Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems vs Cisterns / FirePonds
Fire sprinkler systems are the best choice for fire protection for new subdivisions…especially when it comes to comparing costs. Both fire ponds and cisterns are poor choices, especially economically, regardless of any debatable size of those water supplies. They are also poor options for many other reasons too. Both Planning Boards & Developers throughout the state are catching on to this. This is in part due to the costs and problems associated with both fire ponds and cisterns. These problems go far beyond the obvious liability inherent with large bodies of water. Here are some facts to show why the option for residential fire sprinkler systems is part of a growing trend:
- Fire sprinkler systems for new homes are more affordable now than ever due to new technology. The cost for installation in a new 2 story home with basement is typically $3500 to $8500 per home for systems interconnected with the domestic plumbing, (these are called "Kwench, or UponorWirsbo or Rehau systems"...recent technology). Traditional stand-alone fire sprinkler systems typically range $5000 to $12,000. Each type of system has its advantages over the other. Our statistics show that clients are split 50/50 in which type system they prefer. Prices depend on the size of the home, the water supply, the building design, the fire sprinkler contractor, and whether or not there are any extras such as fire department connections, alarms, extra coverage, etc.. None of these extras are required by the state. Total average cost is close to only about 1.5% of the cost of the home. Note that the cost of the systems may vary tremendously depending upon the water supply that is available.
- Home insurance typically gets a 5% to 12% discount.
- There is no time delay in construction and no direct cost to the developer.
- Having a fire sprinkler system in a home allows code concessions, which expand design options, such as bedrooms no longer required to have egress windows. Bedrooms can then be built in lofts, attics, basements, etc., and those with windows can have windows of any size or type. Both developers and owners love this! These design options often also save significant construction costs.
- The equity of the home is improved.
- Property taxes are kept in check, because the local fire department does not have to expand services proportional to town growth.
- A fifteen year study of Scottsdale, Arizona's residential fire sprinkler system ordinance showed that combined water and fire damage for sprinklered homes was less than $2300 per home, whereas for non-sprinklered homes was over $45,000 per home. There were 49 fires in sprinklered homes during this period. 90% of the fires were contained with only 1 fire sprinkler activation.
- The study showed 13 fire deaths total for that time period, all in homes that did not have fire sprinkler systems.
- Fire sprinkler systems can be interconnected with the plumbing, using the domestic pump and dug well or artesian well for water supply. It typically takes the plumber only 2 or 3 extra days to do the fire sprinkler system while doing the plumbing. These types of systems are called Kwench, Uponor/Wirsbo or Rehau systems, and there is a list of about two-dozen contractors on our web site who are qualified to do these systems. Every month more plumbers are getting certified to do them. We also have a list of contractors on our website who do the traditional, stand-alone systems.
- There is no need for extra permits from DEP. The state permit for the fire sprinkler system is only $25 per home, (dwelling unit). The fire sprinkler contractor gets this permit, and it is usually obtained in less than 2 weeks.
- There is no extra land-use limitations such as would occur fire ponds or cisterns.
- Maintenance costs are minimal, usually less than that of the domestic plumbing. There is no state requirement for inspections. The code says that it is up to the owner to see to it that the system is maintained, and most of that is just a periodic visual check.
- A home lost to a fire is also a tax-base lost to the town.
- Interruption to family life is measured in a few days with a fire sprinkler event, but a fire event without fire sprinklers causes disruption to the family for months if not years. The loss of life is irreplaceable.
Knowing these facts, even cisterns cannot compete on any point. I am sure that even a 6,000 gallon cistern with hydrant per home will cost more than a fire sprinkler system, and take more time to deal with. The same goes for larger cisterns that are shared by adjacent homes. Where there are not multiple cisterns in a subdivision, I have seen the requirement for a 60,000 gallon water storage tank with hydrant. The reason for requiring so much water is because fire departments usually cannot get to fire scenes in time to extinguish a fire before it becomes a major event. Typically the home is lost, and the fire department is left with a huge fire to deal with, using thousands of gallons of water to both extinguish the fire and keep it from spreading. A single large cistern is not looked upon as the minimum water supply to deal with one house fire, but as a remote source of water for general fire fighting for that end of town.
One rural town in Maine required both fire sprinklers and one 30,000 gallon water storage tank for a new subdivision in lieu of no sprinklers and a 60,000 water storage tank. Fire sprinkler systems alone have such a great track record that we encourage towns to forego the water storage if all of the new housing will have fire sprinkler systems. In summary, a town that will allow fire sprinkler systems in all new housing with no requirement for additional underground water storage is a town that is trying to work both with the developers, & the new home owners. The developers in Maine are wisely beginning to take advantage of those opportunities. It is a win-win situation for everybody.
[Last updated 1-1-08]