Report: Sprinklered buildings save water, yet pay more for its usage

New NFPA study urges rethinking of fees for properties with fire sprinklers
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

QUINCY, Mass.—A new report shows that less water is needed to fight fires in sprinklered properties than in unsprinklered ones, yet it’s typically only sprinklered buildings that are charged for the water usage.

The hope is that the report—which is from the National Fire Protection Association and the Fire Protection Research Foundation—will spur fire departments and water authorities to rethink policies on fees for sprinklered buildings, said Gary Keith, VP of field operations and education for the NFPA, which is based here.

“We’re just trying to prove to them that sprinkler systems are a very efficient way of protecting our water resources, and they shouldn’t be unjustly penalized as result of being put into a building to do the job that they’re designed to do,” Keith told Security Systems News.

The NFPA understands authorities need to charge for water usage, he said, but assessments should be made in a more equitable way.

“We just think the total cost of water distribution should be spread across the entire network because if a fire occurs in that unsprinklered building, they’re going to use a lot more water than with a fire in the sprinklered building,” he said.

The report, released in April and titled “Fire Flow Water Consumption in Sprinklered and Unsprinklered Buildings: An Assessment of Community Impact,” discusses water fees or “standby fees” that are assessed on sprinklered properties because their sprinkler water flow is not metered. However, the report notes, “fires that occur in unsprinklered properties that utilize water from hydrants, which are not metered, are typically not subject to fees.”

The report found that an owner of an unsprinklered building “received the full benefit of unlimited water through the public water system during a fire without an increased cost, while the owner of a sprinklered building pays for the water used for commissioning, inspection, testing and maintenance of the sprinkler system.”

Keith said a fire in an unsprinklered building can require hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water to fight it, but sprinklered buildings use just a fraction of that amount.

Keith said the study was based on commercial and industrial applications, where he said the fees are fairly common. But the NFPA, through its Fire Sprinkler Initiative, is spearheading an effort to get more sprinklers into residential dwellings and is concerned that as that happens, local authorities also will impose similar financial disincentives on sprinklered homes.

“What this study is rooted in, we’re trying to prevent that philosophy from taking hold in residential applications as we see more and more residential systems put in,” Keith told SSN. “But if it also results in some discussion about the existing practice in commercial/industrial [applications], we think that’s appropriate too.”

A spokeswoman from the American Water Works Association could not be reached for comment before SSN’s deadline.