There has been a trend towards fitting sprinklers in residential buildings, driven partly by the fact that this can enable the relaxation of other fire safety measures, including the extending of travel distances.
We are also aware of a couple of incidences where sprinklers have been used to justify omission of smoke control in residential corridors. We believe this to be a dangerous trend.
There is no doubt that in many instances sprinklers are able to control the spread of fire and in some cases, extinguish it completely. This is all very good, in terms of reducing fire damage and fire spread to adjacent areas but smoke control is installed purely to protect means of escape and saves lives, for which sprinklers offer only limited benefit.
We must not forget that it is smoke that kills, not fire! A fire (even a sprinklered one) produces a lot of toxic smoke that can have an impact on places far removed from the source of the fire.
So, do use sprinklers in your residential project, but do not compromise on smoke ventilation systems and ensure that your scheme is properly designed, taking account of the effects of the sprinklers on the fire size and smoke generation.
The Smoke Control Association are currently updating their very useful document: Guidance on Smoke Control to Common Escape Routes in Apartment Buildings (Flats and Maisonettes) which is free to download from http://www.feta.co.uk/associations/hevac/specialist-groups/smoke-control-association.
For more information, please see our smoke ventilation systems in residential buildings page.
Conor Logan is a Technical Manager of Colt UK, Smoke and Climate Control Division. Conor designs innovative smoke control and HVAC systems and is also Chairman of the Smoke Control Association.