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  • 1.  halon fire system in historic house

    Posted 05-22-2017 11:35 AM

    Good Morning All,


    At the George Ranch Historical Park, one of our historic homes was outfitted with a halon fire extinguisher system when it was restored back in the late 1970s. Our partner organization, which owns the house, is considering replacing the system with a water based sprinkler system. What is the best option here? Does anyone out there have experience with replacement of a halon system in a historic house? We would certainly prefer another gas based system rather than risking great water damage on top of fire damage. Can a replacement system for halon use the same hardware? I have no idea what the present condition of the system is after 40 or so years though as far as I know there are no leaks or damage. Portions of the system are located in the basement which has been known to have a little water in it from time to time.


    Thanks in advance for any help you can provide,



    Chris Godbold

    Chief Curator of Collections

    Fort Bend County Museum Association

    Fort Bend Museum – George Ranch Historical Park


  • 2.  RE: halon fire system in historic house

    Posted 05-23-2017 08:34 AM

    First, find a company that maintains and inspects halon systems. They will be able to tell you if your system is in working order, this should be done regularly check your local regulations to see how often. We check ours once a year. Also ask this company if the current system can be modified for another type of gas system. It will all depend on the pipe size and configuration, halon has different flow properties than other gases. Also you should know that while new halon can not be made there are halon banks where you can purchase halon, if needed.  

    Danielle Bennett
    Assistant Registrar
    Baltimore MD

  • 3.  RE: halon fire system in historic house

    Posted 05-24-2017 08:14 AM
    As you have already been told Halon is not made anymore and they are trying to remove this gas from the buildings.  However, they do have banks for Halon but they are very hard to acquire and expensive.  The FM 200 system is a fairly new type of gas and this works basically like the Halon gas.  It also can work with the same piping if the piping is not deteriorated.

    David Higgins
    Facilities Manager
    Ah-tah-thi-ki Museum Seminole Tribe of Florida
    Clewiston FL

  • 4.  RE: halon fire system in historic house

    Posted 05-26-2017 03:05 PM

    Thanks to all who have responded to my query. I appreciate the info. Best wishes for a peaceful Memorial Day weekend to you all!


    Chris Godbold

    Chief Curator of Collections

    Fort Bend County Museum Association

    Fort Bend Museum – George Ranch Historical Park


  • 5.  RE: halon fire system in historic house

    Posted 05-23-2017 08:35 AM
    Good morning -
    We typically do not recommend gas systems for fire suppression in historic buildings because they require tight enclosure and most historic buildings are extremely leaky.

    If you are concerned about water damage, consider a water mist system, which uses much less water than a conventional sprinkler system. Water mist has been installed with success in a number of iconic and important historic house museums,but it can be expensive. I recommend that you seek guidance from a fire protection engineer, not a vendor of systems, to provide guidance on the best fire protection system for your site. It should be part of a comprehensive fire protection plan, that includes risk assessment, detection and suppression.

    Nick Artim of Heritage Protection Group ( is a fire protection engineer with whom I have worked on a number of projects. Nick is also on the Technical Committee of Cultural Resources of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and has published a number of articles on water mist systems. 

    Good luck.

    Wendy Jessup
    Arlington VA

  • 6.  RE: halon fire system in historic house

    Posted 05-24-2017 02:18 PM
    Hello Chris,

    I think that your question about fire extinguishing systems comes under the heading, "it depends". There are so many factors to consider when designing and choosing a system, it is just about impossible to come up with one simple answer. One consideration in replacing an old Halon system with a new extinguishing-gas system is overall safety -- depending upon the layout of the building, it may not be within code to cover the entire building with one system. The gas may not be toxic, but it displaces air when deployed, thus potentially making it difficult for people to exit if they have to walk too far. If such a system is permitted, the overall cost may be considerable. About the only public space (in other words, not a storage room) covered by a gas system I have seen recently is the clock exhibit gallery at Old Sturbridge Village; unfortunately, I have no idea how old their system is, nor its cost, but the latter must be high, considering the volume of the room.

    As for choosing between gas and water extinguishing systems, a wise and experienced conservator once said, "If it's wet, we can dry it out, but if it has turned into toast, we can't turn it back into bread." Of course, the latter part of that statement pertains to any extinguishing system, but also she was somewhat allaying fears about using water systems. You may wish to research the choices of wet-pipe, dry-pipe, and water mist systems; you should not proceed based solely on what my opinion may be, and there are lots of other sources of information. First, I would suggest being cautious about dry-pipe sprinkler systems. In my own experience (and in research about other museums, such as the Dewitt-Wallace Gallery at Williamsburg) dry-pipe systems can become leaky and unreliable over time, because the pipes are not really dry. After the system is built and tested (and thereafter tested each year) there is always a little water left in some of the pipes, creating corrosion and sludge. In our museum, we eventually had a leak caused by that corrosion, though as far as I know, no remedies were pursued later to overhaul the entire system. Therefore, leaks will probably develop soon, and possibly in places less convenient to work on than the basement utility areas where the first noticeable leak appeared. One might expect wet-pipe systems to develop worse corrosion problems, but in fact it is the combination of moisture and air in the "dry" systems that is the most problematic. Water mist systems are considered very effective, even though they use much less water than traditional sprinklers, and the water pipes are much smaller, as well. However, since mist systems operate under rather high pressure, materials and installation can be quite costly, and of course, everything is subject to codes that apply in your area. Your fire marshall can offer guidance.

    Something else to consider regarding sprinkler systems is that individual sprinkler heads can be activated in the event of fire, so you do not necessarily have water spraying everywhere. Similarly, there are controls that shut off the water once the fire is extinguished. Still, water is the extinguishing agent, so in collections areas, at least some objects are likely to become soggy. In the end, water systems are very effective, and they are not dangerous to people.

    The next step you take might be to look up the AAM security committee, and read about the advice from those experts.

    Best wishes,

    Bruce MacLeish
    Curator Emeritus, Newport Restoration Foundation
    Newport RI