Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mandatory Sprinklers
In a significant victory for affordable housing, the Chester County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas on Aug. 29 struck down a controversial residential fire sprinkler ordinance in Schuylkill Township.
Enacted in March 2005, the ordinance would have required the installation of fire sprinklers in all new construction and in all structural alterations of 1,000 square feet or more.
NAHB opposes mandatory residential sprinkler ordinances in single-family residences because they increase the price of the home without providing a commensurate increase in safety.
“This court ruling is important for a number of reasons,” said Brad Elliott, president of the Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA). “Consumers still have the option to install fire sprinklers if they so choose, but this added financial burden should not be government imposed. It should be an option for consumers to decide.”
To challenge the ordinance, the builders relied on the state building code, which went into effect in 2004 without including measures for residential fire sprinklers. To justify requiring residential fire sprinklers, Schuylkill Township officials argued that it needed them more than other parts of the state because of the area’s traffic congestion, steep roadways along neighboring Valley Forge Mountain and a decline in the ranks of local volunteer fire fighters. The court disagreed.
“In passing the [Pennsylvania Construction Code] Act, the legislature chose not to mandate the use of automatic sprinkler systems in buildings across the commonwealth,” the Court of Common Pleas decision said.
“If general or widespread conditions are sufficient to justify an exemption to the act, then the legislature would have mandated the use of automatic sprinkler systems and not made their use subject to a finding of a need for exemption.”
Pennsylvania builders are delighted with the decision, said Elliott.
“It’s easy to understand that the benefits that come from having a Uniform Construction Code arise from its consistent application across the state,” he said. “The code ensures the quality and safety of new home construction in Pennsylvania. If needless variances to the code are granted to various localities, the advantages of having a single building code for everyone will be lost. That’s why the PBA will continue to advocate for a single, uniform building code administered consistently by code officials across the state.
“This court ruling represents a landmark decision because for the first time a court has clarified key wording in our state’s Uniform Construction Code,” he continued. “The court’s order is a win for Pennsylvanians because it protects the uniformity of the state’s residential building code. That benefits everyone by ensuring the construction of safe, high-quality and affordable homes for the state’s residents.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.