Fierce Fire Sprinkler Debate Expected at ICC Hearings
NAHB leaders are preparing for intense debate over mandatory fire sprinklers during the International Code Council Final Action Hearings May 21-26 in Rochester, N.Y.
At issue is whether to move sprinkler requirements from the appendix into the main body of the 2006 International Residential Code, which governs about 95% of new home construction. That move would make fire sprinkler systems required in one- and two-family homes and townhouses.
NAHB is opposed to the amendment that would move the requirements, and is supported by many building officials who agree that code provisions adequately provide for fire safety without needing mandatory sprinklers.
IRC amendments will be discussed May 22-23. The sprinkler amendment at issue is IRC proposal RB-114.
Proponents of fire sprinkler systems are encouraging their supporters to go to the hearings and sway the vote. They say sprinkler systems add an average of only $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot to the cost of a home.
However, an NAHB survey of installation costs in jurisdictions where sprinklers are required demonstrates that the cost to builders can be as high as $6.88 per square foot. Prices like that have a significant impact on housing affordability — preventing families who rent substandard housing from purchasing a newer, safer home, NAHB has found.
A Smoke Alarms Work Web site was created by NAHB as a public safety tool and to remind home owners to maintain their smoke alarm systems. The site includes helpful information about fire safety, as well:
- The number of fatal fires has dropped dramatically in the last 20 years as the result of changes in residential construction technology, improved building code requirements, consumer behavior and the concerted efforts of fire fighters, home builders and other safety advocates. This trend continues and is all the more impressive given the nation’s growing population and housing stock.
- From 1979 to 2003, the rate of death from house fires dropped by more than 58%, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control. That trend will continue as more new housing stock is constructed and especially as home owners are educated to maintain their smoke alarm systems.
- U.S. Fire Administration and National Fire Protection Association data continue to affirm that the vast majority of home fire fatalities occur when there are no operational smoke alarms. Based on a 2006 U.S. Fire Administration study on the presence of working smoke alarms in residential fires, 88% of the fatal fires in single-family homes between 2001 and 2004 occurred where there were no working smoke alarms.
- The same study shows that only 3.7% of residential fire deaths were reported as occurring in homes with working smoke alarms.
“The problem is not homes without sprinklers, the problem is homes without working smoke alarms,” said Sandy Dunn, NAHB’s first vice president. “The most proven, practical and affordable measure to preventing fire fatalities is ensuring that homes are equipped with smoke alarms and that they are maintained.”
If the sprinkler language remains in the appendix, the choice to mandate sprinklers will be left to state and local jurisdictions — a choice ICC officials said they preferred during the last code cycle. “Unfortunately, some of the very same sprinkler interests who advocated this position in the last cycle are now leading the charge to mandate sprinklers in the IRC,” Dunn said.
“It is also unfortunate that they choose to expend so many resources to push for sprinkler mandates in homes that are already adequately protected by IRC requirements, especially when the overwhelming number of fire fatalities are occurring in homes without working smoke alarms,” Dunn added.
NAHB is encouraging builders to communicate these concerns to local building officials and to encourage their attendance at the Rochester hearings to vote against sprinkler mandates in the IRC. Members can also contact their local home builders association to find out how to help.
For more information, e-mail Steve Orlowski at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8303.