Fire Protection Products: Sprinklers and Beyond

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Home sprinkler systems can be a highly effective line of defense against home fires, but they also can be expensive. Check out these new offerings that will upgrade your standard building products to those with fire-retardant properties, allowing longer egress times for homeowners.

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A recent announcement by the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) indicates that a Bowie, Md., house fire could have been prevented were it not for a poorly planned home modification. Maryland is one of two states in which fire sprinklers are mandated statewide (California is the other). The damaged home had fire sprinklers in place, but a drop ceiling had been installed below the sprinklers, negating their ability to perform. Thankfully, working smoke alarms helped the homeowners escape safely, though one person required treatment at the hospital.

"Sprinkler systems in houses are essentially maintenance free," says Jason Webb, NFSA's director of inspection, testing and maintenance, "but when you make modifications that block the fire sprinklers, you have a recipe for disaster." In Price George's County, Md., where the Bowie fire occured, fire chief Marc Bashoor said in the 23 years since the sprinkler legislation was put in place, no fire-related fatalities have occurred in "occupancies where sprinklers were installed."

Despite statistics like these and fire protection agencies' efforts to highlight safety, builders have resisted fire sprinkler mandates for decades, primarily arguing that the expense of such systems would make new builds cost-prohibitive. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says New Jersey currently has a bill on the governor's desk that would make it the third state to require sprinklers statewide. Minnesota recently passed a bill requiring sprinklers in homes larger than 4,500 square feet. In 2012, Alabama adopted the 2009 International Residential Code, but opted not to impose the code's fire sprinkler installation standard. In 2009, several states passed legislation to block government-mandated sprinkler codes.

>While states continue to resist mandates, NFPA says about 500 communities nationwide have fire sprinkler requirements of which remodelers must be aware. Keeping those systems accessible and functional during and after remodeling projects will help keep homeowners safe as they enjoy their new spaces. Beyond sprinkler systems, page through the slideshow above for a look at a selection of new products with fire-resistant properties to try in your projects.

Does your municipality call for sprinklers? Share your sprinkler installation or remodeling experiences in the comments.

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