In March, a new study will attempt to show how home sprinkler systems not only can protect a house from extensive fire damage, but can also protect the environment.

The study, which cost $250,000 and took 18 months to complete, was conducted by FM Global, an international business property insurance company, for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. It is being released at a time when mandatory sprinkler installation for all residential dwellings will go into effect as a code standard by the International Code Commission next January, and when several states have been crafting laws to allow home buyers to choose sprinklers without making their installation a must for new homes.

During a presentation of the study’s key results at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, Gary Keith, the Coalition’s chairman and vice president with the National Fire Protection Association, showed data from 2008 that showed that one- and two-family homes accounted for 85% of fire deaths that year, 68% of all fire-related injuries, 81% of all property damage and 92% of fireground firefighter deaths.

Those numbers have been effective in getting some communities to adopt tougher sprinkler regulations, the most prominent of which being Scottsdale, Ariz., which has required sprinklers for new homes for 15 years. However, this study represents the first time that the Coalition has played the environmental card to get its point across.

At its research campus in West Gloucester, R.I., FM Global built two identical furnished living rooms, one that included a single sprinkler at the center of the room, and one without. The exterior and interior walls in each room were insulated to match a typical house.

The test involved starting a newspaper fire in each room between a recliner and love seat. Firefighters were on site and took action 10 minutes after an alarm about the blazes went off.

Dr. Chris Wiezorek of FM Global showed a split-screen video of both fires to demonstrate how the sprinkler confined and minimized the fire. He also pointed out that the sprinkler reduced the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the fire by 99%, compared to the room without the sprinkler. “This is the first time this has been tested,” he claimed. In addition, the amount of water needed to put out the first in the room with a sprinkler was 50% less than the other room. Perhaps most important, the damage caused by the fire in the room with the sprinkler was less than 3% of the damage from the fire in the unprotected room.

The full study will be downloadable for free at

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.