As Assistant Fire Chief and East Peoria Fire Marshal, it's a no-brainer that John Knapp had a sprinkler system installed in his newly built home.

As Assistant Fire Chief and East Peoria Fire Marshal, it’s a no-brainer that John Knapp had a sprinkler system installed in his newly built home.

One reason Knapp said he installed a sprinkler system is because of the light weight materials with which newer homes are constructed. He said these materials are more prone to damage as a result of a fire compared to homes that were built 30-plus years ago.

“In my opinion, for my own personal residence, there was no debate on whether or not to install a residential fire sprinkler system,” he said.

Knapp said 99 percent of homes are built with a wood frame and virtually all newer homes use the lightweight materials.

“They absolutely should be protected by fire sprinklers,” Knapp said.

Knapp got his sprinklers through Tyco Fire Protection Products and installed them himself. Prevention Fire Protection in Morton designed his system. His 2,500-square-foot home has 30 sprinkler heads on the main level and basement. The sprinklers are all in sleeping areas and egress areas (places to get out).

“The primary purpose for having sprinklers in the home are for life safety, meaning getting people out of the home safely,” Knapp said.

Residential sprinklers differ from commercial systems, which are designed to control and extinguish a fire, Knapp said.

In addition to the sprinkler system and smoke detectors, Knapp has an alarm system connected to the sprinkler heads. In the event of a fire, smoke detectors would go off first, then if a sprinkler reaches 135 degrees, it will be activated. This will in turn cause the alarm system to sound.

“There are a number of different heads that vary in temperatures, meaning we have some that will go off at 135 degrees and some that will go all the way up to 256 (degrees),” Knapp said.

The sprinklers in Knapp’s home are covered by white caps and are flat with the wall; there are no protruding sprinkler heads.

“What a lot of the non-fire people don’t understand is this is nothing more than the plumbing in your house with a different head on it,” Knapp said.

Residential sprinkler systems are designed based on square footage of homes. 

With the type of sprinkler heads that Knapp has, 15 gallons of water would come out per minute at maximum capacity.

If a residence is hooked into the city’s water supply, the sprinkler head’s water supply is indefinite.

“The challenge can be in rural settings that the water supply is not going to be indefinite,” Knapp said. “The water’s going to last as long as the well pump’s going to last. What’s recommended in rural settings is an alternative water storage supply.”

Realistically, Knapp said it takes minimal water to extinguish a minimal fire due to early detection and activation. Knapp said this is probably one of the misleading thoughts behind sprinkler systems.

“I think a lot of people think that if you have a fire you’re going to deploy every head in the residence. That’s absolutely not the case,” he said. “Statistically, it’s a single head.”

Over 90 percent of the fires are extinguished with the activation of one, perhaps two sprinkler heads, Knapp added.

There is some resistance by home builders and realtors, Knapp said, regarding residential sprinklers being installed in new homes because they feel “it’s going to dramatically increase the cost of the house, that it’s going to dramatically slow down building and residential growth.” 

“That’s probably the biggest fallacy there is that it’s going to do either one and it’s been proven to do neither. The cost is as reasonable and nominal as any other part of construction,” Knapp said.

The average cost of sprinklers on new construction ranges between a 1 1/2 percent to 2 percent of the total cost of the project, Knapp said. The cost also varies depending on whether the homeowner installs the sprinklers.

“My recommendation would be to call a licensed contractor to have the system designed,” he said.

Knapp and Griffin work with about a half dozen companies on a daily basis that install and design sprinkler systems. Some of them are Prevention Fire in Morton and The Pipco Cos. and The Hitchcock Co., both in Peoria.

The fire sprinklers should be replaced every 50 years, Knapp said.

“I look at a number of fatal fires, that very tragically, I can assure you that if I talk to their family members of the deceased, there is no question that they would have preferred having a sprinkler system over attending a funeral,” Knapp said.

Over his 20-year career, Knapp said he has not encountered a fatality in a place where there is a working smoke detector. 

“They have improved dramatically over the past 30 years,” he said.

However, he said a plateau has been reached with the number of fatalities, 81 percent of which happen in a residential dwelling.

“The only way is with residential fire sprinklers. As long as we continue to build and furnish our homes the way we do without residential sprinklers, the numbers will never decline,” Knapp said.