Same Old Lines

These "demonstrably less safe" homes of today that the National Home Builders Association refers to were once new homes many years ago, built by the home builders that claimed them to be the highest quality. Needless to say, if only they had installed...

For the past few decades the line has been drawn in the sand, separating the proponents and the opponents of the mandatory requirements for installation of residential fire sprinkler systems in all newly constructed homes.

On one side, under the banner of "cost", the home builders, represented by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) oppose the requirements for installation of the residential fire sprinkler systems. And on the other side of the issue, under the banner of "life safety", stand the fire service and all other advocates and proponents from the fire prevention and protection fields, who demand mandatory requirement of residential fire sprinkler systems in all new homes, to decrease the fire fatalities.

It was only a couple of years ago that the proponents of the residential fire sprinkler systems achieved a significant milestone, by finally revising the codes and standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to mandate installation of fire sprinkler systems in all newly constructed one- and two-family dwellings. This was an accomplishment, and in a sense a moral victory in this vast battle ground; but indeed not yet the triumphal end of the war.

It is important to recognize that the absolute majority of the houses built in our country are constructed based on the International Residential Code (IRC), developed by the International Code Council (ICC). And as of yet, ICC has not revised their residential building code to require installation of fire sprinkler systems in all new homes. Therefore, the absolute majority of the approximately 1.5 million new homes constructed across the country every year are still built without the protection of the residential fire sprinkler systems.

Interestingly enough, NAHB proudly considers this to be their major victory. In their October 9, 2006, news release tilted "Builders Win Big in First Code Hearing Round" posted on their website, NAHB declares that "NAHB scored significant wins for construction design, safety, security and affordability at the annual meeting of the International Code Council in Orlando, FL, where more than 2,200 code change proposals were presented for consideration." This same stance was previously repeated in their October 2, 2006, News Release titled "NAHB Defeats Mandated Fire Sprinklers at Code Hearing" where NAHB stated "citing their high costs and significant installation and maintenance problem, NAHB representative attending the International Code Council's code development hearings in Orlando, FL., last week resoundingly defeated proposals to mandate fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes." Once again, cost of the fire sprinkler systems was their main concern, and in the same news release they stated "currently, installation costs range from $2 to $7 per square foot, builders say."

An important point to be cognizant of is that the cost of the residential fire sprinkler systems are not absorbed by the home builders. They simply pass it along to the consumers, just as they do with all other increased costs of land, labor, materials, etc. In our national economic system of capitalism, the basic free enterprise rule of supply and demand governs the market. Needless to say then, there are numerous economical factors that are beyond the control of the NAHB that have contributed even more significantly to the increase of the construction cost of the new homes in America.

Our own personal experiences as individual home buyers, in addition to the available national statistics, clearly point out that even despite the current housing market stagnation, the cost of new homes in America has skyrocketed during the past couple of decades. National statistics are indicative that such increases in cost would make buying new homes less affordable for the first-time low-income buyers. Despite the fact that the cost of land, labor and materials are the most significant contributing factors to such cost increases; NAHB still tends to focus extensively on the cost of the residential fire sprinklers.

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