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How to Insure and Underwrite a Sprinklered Building

Updated on December 13, 2015
Randi Glazer profile image

Randi Glazer is a Sr. Insurance Professional with experience underwriting, marketing, organizational leadership & managing large staff

Underwriting Sprinklered Risks

If the sprinkler protection is not effective, any loss may far exceed that which is expected for the occupancy underwritten.

The record of automatic extinguishing systems in controlling fires has generally been good. As expected, this record is reflected in reduced rates making it as difficult to underwrite this business at a profit as it is unsprinklered property.

Each risk must first be fully underwritten without regard to the sprinkler protection. If the risk is acceptable, the sprinkler equipment and its water supply should then be analyzed to determine whether effective operation of the system in the event of a fire can be reasonably expected.

Sprinkler System

Sprinkler System in a stairwell, photo taken by Randi Glazer
Sprinkler System in a stairwell, photo taken by Randi Glazer | Source

Underwriting Considerations - Adequacy of Water Supply

The following factors are the major considerations to be taken into account by the underwriter in the analysis of the sprinkler equipment and its water supply.

  1. Adequacy of Water Supply. An analysis must be made to determine if the sprinklers are adequately supplied with water.


For the standards which specify water supplies depending upon whether or not the occupancy is classified as Light, Ordinary or High Hazard. In the determination of the available water supply, allowance must be made for the possibility of the Fire Department connecting hoses for fire fighting purposes to the sprinkler system water supply. For example, a Light Hazard occupancy with 1,010 gallons available per minute and a 15 pound per square inch residual pressure at a 25 foot top line of sprinklers with allowance made for 2 hose streams at 250 gallons per minute, would allow 510 gallons of water available per minute for sprinklers, or enough to supply 23 heads. In the normal Light Hazard risk, this should be sufficient to effectively control the usual fire in the occupancy.

Each risk must be similarly analyzed to determine the adequacy of the water supply.

Underwriting Considerations - Sprinkler Equipment.

The following factors are the major considerations to be taken into account by the underwriter in the analysis of the sprinkler equipment and its water supply.

2. Sprinkler Equipment. The sprinkler system must be analyzed to determine that it is appropriate for the occupancy and that it has been installed in accordance with NFPA Standards. The following basic requirements of sprinkler installation should be checked.

a. The equipment must fully protect the premises. Risks with significant unsprinklered areas should not be rated as sprinklered. Equipment providing partial protection may, in some cases, only be recognized as interior private protection.

b. The equipment must have been designed and installed in recognition of the specific construction details of the individual building.

For example:

- Multi-story buildings should have standard floor cutoffs as a sprinkler system is designed to control a single fire on the floor of origin and an upward spread of fire may cause the opening of a large enough number of sprinklers to overtax the water supply.

- Large open floor areas should be broken up by partitions, draft curtains or other barriers in order to confine heat buildup at the ceiling to areas small enough to minimize the possibility of an excessive number of sprinkler heads opening.

- Sprinklers installed in buildings with high ceilings and an excessive distance between the sprinklers and combustible materials must be designed to provide for a sufficiently dense discharge of water to ensure that water reaches the base of the fire.

- All combustible concealed spaces must be fully protected by the system. Concealed spaces which might seem insignificant have often played an important part in severe fires because of delayed detection and the fire is unimpeded by being shielded from sprinkler discharge.

- Equipment such as wide shelves or tables which could shield fires from the sprinklers should be properly protected beneath.

- Buildings which have severe immediate exposures should have appropriate exterior sprinklers as well as the proper window, door or wall protection to retard transmission of heat.

Underwriting Considerations - Hazards of Occupancy

The following factors are the major considerations to be taken into account by the underwriter in the analysis of the sprinkler equipment and its water supply.

3. Hazards of Occupancy. The occupancy must be analyzed to detect any conditions which might cause or contribute to the overpowering of the sprinkler system and consequent heavy loss.

Risks which have severe flash fire or explosion possibilities should not be rated as sprinklered unless the system is specifically engineered for the occupancy and designed to effectively operate under conditions resulting from a flash fire or explosion. The extensive use of flammable or combustible liquids, the presence of chemicals and explosives and the generation of combustible dust are the most frequent causes of flash fires or explosions.

High or dense stock piling is a prevalent and serious problem in storage occupancies or in storage areas within a manufacturing or processing occupancy. Storage must be conducted in accordance with standards, and the sprinkler system must be designed to control fires in stock piles. Undesirable stock piling situations, if correction cannot be obtained, should prompt consideration of declining a risk or rating the risk as non-sprinklered. The underwriter must recognize that high or dense stock piling cannot be changed unless additional space is provided. This would normally require new construction and so would be a long-term project. Space is valuable in a storage occupancy and so every possible square inch is utilized, too often to the detriment of the sprinkler protection.

Risks which contain storage or manufacturing of combustible items that have large interior volumes such as boats, mobile homes, truck or bus bodies are very susceptible to overpowering of the sprinkler system. Fire within a unit is shielded from sprinkler discharge. The system must be designed to protect the building for virtually the entire duration of consumption of the interior of the unit, requiring enormous quantities of water. Any changes of occupancy or rearrangement or relocation of operations within the same occupancy may require modification of the sprinkler system.

Underwriting Considerations - Maintenance of Sprinkler Equipment

The following factors are the major considerations to be taken into account by the underwriter in the analysis of the sprinkler equipment and its water supply.

4. Maintenance of Sprinkler Equipment. Over 1 /3 of the cases of unsatisfactory sprinkler performance in fires have been caused by a shutoff of the water supply. Before rating the risk as sprinklered, the underwriter must be satisfied that the risk will have the protection of the system at all time.

The sprinkler equipment must be maintained by qualified employees or by independent operators with whom this service has been contracted. The system must be maintained "on" at all times and the insured and those responsible for the equipment must fully understand that the Company must be notified any time the water supply is to be shut off.

The underwriter should determine the extent and expected duration of interruption, its cause, and steps being taken to restore service. Any protective measures already instituted, such as suspension of hazardous operations, watch service, public fire department actions and temporary hose lines should be identified.

Underwriting Considerations - Alarm Service

The following factors are the major considerations to be taken into account by the underwriter in the analysis of the sprinkler equipment and its water supply.

5. Alarm Service. An underwriter should expect operative and properly maintained water flow alarms, preferably with central station supervisory service. Local alarms are acceptable in those situations where it is probable that the alarm will be responded to, or where 24-hour watch service is maintained. Unless water flow is detected a substantial water loss will ensue after a fire has been controlled, or if not fully controlled the fire can grow to unmanageable proportions.

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© 2015 Randi Glazer

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