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How to Choose Air Compressors for Fire Sprinkler Systems

When choosing an air compressor for a dry pipe fire sprinkler system, it’s important to select a unit that is appropriately configured and sized for your system. Here are some tips for selecting an air compressor for a fire sprinkler system.

NFPA 13 Requirements

According to NFPA 13, the air supply shall have a capacity capable of restoring normal air pressure in the system within 30 minutes (NFPA 13 Also, air compressors with a flow greater than 5.5 CFM at 10 psi require a tank and regulator-style air maintenance device with a bypass and restrictor (NFPA 13

Dry System Air Pressure (psi)

An air maintenance device regulates the supervisory air pressure in a fire sprinkler dry pipe system, pre-action system, or dry pilot-actuated deluge system. The system air pressure shall be maintained per the instruction sheet furnished with the dry pipe valve, or shall be 20 psi above the calculated trip pressure of the dry pipe valve, based on the highest normal water pressure of the system supply (NFPA 13

Single vs. Multi-Valve Systems

Single-valve dry sprinkler systems are compatible with all fire protection air compressors and require an air maintenance device or pressure switch (Digital AMD Gen-3) to control the system pressure. Multi-valve dry sprinkler systems are only compatible with tank-mounted air compressors and require an air maintenance device before each valve. For a more detailed breakdown, view our Best Practices diagram here.

Size of the Largest System (gal)

While there is technically no restriction on the number of systems one air compressor can serve, the typical recommendation is one air compressor per three systems. The largest system size will determine the number of gallons the air compressor needs to be rated for (capacity rating). Each system is filled one at a time and the 30-minute fill time requirement applies to each system separately.

Compressor Dry System Capacity Rating (gal)

The dry system capacity rating is determined by the flow rate (CFM) of the compressor and the pressure of the system (psi). Note: Horsepower is not a viable way to size a compressor for a fire sprinkler system because each manufacturer uses different components that can cause the horsepower to vary at similar system capacity ratings.

Type of Environment

Settings such as nursing homes, churches, and apartment buildings may need an oil-free compressor to avoid noise disturbances during operation. Oil-free compressors (Light Duty Series) are a good fit for quiet settings and require little maintenance. For older systems or applications where noise is not a concern, oil-lubricated compressors (Heavy Duty Series) are recommended as they are built for longevity and provide the lowest total cost of ownership over the life of the building.

Electrical Requirements

Electrical issues are one of the most common troubleshooting topics regarding air compressors. The electrician should fully understand the electrical configuration and requirements of the compressor and incoming power supply before installation to avoid problems for fire protection contractors later on.

Cold Storage Systems

Dry pipe systems are prone to corrosion, in part, due to moisture in the air produced by the air compressor. Regenerative drying air compressors (Dry Air Series) are specifically designed to prevent corrosion by drying system air to a less than -40°F dewpoint, which will also prevent the dangerous formation of ice plugs in cold storage systems. Per NFPA 13, normal system air pressure in cold systems (spaces below 5°F) shall be permitted to be restored within 60 minutes, instead of 30 minutes (NFPA 13 C-Aire’s Dry Air Series system capacities are based on a 30-minute fill time.


All air compressors require regular maintenance. As mentioned above, oil-free compressors are low maintenance, but they also do not last as long as oil-lubricated compressors. Having a proper maintenance plan for your air compressor is an essential part of any dry pipe fire sprinkler system. C-Aire has a Twin Cities-based service team with over 50 years of combined experience that will solve your service needs and help with your compressor maintenance.

Other Manufacturer Equivalent

If you are looking to replace an existing air compressor from another manufacturer, our customer service team is here to help you find the properly sized C-Aire compressor alternative. Our Competitor Cross Reference Tool is coming soon!

C-Aire Dry System Capacity Table

Use the dry system capacity table to match compatible C-Aire Compressors with the capacity of your dry systems to find the compressor that best fits your needs. View the table here.

Fire Protection Compressor Sizing Table - C-Aire Compressors


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