Fire Suppression For Delicate Conditions: What Homeowners Can Learn From Museums

If you're a homeowner with a valuable collection of art, books, wine, or the like, having a fire suppression system, in addition to smoke alarms, is vital. But traditional suppressants won't work with many fragile collectibles, and there are a host of other concerns with fire systems as well. Here's a look at some things you should be taking into consideration, learning from museums, libraries, banks, and archives.

Fire Suppressant Materials

Fire suppressant materials have been developed to work quickly and effectively against all kinds of fires. A big issue with these suppressants, however, is that while they may be safe for your oven when putting out a kitchen fire, they will wreak havoc on delicate paintings, tapestries, and rare books. Water, most dry chemicals, and carbon dioxide are not appropriate for these valuable items.

Fire suppressants for the special home environment need to be of museum quality. You need to first look at the material you are trying to protect and its inherent combustibility. Then you need to choose an appropriate suppressant for those items. You may not want the same fire suppressant for books that you do for, say, coins. There are new, patented materials on the market today that will work to put out fires without harming a range of fragile materials, including:

  • paper
  • paint
  • canvas
  • fabric
  • photos
  • film
  • wood
  • gemstones
  • metals

You also need to ask if people or pets will possibly be in the room at the time the fire suppression system is activated. If so, all substances need to be safe for them as well.

Structural Issues

Whether you are building new construction or retrofitting an existing building will have some impact on the ease of installation for a fire suppression system. It is possible to do the latter, but it takes more advance planning and may be disruptive.

In most home situations it is preferable to disguise the fire system piping for aesthetic reasons, so you may need to consult an architect or contractor about this.

Think about how your collection is housed. Do you need overhead suppression, flooding of a small self-contained unit (like a vault), or portable fire suppression? There are new hand-held fire extinguishers available today that stop fire using heat absorption and chemicals, and these may be a smart addition to an overhead system.

Technological Concerns

The beauty of fire safety systems today is that they are easily tied to mobile devices, and you can receive alerts about a system activation by email or text even if you're not at home. They can also be linked to other security systems, such as burglar alarms and surveillance cameras.

You need to be certain, however, that the suppressant used won't have any adverse effects on the electrical or computer systems in the environment. This is particularly good reason to use museum-grade suppressants, as fires are sometimes used as red herrings in art theft, and museum fire suppression systems must not disable other security measures.

Other Factors

There are a few other factors to consider when installing your fire suppression system:

  • What are the logistics of post-damage cleanup? Will you have to vacate the property for any length of time?
  • Are the chemicals being used environmentally friendly?
  • How often do the suppressants need to be replaced due to expiration?
  • How often does the system need testing and how does that work?
  • Is the system under warranty?
  • What are the effects of the system on the insurance policy for your collection?
  • What is the cost of the system?

While museum quality fire suppression is not inexpensive, it is invaluable when protecting collections that can't be replaced. Talk to a fire suppression expert like Alexander Gow Fire Equipment Company about your home if you believe your belongings require more than a simple smoke alarm and overhead sprinkler system.