Jan. 21, 2010, Las Vegas — 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 international business property insurance company FM Global for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC). It's being released at a time of impending change in how and where sprinklers are used: the International Code Council will make sprinkler installation mandatory for all residential dwellings by next January, and 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, HFSC 's chairman and vice president with the National Fire Protection Association, presented data from 2008 that showed that one- and two-family homes accounted for 85 percent of fire deaths that year, 68 percent of all fire-related injuries, 81 percent of all property damage, and 92 percent of fireground firefighter deaths.

Those numbers have led some communities to adopt tougher sprinkler regulations—most notably Scottsdale, Ariz., which has required sprinklers for new homes for 15 years now. However, the study represents the first time the HFSC 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 with 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 announcing the blazes sounded.

FM Global's Dr. Chris Wiezorek showed IBS attendees 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 percent, 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 fire in the room with a sprinkler was 50 percent less than the other room. Perhaps most important, the fire in the room with the sprinkler caused a fraction of the damage (less than 3 percent) done by the fire in the unprotected room.

The full study will be downloadable for free at www.fmglobal.com/researchreports sometime in March 2010.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.