. 

Dry sprinkler systems substitute water with pressurized air. It works in the exact same way as a wet sprinkler making use of the glass bulb and valve, but it a great substitute for regions with lower temperatures. However, they are harder to maintain and there is usually at least a minute long delay before it can start extinguishing a fire. 

Lastly, non-water sprinklers, usually used commercially, are a clean substitute to wet sprinkler systems. It is usually used in places where water damage should be avoided such as near electric supplies. 

With an array of options to choose from, you can install a system that works for you and provides maximum protection!


Should I Invest in A Sprinkler System?

According to the American Fire Sprinkler Associate, a domestic fire occurs every 79 seconds, yet only 2% of the homes in America have adequate protection against it. The cost of a sprinkler system is approximately $1.35 per square foot, variable to the design and the size of your home. However, the damage that it protects from is far greater – up to $4,800 according to the 2007 National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

Moreover, if an appropriate and effective sprinkler system is already in place, costs can be saved on from other tools of fire safety. For example, in most business spaces with a sprinkler, installing a smoke detector is not important. 

A sprinkler system is a must for the safety of you, your home and your family. It provides front-line protection against one of the most dangerous things and does so in a manner that protects for home and is efficient. There are a variety of options to choose from according to your needs and the built of your home. 

So, evaluate your needs, invest in a sprinkler system and protect yourself and your loved ones right now!