Fire Suppression Systems for Historic Buildings

Historic buildings often have specific fire suppression needs. Because the buildings were constructed before current fire laws were in place, they often have challenges that are more difficult to overcome in retrofitting. 

Historic buildings may also be protected against a number of changes that might make them safer, but may also damage the building to install. For these reasons, it’s common for people carrying out the work of installing historic building fire suppression systems to get more creative in their efforts. 

Ideally, a good fire suppression system will help protect the building, while also not detracting from the value of the building during its installation. This can be a fine line to walk but is necessary in order to truly preserve the building itself. 

Why Historic Buildings Need Fire Suppression Systems

Historic buildings often hold a lot of value. They may contain antique furnishings, details and architectural features that are difficult to preserve or reproduce, and they often hold a lot of information and memories that can’t be found anywhere else. 

If a historic building were to catch on fire, these items may be lost forever, due to fire, smoke and water damage. In addition, many historic buildings were built before safety codes, so they may be made of extremely flammable materials, lack adequate exits and egress points, and may also have narrow or steep stairways and narrow doors. All of which can make it more difficult for anyone inside the building to escape safely in the event of a fire. 

Take the fire that severely damaged the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. As reported by The New York Times, the 850 year old structure “lacked the fundamental fire-prevention safeguards that are required in more modern structures.” There were no barriers in the open space beneath the Cathedral’s roof, so the flames and smoke were not compartmentalized and spread quickly before firefighters could arrive.


By installing fire suppression systems in the building, you can help to preserve the building, its furnishings and any historic documents or other materials that it contains. You can also make it easier and safer for any occupants to exit the building. 

With the right products, these systems can be installed so that they’re unobtrusive and able to help protect historic structures and their occupants without damaging the building itself or detracting from its appearance. 

How Fire Suppression Systems Can Help

Fire suppression systems come in two types: active and passive. Ideally, you want to combine these two types of systems to get the best coverage possible. 

In some instances, this may not always be possible in historic buildings, so your best options are to examine the building, its use and what it contains to determine what types of systems will be best at protecting the building and its occupants. 

Active Fire Suppression Systems

Active fire suppression systems work to help put out the fire and alert the occupants. This includes things like smoke detectors. Most historic buildings will require extremely sophisticated smoke, fire and heat detection systems, which can help alert people to problems before they get out of hand in the hopes that problems can be headed off quickly before much damage can be done. 

Active systems can also include fire sprinkler systems to help extinguish the flames. In historic buildings, you’ll want to consider what it is you’re protecting and how quickly a fire could spread. 

Sometimes the cons of using a sprinkler system, such as damage to historic property or important documents, can be outweighed by the pros, such as stopping the spread of the flames to other areas within the building. 

Other times, a full sprinkler system may be more detrimental than it’s worth. In this instance, misting systems may be deployed that can help prevent more damage while also helping to mitigate the spread of the flames.


Passive Fire Suppression Systems

Passive systems help control the spread of flames and smoke in other ways. This includes the use of things like smoke baffles and smoke curtains, as well as things like fire doors and using flame-retardant materials wherever possible in the design of the space. 

However, products such as fire doors aren’t always possible to use in historic buildings, because of the need to preserve the existing materials, so the addition of protection systems like smoke curtains becomes more important.

Smoke curtains and baffles work to block and contain smoke and fire, preventing their spread to other areas of the building. They may be stationary or they may be discreetly in place above doorways and other open areas, deploying only after a fire has been detected. 

This type of system can be very effective in historic buildings because it can help control the fire without further damage to historic documents or materials and without detracting from or damaging the architecture of the building. 

Protecting Historic Buildings 


Fire suppression in historic buildings is often a creative process that requires a lot of flexibility. It can be a challenging process that involves a lot of decisions about whether the building and what it contains are more important than the addition of fire suppression systems. 

By working closely with the design of the building in mind, it is possible to implement a mixture of passive and active systems such as heat detectors and smoke and fire curtains that can help protect the building. By making sure that historic buildings are protected, it can help ensure that they remain in good condition for many years to come. 

For more info on how you can protect your building, contact an expert at Smoke Guard today. Or click here to learn more about how smoke curtains work to protect buildings.