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Will Fire Sprinklers Be Mandatory in New Homes in 2011?

Sprinkler-systemAt a recent meeting of the International Code Council a motion was approved to make fire sprinklers mandatory for homes in 2011, a scant 2 years away. The mandate will add the added expense to new home construction for 1 and 2 family homes to gain an additional layer of safety in the event of a fire.

Sounds noble, right?

But what the cost. A study shows the cost of installation of a sprinkler system will add another $1.61 per square foot of space, not to mention the cost on inspection and maintenance over the life of the system. And what happens when the roast starts smoking, will the sprinkler go off?

If the risk of water damage from a faulty system is added in, will insurance premiums spike? Or will the sprinkler system actually lower those premiums as fire damage will be reduced?

These question should be answered before another unfunded mandate is pushed by an anonymous regulatory agency on American homeowners.

Supporters of the code change say sprinklers increase the amount of time people have to get out their homes during a fire by preventing flashover, which occurs when the temperature in a room reaches a point where all combustible materials burst into flames. “This is just the most wonderful step forward because it’s going to ensure that more families have access to the one technology we know can save their lives in a devastating home fire,” says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council, a nonprofit in Washington that promotes prevention of accidental home injuries.

But the National Association of Home Builders says there isn’t enough evidence to support making sprinklers mandatory, which will also increase the cost of the home and require maintenance by homeowners. “We disagree with this mandate, but our members will continue to advocate for cost-effective construction and life safety measures through the model code process,” NAHB President Sandra Dunn said in a statement. via  WSJ.com

23 comments

  1. To comment on the following quote:

    "And what happens when the roast starts smoking, will the sprinkler go off?"

    The answer to your quetion is no. Sprinklers are activated by a high level of heat indicating a fire; they are not activated by smoke. So, while I hope that the smoking roast does not mean dinner is ruined, no need to worry about the sprinkler system activating over that smoking roast.

    On another note, I just had my floors replaced with wood laminates at a cost of $4.00 sq ft. I think the cost factor in the sprinkler debate should be a moot point, since life safety is worth much more than the cost of a sprinkler system per square foot. Wouldn't you agree?

  2. Thanks for the comment Maria.

    For those who do not know, Maria does have a dog in this fight as her bio states:

    Figueroa will support fire prevention activities nationwide with a special focus on supporting NFPA’s work involving the adoption of residential sprinklers ordinances.

    http://www.nfpa.org/newsReleaseDetails.asp?catego

  3. That's just what we need. More forced expenses for real estate investors, developers and builders. The problem is, it increases the prices of already overpriced new homes and cuts even more first-time homebuyers out of the running. It would be a great option for those willing to pay by why force it on everyone? I know http://www.uslandco.com has a petition against this measure.

  4. Fire alarm system ( these is where fire sprinklers belong) is a very important gadget that a home should have. Aside from it saves your home it also save lives…

  5. There has NEVER BEEN A LOSS OF LIFE DUE TO FIRE in a fully sprinklered building in which the system is maintained and fully operational. The figure given, of 1.61 per square foot, multiplied by 2,000 sq. ft. and amortized over 30 years at 6% interest is about $19 per month- a small price to pay for such effective insurance against fire death.

    That said, I am strongly against government doing pretty much anything other than building roads, protecting property rights and delivering mail (slight exaggeration of position). While I feel residential sprinklers are a really good idea- even though their mandate would benefit myself greatly, as I own a fire sprinkler contracting firm (Applied Fire Safety, Inc., serving all of Southern California!)– Let the homeowner choose.

  6. A faulty system? The only way a head activates is by heat unless it is tampered with.. Every system is tested "hydrostatically" by local fire inspectors before the system is turned over to the home owner.. By having a fire sprinkler sytem, your house insurance goes down.. thats one of the benifits of having a sprinkler system.. It also raises the value of your home.. It is much more cost effective to clean up water as a result of a head activating rather than replacing your whole house! Most of all, the safety of your family! I know that i like the idea of my kids being under the roof of a sprinkled home. For a 1,500 sq ft home at a $1.61 per sq ft, its worth the $2415.00 to me.

  7. I am a fire official for a mid size city in the southeast. I have a total of 30 years both in the fire sprinkler industry and enforcement. I support in theory the notion of residential fire sprinklers, but not in the practical sense.

    I have a few points of contention with some of the respondants so far.

    1) Inspection and maitneance for residential sprinkler systems per NFPA 13D for 1 & 2 family homes are not required to be inspected beyond the initial installation or maintained thereafter, the language for the "requirements" is "should", not "shall".

    2) Sprinkler systems without Fire Department Connections are not requied to be hydrostatically tested unless there is a local ordinance requiring such.

    3) Mr. Mahoney's last comment is on the mark, let the home owner decide and take the responsibility of annual inspection and maintenance on by education and choice.

    Reliablity of the systems, not the cost, is the issue when considering wheather or not to mandate them, as the cost ammeratized over the cost of the loan as well as the initial cost is negalable to the overall cost of the average home. The system components are not the reliability issue, maintenance and proper servicing IS.

    Fire services with "right of entry", are already challenged to get commerical properties to maintain fire protection systems correctly, and there is no real way to police and inforce the private homeowner to do so except throught the insurance companies. More than likely we will have had a loss when we find out that a system was not maintained, then what? Munciplablities, developers, contractors, sub contractors, and insurance companies will be hit with litigation over the failure.

    There is no arguing with the statistic that these systems can save lives and reduce property loss, but there is a key note that is being ignored and that is "Properly designed, installed and maintained systems…". Till this part of the equation can be addressed in an acceptable manner that does not infringe on the rights and privacy of the homeowner, the residential fire sprinkler is a "Gadget" that is very easily circumvented by the homeonwer with nothing more than wall or ceiling paint.

  8. There are a few flaws/unanswered questions with your blog post. Every year for the last twenty years exponential growth has taken place with the saving of lives. Smoke detectors alarm people for the most part to get out. On that same note the same experiential growth has been seen in the loss of property damage. It seems we do well with alerting people to evacuate but not enough to save property. The damage from the sprinklers in homes would be 1/4th the normal cost of fire damage. also it is important to note that sprinkler systems do not respond to smoke. The only way to set one off is flame heat that trips a filament. Also sprinklers do not go off in the entire home but only the one that gets tripped. Also most insurance companies give a discounted rate with the edition of these systems. Truly a few thousand dollars invested into a 150,000 dollar home is a smart investment into the home itself at a low cost.

  9. Response to Jash on 7/13/09.

    Your point is well taken. However, by definition a NFPA 13D, which what the International Residential Code is going to require (or similarly written requirements in the IPC), is primarily a "Life Safety" system, protect the property is very much a secondary function, so if there total property loss, the system has in fact done it job if the occupants survive. This is part of the reason that closet and baths under a certain size, attached porches, attics spaces, crawl spaces and attached garages, etc. are not required to be protected, and are stated in the Standard as being outside it’s scope, and refers you to NFPA 13 for protection requirements for these areas. It should be noted at this point that a full NFPA 13 system, which requires FULL protection of ALL accessible areas (including those previously enumerated, unless specifically excluded by the Code) would be significantly more expensive to install, AND there are specific, by reference to NFPA 25, inspection and maintenance requirements.

    As a Life Safety system, NFPA 13D authors reviewed fire statistic and mandated protection for areas of the residential structure based on occurrences of fires and fatalities from those fires. But just like every other structure built, fire does in fact occur in all areas of a structure, with the same devastating damage and possible total loss. So statistically you cannot argue with the effectiveness of fire sprinkler systems in saving lives. But the statistics also include information on where systems fail and why. This is the part that is being ignored through the entire process. There is no requirements for inspection and maintenance, and no enforcement beyond the initial installation. There will be loss of life, loss of property, and litigation. The seemingly important issues are cost to the owner/buyer/builder, cost savings to the fire departments and cities, life safety for fire fighters, and revenue for the fire sprinkler manufacturers and associated industries and fire sprinkler system installing companies.

    IF Life Safety and Property protection are truly the intent, which is very noble, then there are still significant issues to be worked out to make these systems indeed the reliable, functional systems that those pushing for this protection claim that they are seeking.

  10. I can't see sprinkler systems becoming compulsory for new homes. There is also massive pressure on the construction industry without adding extra legislation for them to adhere to!

  11. Well it appears that the legislation will go through in most states as an advisory measure which is a step forward but still nowhere near where we should be.

    The extra cost to install fire sprinklers in a new-build is minimal compared to the safety and potential damage limitation that it would provide should a fire break out. The cost of installing a system like this at new-build stage is considered to be around $2 per square foot which is hardly crippling.

  12. Dare I be the first to call the author a poor journalist? Not poor in the sense of the two pennies he keeps in his pockets, but poor in his occupation as a journalist.

    This two (or was it three) paragraph article is absolute garbage. A child in secondary school could write a more informative article after reading about fire sprinklers for five minutes on a mobile phone browser, while sitting in class listening to a lecture.

    There are many resources available on the web, from wikipedia to industry associations like the ICC which explain in depth why and how fire sprinklers are an important part of construction that save lives.

    Now, whoever operates this blog or website needs to purchase a dunce cap for the idiot that wrote this article and have him wear it for a day in the corner.

    • Forest

      Far be it from me to say I am an expert on Fire Safety, but at least I am not a shill. You sir have a blog that has 19 posts. All saying how wonderful installing fire systems in a home is and how we all should use your services. You are not educating, you are pitching. How can anyone trust anything on your site if you do not provide balance for the readers.

      Don't throw stones my friend. All I was saying is that the cost of required fire systems would be outside of what people want to spend. All you want to do is sell a service and are willing to say whatever is needed to do so.

      Who may I ask is more trustworthy.

  13. One question were do you get the water???
    Sounds great in the city but what about all the other people?
    So when I have a electrical fire system works for? 2 min……
    Sounds like a great use of $2000.00

  14. Are the insurance credits low for sprinkler systems because of "accidential water damage claims" made by homeowners? There needs to be more data before a decision is made….
    What about empty houses that catch fire? Or houses damage by forest fires? Are these included in the statistics? It's easy to twist the facts for the cause..The current technology, smoke detectors, portable fire extinguishers, etc, make houses very safe today.

  15. I agree with everyone who says this is just too much government in our daily lives. Fire sprinklers in our homes? What's next? Airbags and seat belts in our private cars? We need to wait until we have definitive proof that these things save lives first. Hasn't the auto industry suffered enough without forcing them to raise prices of their cars to pay for those unnecessary "safety" devices? Mandating safety devices like seat belts and fire sprinklers will knock a lot of people out of the opportunity to own their cars and houses. Let the consumer decide. If someone can't afford luxury "safety" devices, their lives are just worth less than those of us who can afford them. I don't have health insurance because it's an unproven scam. I'm healthy and well which proves it's a scam.

  16. Concerned contractor

    There are many more things to consider than cost vs. safety when deciding about sprinklers. First are banks going to appraise houses with sprinklers higher than without, people are already having a hard time getting loans for houses without the added cost. If the home being built is not custom the builder will have to absorb costs on a feature that a potential buyer may not want. As for the $2 per ft that is about a 10% to 20% reduction in profit for home builders who are already having a hard time. I would also like to see the statistics on how much property damage and injuries are a result of fires in homes built within the last five years. There are already many codes to defend against the spreading of fire. When is enough protection enough I thought the codes were put in place to make sure nobody was doing anything unsafe not to force safety upon us. At a time when the construction industry is down and out maybe forcing extra costs is not a great idea.

  17. There is sprinklers installed in many residential homes already, Apartments have them condo’s have them Rest homes have them, Hotels have them. More homes are lost to to Fire and lives. Sprinklers save Lives point blank no exception. Water can be cleaned up things can be dried out. There is a side by side comparison posted on my web page.

  18. The Welsh Assembly has voted itself the powers needed to make fire sprinklers mandatory for all new residential projects in the country to save the lives of the people and the lives of fire fighters having to go into burning buildings .I must appreciate these efforts as it will make our houses more secure and safe.

    • I am against mandatory sprinkler system which adds $15K to $20K per home. I am so mad , I am in Palm Beach county Florida and I am forced to have one installed and also a Additional $2K for equipment that must be tied into a monitoring system with a dedicated phone line (can't be cell) (and can't be shared with your landline) also a monitoring service, so it will cost you over $100 a month between dedicated phone line and monitoring service, just for your fire sprinkler !!!!!! My house is made of CBS (concrete). In my 50 years I have had never had fire damage but had several costly repairs due to WATER DAMAGE, now I have enough pipes in my attic and in the walls that I am afraid to hang a picture. And the fire lines are PLASTIC!!! easily broken with the wrong step in the attick or hanging pictures or closet organizers. Big crock of SHI***** This is America, no one should tell you that its mandatory.

  19. where do people die in fires? In their homes.
    @Matt, not sure where you are getting your information. $15-20K – you must have a very large home – and must have plenty of money.
    There is no requirement in the new national codes to require monitoring – or even a local fire alarm system. (in smaller homes with under 25 spinklers – no alarms are required at all.
    Thank God that you have not had a fire. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one in a home fire, if they wish they had fire sprinklers.
    Concrete will burn. However, if it gets hot enough a residential sprinkler system probably won't save your building. On the other hand, your cabinets, carpet, drapes, furniture, bed, trash, clothes . . . are quite flamable. The paint, dry wall, electical wiring etc . . . also will burn. You could burn.
    Plastic pipe is potentially vulnerable to nails. Most picture nails are not long enough to reach the plastic pipe. Also plastic pipe is quite flexible and very strong. It is very difficult to break plastic CPVC pipe unless it has been in UV rays for a very long time (not in your attic).

  20. There are new technologies in the residential arena that provide for sprinklers to be supplied by your regular water system. This may not be the best protection and would not help my industry directly because plumbing contractors will do the work. These systems for plumbing (using "pex" type tubing) are already getting a lot of use. This piping will be even harder to damage – flexible tubing that expands and contracts and moves very easily will be very difficult to break or puncture.

    Careful folks – as you comment, watch your grammar. Often, if you make a comment and your grammar is incorrect or spelling terrible, it may be interpreted that you are uneducated/illiterate. This surely makes your remarks appear less reliable.

    Also, remember to keep your emotions in check. Using proper facts with your opinion is much more effective that a rant or name calling.

    @Max – thanks for your comment. I don't think many caught your sarcasm.

    This is an important discussion. I

  21. Is this mandatory now? over here in the Uk we have been campaigning for years to get a law passed to enforce fire suppression systems in all new builds. Though not luck so far.

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