Friday March 31, 2017

Wet or Dry Fire Sprinkler Systems – Which is Best for Your Business?

Wet or Dry Fire Sprinkler Systems – Which is Best for Your Business?

Fire sprinkler systems are often a matter of code compliance for many Oklahoma businesses, but these fire suppression systems are also a huge asset to a business as well. They can greatly mitigate the damage caused by a fire, often by containing the fire or even extinguishing the fire before the fire department arrives on the scene. And of course, they can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death from a fire.

But choosing the right fire sprinkler system is important to get the most benefit from these suppression systems. Is a wet fire sprinkler system better than a dry sprinkler system? Which would best suit your company’s needs? Or would a different system be the optimal choice?

Let’s first explain the basics of each system. In a wet fire sprinkler system, water is continually present in the sprinkler piping system and is immediately released when a sprinkler head is activated by a fire. This type of system is the most common type of sprinkler system and is widely used because it is the simplest, requires less installation and maintenance, and is very reliable. However, because the sprinkler pipes are always filled with water, wet pipe systems cannot be installed in areas of buildings where temperatures reach below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

It should be noted that there are many misconceptions about automatic fire sprinklers. One myth is that they will activate easily. “Cigar smoke and burned toast cannot cause a sprinkler to operate. Only the high temperature that results from a fire will activate the sprinkler,” the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) noted. Also, fire sprinklers do not activate all at the same time. “All the sprinklers do not activate at once. This scenario may be common in movies and TV shows, but it just isn't true for home fire sprinklers. Only the sprinkler closest to the fire activates. Ninety percent of the time, one sprinkler contains the fire.”

On the other hand, dry fire sprinkler systems do not have water present in the sprinkler piping system but are filled with pressurized air or sometimes nitrogen. The pressurized air holds back the water from entering the pipes by keeping a remote dry pipe valve closed. When a sprinkler head is activated by a fire, the pressurized air is released, causing a pressure change that opens the dry pipe valve allowing water to flow freely into the pipes and through the open sprinklers.

Dry fire sprinklers are used mostly in areas where the temperature will likely freeze, such as loading docks, unheated warehouses, and walk-in freezers. These systems are more complex and so are costlier to install and maintain than wet pipe systems. They also have certain design and system size restrictions. With dry sprinkler systems, there also can be a delay of up to 60 seconds before the water gets from the valve, through the pipes, and is released by the sprinkler head. This would increase the chances of the fire spreading and causing more damage. Thus, dry pipe systems do not usually provide superior protection over wet pipe systems unless the area is in danger of reaching temperatures below 40 degrees F.  They are often used in conjunction with larger wet pipe systems to just protect areas that would freeze.

Actually, a different fire suppression system may be the best option for your business. Pre-action fire sprinkler systems and clean agent fire suppression systems offer advantages for those concerned about damaging sensitive equipment, documents, or artwork.

Pre-action fire sprinkler systems are similar to dry pipe systems but have more safety features to prevent unnecessary water release. Although there are several kinds of pre-action systems, generally they protect the area by requiring two different things to happen before water is released onto the fire. Like a dry pipe system, no water is held in the sprinkler pipes. The water is held back by a pre-action valve that is controlled by a separate fire detection system. If this separate system detects a fire by smoke or heat, then the valve will open and allow water to flow into the sprinkler pipes. But then, the sprinkler heads themselves must also be activated by the high temperatures of a nearby fire to open, allowing water to flow onto the fire. Because two separate events must happen before water is released, this sprinkler system lessens the chances of water damage due to leaking pipes or damaged sprinklers.

Another system that offers even more protection against accidental water dispersal is a clean agent fire suppression system. These systems do not use water at all, but instead, use gaseous fire suppression agents to extinguish fires. These clean agents are often stored under pressure as a liquid and then vaporize when they are discharged in a fire. Because they are discharged as a gas, they leave no residue and will not short-out electrical equipment, making them ideal fire suppression systems for computer or server rooms, museums, libraries, and other areas where water would damage equipment or documents.

The experienced fire suppression system professionals at Mac Systems in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City can help you evaluate which system would be right for your business. We can design, install, inspect, and maintain a variety of fire suppression systems to keep your business safe and code compliant.