Week of May 21, 2007
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Fire Sprinkler Mandate Among Proposed ICC Code Changes

The final hearings for the 2006-07 International Code Council model code development cycle are taking place this week through Saturday in Rochester, N.Y.

Out of the 2,250 proposed amendments decided at the first round of hearings last fall, more than 650 are being reconsidered in Rochester. NAHB staff and more than a dozen members will be testifying throughout the week on as many as 250 proposals of particular concern to the home building industry, especially in those amending the International Residential Code (IRC).

Structural issues such as foundation anchorage, seismic loads and wall bracing, in addition to energy, roofing and accessibility are among the more significant issues being debated.

The proposal generating the most interest is an amendment that would move requirements for fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes from the appendix to the main body of the model code — a move that would mandate them in communities where the code is adopted.

NAHB members and many code officials have been steady in their opposition to the mandatory fire sprinkler proposal, despite an extensive letter-writing campaign from fire sprinkler proponents.

“It’s unfortunate that our position has been misrepresented by those who want to see the mandates enacted,” said Eric Borsting, chairman of the NAHB Construction, Codes & Standards Committee. “We want to protect our home owners and our fire fighters. But residential fire sprinklers are not the solution,” he said.

“The number of fatalities from house fires has dropped dramatically in the last 20 years, and that is greatly due to improvements in construction technology that have allowed our members to build safer homes,” he said. “But the greatest single deterrent to fatalities is a smoke alarm system. Before we turn to mandates for new tools, let’s make sure we’re doing a better job with the tools we have. Smoke alarms work, and we need to make sure that all homes have them.”

New technology allows for alarms to emit loud, but low-frequency signals, or to play a recording of a parent’s voice. “We need to consider other solutions too, like allowing only permanent batteries in smoke alarms that are not hard-wired and encouraging the use of wireless technology. It’s important to inspect alarms when a home is sold, as well,” Borsting said.

“Our members continue to install fire sprinklers when home owners request them, but they don’t request them very often because they can be prohibitively expensive — sometimes in excess of $5 per square foot. That makes them too expensive, and we can’t ignore that cost when we talk about mandates,” he added.

For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.

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