Commercial Sprinkler Systems vs. Fire Suppression Systems

Commercial sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems are two of the most important safety measures for any commercial building. But what is the difference between commercial sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems, and how do you know which one is right for your business?

This article will discuss the basics of both commercial sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems, as well as the differences between them and what additional measures can be taken to ensure the safety of people and property.

What Are Commercial Sprinkler Systems?

Commercial fire sprinklers are installed in various buildings and use water to help extinguish fires before they have a chance to spread. These systems are designed to detect a fire and through a distribution system, the sprinklers closest to the fire are activated, helping contain the blaze until the fire department arrives.

Commercial sprinkler systems are required by building codes in many areas and can be customized to meet the specific needs of any business. Sprinkler heads come in various sizes and shapes and can be configured to provide coverage for different types of fires. In addition, commercial sprinkler systems can be connected to the building's alarm system, so that everyone in the building is notified when the sprinklers are activated.

Different Types of Fire Sprinkler Systems

The type of sprinkler system you select depends on the specific application. Some types of commercial sprinkler systems include:

  • Activating deluge sprinklers fill the pipes with water and open all the sprinkler heads simultaneously. This is ideal for hazardous materials storage or other high-risk areas, like aircraft hangars.
  • Dry pipe sprinklers are advantageous for unheated buildings, like warehouses, because the pipes are empty of water. If full pipes were to freeze in cold weather, they would likely burst.
  • Wet pipe sprinklers are constantly filled with water and used in buildings with high occupancy rates, such as hotels and other commercial buildings. They offer the fastest response time, as there is no wait time for the pipes to fill.
  • Pre-action sprinklers are activated before a fire occurs. They're intended to minimize damage to sensitive locations caused by inadvertent activation. This includes museums, libraries and similar spaces.

Understanding Fire Suppression Systems

While the term "fire suppression system" would include commercial sprinklers, there is a distinction in the material used in each when activated. Instead of water, a fire suppression system uses gaseous, chemical or foam fire-suppressing chemicals to suffocate the flames. Water could cause property damage such as computers and server rooms in data centers. Instead of sprinklers, these applications would benefit from a fire protection strategy.

Because water won't extinguish fires involving oil and other substances, a fire suppression system is required for buildings where these materials are present.

Types of Fire Suppression Systems

There are four main categories of fire suppression systems:

  1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a gas that works quickly and efficiently to put out fires, but inhaling too much of it can be deadly for humans. Therefore, it's best used in facilities where there are no people present.
  2. Dry Chemical Suppression is an effective way to put out fires caused by combustible/flammable liquids. This would be useful in places at risk of fire, such as boiler rooms, mechanical rooms and areas where flammable liquids are stored.
  3. Wet Chemical Suppression is the best type of suppression for kitchens, as it uses liquid substances to prevent fires from reigniting.
  4. Clean Agent Fire Suppression is non-corrosive and leaves no residue behind. It's ideal for sensitive areas like museums or computer rooms, where water and other methods would cause more damage.

Which System is Right for Your Building?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the authority when it comes to sprinkler requirements. The NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, is a popular standard for small companies that helps builders, owners and managers choose the appropriate sprinkler systems that meet fire safety standards. Here are some recommended guidelines:

  • Commercial structures with a fire zone greater than 5,000 square feet must have automatic fire sprinkler systems installed.
  • Sprinklers will be required in all remodeling and extensions of an existing fire area greater than 5,000 square feet, as well as any single tenant increase in occupancy that requires a new certificate of occupancy.
  • Any building taller than 55 feet must have an automatic sprinkler system installed throughout the entire structure.
  • Sprinkler systems are necessary in townhomes with more than two residential occupancy units within a structure.

Most commercial buildings will require some type of sprinkler system, but many applications will benefit from a combination of commercial fire sprinklers and fire suppression systems. This will be the case when multiple activities such as cooking, material storage and living accommodations are present in a single building like a hospital, hotel or assisted living facility.

Additional Measures to Mitigate the Spread of Fire and Smoke

Most fire protection plans would benefit from professionally designed and installed fire and smoke curtains. They are utilized to target specific areas of the structure where standard fire protection measures cannot provide maximum protection for personnel and property.

Elevator Smoke Curtains

An important passive fire safety measure in any commercial building with an elevator is the installation of elevator smoke curtains. They are designed to channel and seal off an elevator shaft — if left unsealed, the elevator could be used as a potential vector for fire and smoke to travel uninhibited throughout the building and potentially put patients on other floors at risk. Automated curtain designs that allow those using the elevator to escape quickly while still maintaining their efficacy are considered best practices.

Vertical Fire and Smoke Curtains


Unlike fire and smoke mitigation systems that restrict the spread of smoke and flames, vertical smoke curtains can be used to target the particular room or compartment where the fire occurs. They extend from the ceiling and swiftly block large wall openings to restrict oxygen while also limiting the spread of smoke within the damaged region.

Horizontal Fire and Smoke Curtains


Ceiling openings are common in contemporary building designs. These openings, like an elevator shaft, allow fire and smoke to quickly fill the floors above it. Horizontal fire and smoke curtains swiftly seal off the fire and smoke once they've been deployed to ensure it is contained. Other removal methods are used to clear the afflicted space after a fire has been put out.

Perimeter Fire and Smoke Curtains


The top priority during a fire should be the safe evacuation of all people from the building. If the fire has shut down the electrical systems, then elevators may not be working. This could leave stairwells as the primary evacuation route.

A smoke-resistant fire curtain can be used to protect against both smoke and flames in stairwells and escalators, as well as reserve an area on the upper floors of atriums or other open spaces free of smoke.

Smoke Guard Leads the Industry in Innovative Fire and Smoke Mitigation


If you are looking for an experienced, professional provider of smoke and fire mitigation systems, Smoke Guard is the company for you. Since 1991, our team has been designing fire protection systems and providing installation advice that protects people and property from the spread of fire and smoke.

Contact us today to learn more about our products and services!