Your fire suppression system is a necessary component of your building or facility. It keeps your people and your property safe in the event of a fire. But when the data, artifacts, or assets within your facility are high-value or mission-critical, it can be difficult to decide on a fire suppression system that protects those assets as well as it protects your employees and visitors. 

It’s good to know that there are a number of fire suppression solutions made to suit facilities just like yours. Both clean agent and pre-action fire suppression systems are used to protect buildings where it is important to minimize equipment and material damage. But which option is best for your facility? 

Let’s take a look at the differences between clean agent and pre-action sprinkler systems, so you can decide what fire suppression system is best for your facility: 

Clean Agent vs. Pre-Action Fire Suppression Systems: What’s the Difference?

The biggest differences between clean agent and pre-action fire suppression systems are the suppression agent they use, and how quickly the systems actuate.

A clean agent fire suppression system uses a clean agent to suppress a fire. It is designed to actuate as soon as smoke or fire is detected, to suppress a fire in its earliest, elementary stages. The use of a clean agent fire suppression system eliminates the potential for damage to equipment or assets within your building. Clean agent fire suppression systems are often referred to as special hazard systems, and you might recognize specific system names like the FM-200, 3M Novec 1230, and Ansul Inergen — these are three of the most common clean agent systems on the market.  

A pre-action fire suppression sprinkler system uses a water sprinkler system to suppress and extinguish a fire. But, unlike a traditional fire sprinkler system, it takes two occurrences to actuate a pre-action system. 

  1. First, the pre-action valve is opened when a connected smoke detector, heat detector, or manual pull station is activated. This allows water to flow into the pre-action system. But, that water won’t release until a second occurrence happens. 
  2. When the temperature reaches around 155-200° F, the heat element of the sprinkler head will burst, allowing water to suppress the fire quickly and effectively. 

Though a pre-action fire suppression system does still use water, the requirement of these two actions means that the system only fully activates when the threat of fire is real. What’s more, only areas that reach that critical temperature will activate the sprinklers. In areas where there is no fire hazard, the sprinklers will not activate. 

Clean Agent vs. Pre-Action Fire Suppression: What Are The Pros and Cons of Each?

With a better understanding of how each of these systems works, we can dive into the pros and cons of each system when it comes to protecting your facility from fire hazards, while simultaneously protecting high-value and mission-critical assets. 

Clean Agent Fire Suppression Systems

The Pros: 

  • No Damage to Equipment or Assets. Clean agents (learn more about clean agents here) cause no damage and leave behind no residue. While they are effective fire suppression agents, they are electrically non-conductive and easily evaporative or gaseous, which means they will not interfere with the operation of electrical equipment or cause damage to precious assets like rare artifacts.
  • Quick, Effective Activation. Clean agent fire suppression systems are designed to actuate early, when a fire is in its elementary stages. This ensures minimal fire damage and is possible because the clean agent itself won’t damage assets and is not harmful to occupants. 
  • Environmentally-Friendly. Clean agents are inherently environmentally friendly. They are required to have no ozone depletion potential and do not release harmful or toxic substances into the environment. 
  • Safe for Occupants. Clean agents must be rated as no or low observable effects level, to ensure that no one’s health is at risk should the system actuate. Even if people are in the building when a clean agent fire suppression system is activated, their health is not at risk.

The Cons: 

  • Potential for Accidental Actuation. Since a clean agent fire suppression system is designed to stop fires in their elementary stages, there is some small potential for accidental actuation. This can be combatted with cross zoning, which requires two detectors to acknowledge smoke before the system activates.

Pre-Action Fire Suppression Sprinkler Systems

The Pros: 

  • Very Low Potential for Accidental Actuation. Pre-action fire suppression systems are unlikely to activate accidentally or by false alarm. Because they require two separate occurrences to activate, it is nearly impossible for them to actuate without a fire hazard present. 
  • Effective Against Fire Hazards Beyond Elementary Stages. Pre-action fire suppression systems are designed to suppress and extinguish fires that have made it past their elementary stages. It is an exceptionally effective fire suppression method.
  • Fire Suppression Only In Areas Where Fire Hazard is Present. Because sprinkler heads are only activated when they reach a certain temperature, a pre-action fire suppression sprinkler system will only activate in the areas where a fire hazard is present, minimizing damage in other areas of your facility. 

The Cons:

  • Will Still Cause Damage to Assets or Equipment. The biggest drawback of a pre-action fire suppression system is that in the event that there is a real fire hazard, the water sprinklers will still cause damage to assets or equipment. In applications where assets are critical, like data centers, museums, and hospitals, this damage can be devastating.
  • Slower to Respond to Fire Hazard. Because a pre-action fire suppression system does require two occurrences to actuate, it does have more down-time than a clean agent system. This means there can be greater fire damage to the building before the system actuates.

Pre-Action Sprinkler System vs. Clean Agent Fire Suppression System: Which Is Best for My Facility?

In general, if your building houses high-value or mission-critical assets, a clean agent system is the best option. While pre-action systems are exceptionally effective, they will cause water damage to anything in the building. A clean agent system can actuate immediately, suppressing a fire in its earliest stages, protecting the building from greater damage, and preventing no threat to the high-value assets within your facility. 

If your facility is looking for an effective fire suppression system and asset protection is not critical, a pre-action sprinkler system may be the better option for you. These systems provide effective protection, and will not actuate unless the threat of a fire hazard is real. 

Whether a clean agent or pre-action system is right for your facility, Vanguard Fire & Security Systems has the technology and expertise to install the system that keeps your facility and your assets safe. Give us a call at 800-444-8719 or contact us online today for more information.

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