Group Pushes for Code Mandating Fire Sprinklers in Single-Family Homes

View Fire Sprinkler Resolution

This weekend, the International Code Council will hold a final action hearing on a resolution supporting a change to the International Residential Code to require fire sprinklers in new single-family homes.

The IRC is the model code governing residential construction in 46 states plus the District of Columbia.

The hearing will be held sometime between Sept. 20 and 22 and will be a part of the ICC's annual conference which will take place Sept. 14 to 23 in Minneapolis.

Earlier this year, ICC's committee denied the proposal to require fire sprinklers in new single-family construction, meaning it will require two-thirds of the vote from its governmental members to overturn the committee and approve the code change.

While many codes currently mandate sprinklers in newly constructed townhomes and apartment buildings, proponents of the measure have found difficulty having new codes pass for single family homes.

"At some point, if we don't take the action, we won't have and inventory of homes" with fire sprinklers, IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition Executive Director Jeffrey Shapiro said. "Just like you wouldn't require old cars to go back and retrofit air bags, we can't expect to do the same with single-family homes."

Shapiro's group -- which lobbies for the installation of fire sprinklers in residential homes -- has failed to have such a resolution approved in the past, but in recent years it has continued to build momentum.

Two cycles ago, Shapiro said the resolution garnered 56 percent of the vote but failed to gain the required two-thirds vote. During the last cycle, the resolution was added to the appendix, and this year the group seeks to have it added to the code.

"There have been other proposals in previous cycles, but the last one garnered more attention than the previous ones," Mike Pfeiffer, the Deputy Senior Vice President of the ICC, said, adding that he expects a strong turnout this time around.

Shapiro claims that the major opponent to the code requiring fire sprinklers has been the National Association of Home Builders and its local chapters.

"One argument has been that we would be putting people out of homes, making them less affordable," Shapiro said. "But those people are already moving into (apartments and townhomes) outfitted with sprinklers"

NAHB spokeswoman Calli Schmidt contends that the organization is not opposed to fire sprinklers in single-family homes.

"What our members are opposed to are mandates -- because the evidence is clear that they are not the right solution for every home," she said in an e-mailed statement.

Schmidt said the organization believes that smokes alarms and better fire prevention efforts would be the most effective way to decrease the number of fire fatalities.

According to a recent report released by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an affiliate of the National Fire Protection Association, the cost of installing sprinkler systems to the home builder averaged $1.61 per sprinklered square foot.

"More than 8 in 10 fire deaths occur in homes, yet the likelihood of someone dying in a home fire is cut in half when sprinklers are present," Gary Keith, NFPA's vice president of field operations, said in a statement. "Installing a home fire sprinkler system is a huge step in the right direction when protecting people and property."

With over 2,000 members from more than 100 organizations spanning 43 states, according to Shapiro, the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition appears ready for its stiffest fight yet.

"We didn't really make the outreach efforts in previous years that we have this year. We have a network we can communicate with now," he said. "We've encouraged fire safety organizations across the country to attend the hearing."

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