Sprinklers Required in New Pa. Homes on Jan. 1

PITTSBURGH --

The cost of home-building is going way up, perhaps by thousands of dollars, Channel 4 Action News' Andrew Stockey reported.

Steve Frye and Rebecca Nicol are engaged and getting ready to build their first home on some land overlooking the Blairsville family farm, but they said that dream is in danger because of a sprinkler.

"We are just barely able to afford it with everything that we already have to do," Nicol said. "And then you throw in the sprinkler system -- it makes it pretty much impossible."

Their problem will also become a problem for other people on Jan. 1, when all new single-family homes in Pennsylvania must have sprinkler systems.

State Rep. Mike Turzai, the incoming House majority leader, said this requirement was automatically adopted because Pennsylvania adheres to all new provisions of the uniform construction code.

"It didn't specifically say in the Legislature there was going to be a requirement for sprinkler systems in every home, but because the national standards have stated that, it has become part of Pennsylvania law," said Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.

Turzai said he wanted to delay the requirement, like the Senate did in October, but the House never took up the issue despite pleas from builders statewide.

"We are not opposed to sprinklers. We are opposed to sprinklers as a mandate," said Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

Eichenlaub cited national fire numbers suggesting sprinklers on top of smoke detectors make little difference in preventing fires but a huge difference in price.

"We're talking about $500 to put in an interconnected smoke detector and $8,000 to put in a sprinkler system," said Eichenlaub.

It may cost more in Allegheny County, where the plumbing code limits who can install sprinklers.

In rural areas with private wells, it gets really expensive.

"The price tag on that is going to range anywhere from $15,000 to even upwards of $30,000," Frye said.

"For a sprinkler system and all the accompanying equipment you need? And the house is going to cost you how much?" Stockey asked.

"The house itself -- just the house -- is about 70 (thousand), at the cheapest," Nicol said.

Turzai said the House will address the issue in 2011.

"I'm sure we are going to be looking at what is a fair implementation of the construction code in this state, and are we doing it in a way that promotes both health and safety, but in a cost-effective manner?" Turzai said.

For now, Nicol and Frye are rushing to get a building permit before the law takes effect.

"Highly doubtful," Nicol said.

"It's not looking too good now," Frye said.

Deputy Chief Colleen Walz, of the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau, has a different take on sprinklers. She said they're critical to saving lives, and the investment may pay for itself in the long run.

"Bottom line, sprinklers added to the home will reduce the cost of the homeowners insurance anywhere between 5 to 15 percent over the life. That should absorb some of the cost," Walz said. "Many communities have waived permit fees and things of that nature to bring the cost back in line, so that sprinklers almost cost you nothing."

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