Fire Protection Research Foundation Releases Report on Water Consumption for Fires

The study 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.

The amount of water used during a fire when a building has a sprinkler system is less than that of an unsprinklered building, according to “Fire Flow Water Consumption in Sprinklered and Unsprinklered Buildings: An Assessment of Community Impact,” a new report released by the Fire Protection Research Foundation. As the adoptions of residential sprinkler ordinances continue to increase across the country, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) commissioned this report to assess community impacts related to water consumption.

Water authorities have introduced strategies over the past three decades to recover costs for water consumed in sprinklered buildings. These fees are typically not related to the actual sprinkler flow, but address the fact that these flows are not metered and therefore not accounted for in conventional cost recovery systems. Fires that occur in unsprinklered properties that utilize water from hydrants, which are not metered, are typically not subject to fees.

As a result, the study 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 (CITM) of the sprinkler system.

“As the number of sprinklered buildings increases over time in communities, we must make sure that that the incentives for providing built-in fire protection aren’t offset by financial disincentives from water distribution fees—a fire in an adequately sprinklered building will always result in a more efficient use of water resources compared to a fire in a similar unsprinklered building,” said Gary Keith, vice president of field operations and education for NFPA. “It’s our hope that fire departments and water authorities will use this report as a basis for reviewing the policies in their own jurisdictions.”

The report considered standard estimates of the amount of water expected to be used in seven building types with and without automatic sprinkler protection during a fire condition, and also estimated the water used per year for CITM of buildings with systems for each building type. The building types are:

  • Residential, one- and two-family dwelling
  • Residential, up to and including four stories in height
  • Business
  • Assembly
  • Institutional
  • Mercantile
  • Storage

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