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Churches and Sprinkling

April 19, 2010

Most of the time, when churches talk about sprinkling, they are talking about a mode of Baptism.

But, as an architect, an issue that comes up over and over again with churches is the issue of adding a sprinkler system to the building. It is a cost issue . . . but it is also a safety issue. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I don’t think I have ever dedicated an entire post to it.

My professional advice: unless you have a very highly compelling reason not to, churches ought to sprinkler their buildings. I won’t list any of the reasons not to, because I personally think they are extremely rare and not all that compelling.

Here’s the gist of my professional opinion:

  1. If you EVER plan on accommodating more than 300 people (by code, not actual) in your (religious assembly) building, current IBC and NFPA codes (if applicable in your area), WILL require your building to be sprinklered. Even if you’re not there yet, sprinklering now will save A LOT of cost for fire walls, fire doors, and/or retrofitting a system during future expansions.
  2. I’ve heard a variety of cost figures for adding a sprinkler system to the project. Factors from distance to a viable water main, needs for pumps, dry pipe systems, retrofitting existing buildings, and a variety of other factors all play into the cost. However, sprinklering will allow you to eliminate a lot of fire-rated doors, corridors, duct protection, etc. The net difference can easily be half of the sprinkler system cost. Sometimes it’s even more. In certain large buildings, the net cost can actually be negative.
  3. Closely related to #2, depending on specific code factors, having the sprinkler system in the building can often open the door to greater design creativity, more flexibility of how spaces are located and/or how those spaces connect and interact with each other, and a variety of other design benefits.
  4. “Aside from fire fighting and explosion fatalities, there has never been a multiple loss of life in a fully sprinklered building due to fire or smoke. (Reference here) That fact alone ought to move leaders to desire a safer building! Ask your insurance company if there will be an ongoing savings for sprinklering your building.
  5. After reading #4, you can understand why building codes (#1) are creating an environment favorable to sprinklering buildings, especially public assembly occupancies.
  6. I believe it is an evangelistic opportunity.
    1. When churches try to “bargain” with architects and/or code officials, it’s just not a good reflection on the Church and Christ. It diminishes your perceived respect for the professionals you are dealing with. Your spiritual voice with them will be diminished if you diminish their professional voice.
    2. Many churches go to great lengths to create “spiritually safe” environments for people far from God to come in and be exposed to a relationship with God, and in time become a follower of Christ. We also talk about meeting physical and/or felt needs as a bridge to the Gospel. If you are going to build a building, having that building be a physically safe environment ought to fall under the same umbrella.

So, there you have it. My professional architect and ministry perspective on spinkler systems in church buildings.

I’d love to hear from other design professionals and also from ministry leaders. This discussion comes up on almost every church project I’ve done, so I’d love a good healthy discussion on the topic.

Contact me at if your church is considering a building project and you would like some input.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2010 9:01 am

    A comment I got via email from a pastor friend:

    “I am going to save this file in my trustees file. I have never been a propionate of discounting a sprinkler system on the merit of “we just can’t afford it” These are some great points and they are difficult to refute. I especially like #6. I would tweek it to say As Christians we need to lead the way by example.”

  2. April 23, 2010 9:11 pm

    I wish I could offer a spirited counterpoint, Andrew, but I agree with all you’ve writen.

    As usual, your ideas are strong and clearly writen. Your pastor friend is right; this post should be bookmarked or otherwise filed away for the next time a growing church faces the sprinkler issue.

    Keep up the good work!

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