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Fire Sprinkler Systems

What is it?

Fire sprinkler system is an active fire protection measure, consisting of a water supply, providing adequate pressure and flow rate to a water distribution piping system, onto which fire sprinklers are connected.

A fire sprinkler is the part of a fire sprinkler system that discharges water when the effects of a fire have been detected, such as when a predetermined temperature has been reached.

Fire sprinkler application and installation guidelines, and overall fire sprinkler system design guidelines, are provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 13, (NFPA) 13D, and (NFPA) 13R.

All new buildings now require installed sprinkler systems. Existing building are usually grandfathered (not required).


  • Annual Inspection of your Fire Sprinkler system
  • Annual Winterization (dry systems) – As the weather changes and temperature drops, your dry pipe system may experience condensation which may result in water accumulation in the sprinkler piping. This build up of water in the piping may be subject to freezing which could cause cracks or burst piping.
  • 3 year full flow trip test – Ensures adequate operation or dry pipe value and quick opening device (QOD), confirmation that water flows through the system efficiently to the end of line within 60 seconds

Types of Systems

Automatic Fire Sprinklers

These operate at a predetermined temperature, utilizing a fusible element, a portion of which melts, or a frangible glass bulb containing liquid which breaks, allowing the plug in the orifice to be pushed out of the orifice by the water pressure in the fire sprinkler piping, resulting in water flow from the orifice. The water stream impacts a deflector, which produces a specific spray pattern designed in support of the goals of the sprinkler type (i.e., control or suppression).

Modern sprinkler heads are designed to direct spray downwards. Spray nozzles are available to provide spray in various directions and patterns. The majority of automatic fire sprinklers operate individually in a fire. Contrary to motion picture representation, the entire sprinkler system does not activate, unless the system is a special deluge type.

Open Orifice Sprinklers

These are only used in water spray systems or deluge sprinklers systems. They are identical to the automatic sprinkler on which they are based, with the heat sensitive operating element removed.

Automatic fire sprinklers utilizing frangible bulbs follow a standardized color coding convention indicating their operating temperature. Activation temperatures correspond to the type of hazard against which the sprinkler system protects. Residential occupancies are provided with a special type of fast response sprinkler with the unique goal of life safety.



How It Works

Step By Step

  • Each closed-head sprinkler is held closed by either a heat-sensitive glass bulb (see below) or a two-part metal link held together with fusible alloy (soldering material).
  • The glass bulb or link applies pressure to a pip cap which acts as a plug which prevents water from flowing until the ambient temperature around the sprinkler reaches the design activation temperature of the individual sprinkler. Because each sprinkler activates independently when the predetermined heat level is reached, the number of sprinklers that operate is limited to only those near the fire, thereby maximizing the available water pressure over the point of fire origin.
  • A sprinkler head will spray water into the room if sufficient heat reaches the bulb and causes it to shatter. Sprinkler heads operate individually. *Note the red liquid in the glass bulb*

Temperature Classification

Response Time Index (RTI)

The bulb breaks as a result of the thermal expansion (change in volume) of the liquid inside the bulb. The time it takes before a bulb breaks is dependent on the temperature. Below the design temperature, it does not break, and above the design temperature, it takes less time for higher temperatures. The response time is expressed as a response time index (RTI), which typically has values between 35 and 250 m½s½, where a low value indicates a fast response. Under standard testing procedures (135 °C air at a velocity of 2.5 m/s), a 68 °C sprinkler bulb will break within 7 to 33 seconds, depending on the RTI. The RTI can also be specified in imperial units, where 1 ft½s½ is equivalent to 0.55 m½s½.

From Table NFPA13 2007 Edition indicates the maximum ceiling temperature, nominal operating temperature of the sprinkler, color of the bulb or link and the temperature classification.

Maximum Ceiling Temperature Temperature Rating Temperature ClassificationColor Code (with Fusible Link) Glass Bulb Color
100°F / 38°C135-170°F / 57-77°COrdinaryUncolored or BlackOrange (135°F) or Red (155°F)
150°F / 66°C175-225°F / 79-107°CIntermediateWhiteYellow (175°F) or Green (200°F)
225°F / 107°C250-300°F / 121-149°CHighBlueBlue
300°F / 149°C325-375°F / 163-191°CExtra HighRedPurple
375°F / 191°C400-475°F / 204-246°CVery Extra HighGreenBlack
475°F / 246°C500-575°F / 260-302°CUltra HighOrangeBlack
625°F / 329°C650°F / 343°CUltra HighOrangeBlack

ESFR, or ESFR Sprinkler, denotes a special type of fire sprinkler. Early Supression Fast Response sprinkler heads were developed in the 1990s to take advantage of the latest fast-response fire sprinkler technology to provide fire suppression of specific high-challenge fire hazards. The sprinklers are specifically designed to fully suppress a fire that is within the design limits of the piping system. Prior to the introduction of these sprinklers, protection systems were designed to control fires until the arrival of the fire department.