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Fire research report: Residential sprinklers

Sprinkler systems have been successfully used to protect lives and property in industrial and commercial buildings for many years. Extensive research conducted by Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) confirms fire sprinkler systems also significantly improve the safety of occupants in the event of a fire and should be mandated in all Class 2 and Class 3 residential buildings up to 25 metres in height.

Smoke alarms have had a significant impact on reducing the number of fatalities in residential fires over the past 10 years however based on FRNSW research findings, a combination of fire sprinklers and smoke alarms significantly improves the safety of occupants in the event of fire.

Download the Residential Sprinkler Research (PDF, 9MB)

Fire and Rescue NSW acknowledges and thanks the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA), Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) and its member agencies and industry partners for their generous support of its research.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who conducted the research?

The extensive residential fire safety research, which informs best practice in residential fire safety, was conducted by Fire and Rescue NSW’s Fire Investigation and Research Unit (FIRU), supported the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Fire Protection Association of Australia (FAA), Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) and its member agencies and industry partners.

Who funded the research?

Funding for this research was provided by FRNSW, with valuable support from CSIRO, FPAA and industry partners.

Where was the research undertaken?

An initial test burn program was undertaken by FRNSW consisting of 14 tests at the CSIRO North Ryde fire research facility.

Why sprinklers and smoke alarms need to be fitted?

The research determined that fires in modern homes spread in less than 5 minutes compared to older homes (built between 1950-70) which took around 29 minutes to spread. This demonstrates modern residential buildings and furniture/furnishings are more flammable than in previous years and that there is less time for people to evacuate safely in the event of a fire. Residents would greatly benefit from the installation of sprinkler and smoke alarm systems.

Why was this sprinkler research undertaken?

FRNSW continues to undertake research that will better inform building codes and legislation and improve fire safety for all residents. The focus of the research was to undertake testing to support a Proposal for Change to mandate the use of fire sprinkler systems in the 2019 National Construction Code (NCC) for Class 2 and Class 3 shared residential accommodation buildings up to 25 metres in effective height. The evidence gathered aims to provide the most reliable and cost-effective way to prevent fatalities, injury and damage through the mandatory installation of fire sprinkler systems in residential buildings up to 25 metres in height. This vital research was undertaken to address the NSW Deputy Coroner’s recommendations following the inquiry into the 2012 fatality in a Bankstown high-rise building.

What was the outcome of the research?

The research found that:

a. fire sprinklers helped control the spread of fire.

b. Water sprays from the sprinklers also had the effect of ‘scrubbing’ the air, or acting as a physical barrier to smoke movement within the space.c. The automation of sprinklers significantly improves

a) the safety of occupants in the event of fire;

b) the conditions for firefighters, resulting in a safer operating environment at the time of their intervention.

d. Fire sprinkler systems provide the most reliable and cost-effective way to prevent fatalities, injuries and damage and should be mandated in all new Class 2 (apartments, home units and flats) and Class 3 (large boarding houses, guest houses, hostels, backpacker accommodation, residential parts of hotels, motels, schools, health care buildings, detention centres, certain facilities for aged care, children and people with disabilities) residential buildings not more than 25 metres high.

e. FRNSW has made recommendations from this extensive research and will be working closely with stakeholders to realise these recommendations over the coming months.

What does this mean for NSW residents?

FRNSW’s focus continues to be on prevention but in the event of a fire, FRNSW supports the use of residential sprinkler systems to help control residential fires and prevent fatalities, injuries and damage. FRNSW believes that all new residential buildings up to 25 metres in height should have residential sprinklers installed.

What are people’s obligations? Is this the law? What does the law say?

At the moment, sprinklers are only compulsory in all residential dwellings above 25 metres in height. However, FRNSW is now recommending that residences below 25 metres in height should have both sprinklers and smoke alarms.

If I have a sprinkler system do I still need a smoke alarm in my building?

There are minimum requirements needed to meet the Building Legislation Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Act 2005. Under the Act, different types of premises require smoke alarms to be installed in various locations. For residential dwellings, a smoke alarm must be installed on each level of the home. The alarm should be on the ceiling between the kitchen and sleeping areas, close enough to be heard from the bedrooms. However, FRNSW recommends a higher level of protection with interconnected alarms installed in bedrooms, hallways and living areas.

Fire sprinklers are an added layer of protection to smoke alarms. They help contain a fire to reduce the risk of fatalities, injuries and damage, as well as the risk of the spread of fire in built-up cities and towns. Residential fire sprinklers suppress fires and complement the early warning capabilities of smoke alarms and other required fire suppression and containment measures.

Additional information re laws relating to smoke alarms:

Under Division 7A of Part 9 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, smoke alarms are required in all buildings in NSW where people sleep. The smoke alarms must meet the requirements of Australian Standard AS 3786, Smoke alarms. These provisions came into effect on 1 May 2006.

Alarms must be placed in hallways near bedrooms. If bedrooms are in different parts of the house, you must have alarms installed in each of these locations. If there are no hallways associated with the bedrooms, alarms must be installed between the part of the home containing the bedroom and the rest of the house. You must have smoke alarms on all levels of your home even if there are no bedrooms located on that level.

Will older buildings require to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems?

No, older buildings will not be required to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems.