NAHB Defeats Mandated Fire Sprinklers at Code Hearings
Citing their high costs and significant installation and maintenance problems, NAHB representative attending the International Code Council’s code development hearings in Orlando, Fla. last week resoundingly defeated proposals to mandate fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes.
After more than two hours of debate, all proposals seeking to mandate fire sprinkler systems in the International Residential Code (IRC) were disapproved by the IRC Committee. The decision was made despite emotional support from fire service representatives — but tellingly, no local building officials — who reiterated their support for keeping the fire sprinkler language in the code’s appendix, a position they supported during the previous code development cycle, said builder Frank Thompson of Sweetwater Builders in Cranberry Township, Penn.
“Overall, we are doing a very good job with the existing fire safety measures that we have,” Thompson said, citing improvements in building safety and interconnected smoke alarms “that have proven very effective in saving lives.” No need for the sprinklers has been demonstrated, home builders have pointed out.
Building officials are also concerned that mandates do not address the issue of how to install sprinklers in areas where public water systems are not available. “Sprinklers become much more expensive when you add pumps or holding tanks,” Thompson said. “We also don’t have answers for making these systems work in cold climates.”
The arguments in support of mandates were conspicuously not based on facts and included arguments that have been disproved by local home builders association representatives fighting mandates in Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, New Jersey and other states. No studies have demonstrated that fire sprinklers are more effective than smoke alarms.
“There is a need to develop a lower-cost system, and there may be an opportunity for fire services and builders to at least sit down and identify the hurdles in developing a lower-cost system,” Thompson said. One obstacle is the cost of the larger water lines needed for the sprinkler systems and water connection fees would be another.
In addition to the high cost of the systems themselves and their effect on affordable housing, NAHB cited design, maintenance and legal concerns described in a policy resolution approved by the NAHB Board of Directors at its meeting last month in Salt Lake City.
Proponents cited the potential development of low-cost, plumbing-based systems — but none are yet available. Currently, installation costs range from $2 to $7 per square foot, builders say.
More challenges to the NAHB position are expected in May, 2007 at the next round of ICC hearings.
“We hope that before then, there is increased dialog” between proponents and opponents, Thompson said. NAHB will continue its longstanding and successful efforts to oppose mandates, but at the same time must advocate for more affordable systems where mandates already exist, he said. “We need to try to work toward a long-term approach.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.