NFPA Warns Some Residential Fire Sprinklers Could be Combustible

On Tuesday July 6, 2010, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a safety alert related to buildings equipped with residential fire sprinkler systems containing antifreeze solutions.  Following a recent fatal fire incident which prompted a research study and a series of fire tests, there has been concern raised over the potential for the antifreeze solution in the residential fire sprinkler system to ignite in certain fire situations.
According to the NFPA, any system that contains antifreeze should have the antifreeze drained from the system and replaced with water.  NFPA is recommending that those who are responsible for a residential occupancy with a fire sprinkler system should have a fire sprinkler contractor test their system for antifreeze.  NFPA also advises that all residential fire sprinkler systems currently being installed should avoid designing or installing a system that would require antifreeze.
Antifreeze systems were first recognized and approved for use in residential occupancies in the 1989 edition of the NFPA fire sprinkler installation standards.  The approval was meant to address one of the biggest hazards inherent in residential fire sprinkler systems: their tendency to freeze and burst in cold weather, potentially causing severe damage to homes. It is unknown what affect this latest recommendation will have on the broader freeze/burst issue. 
In Missouri, residential fire sprinkler systems of all kinds are still optional for home buyers. Thanks to the work of the Home Builders Association and other consumer advocates, Missouri law (as of 2008) prohibits local jurisdictions from instituting mandatory fire sprinkler systems in single family residences. Rather than mandating the costly upgrade, the law (known as “mandatory option”) requires builders of new homes to provide their customers with information, pricing, etc. on residential fire sprinkler systems. “Mandatory option” allows home buyers to make informed decisions about whether to purchase a fire sprinkler system for their home, or to decline such a system. The “mandatory option” law, as currently written, expires at the end of 2011. If nothing changes between now and then local jurisdictions will at that time gain the authority to mandate costly fire sprinkler systems in new homes – taking the choice out of the hands of home buyers.
More information regarding NFPA’s safety alert on antifreeze in residential fire sprinklers and the list of recommended action to take for systems containing antifreeze can be found at