All new homes constructed in the county soon will be required to install sprinkler systems.
On Tuesday, the County Council unanimously approved legislation scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) is expected to sign the bill.
County and state laws already require the devices in townhouses and apartments. Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, the primary sponsor of the bill, said mandating sprinklers will save lives and property damage.
Opponents of the legislation said homebuyers should be able to decide for themselves whether to install sprinklers. The cost of installing sprinklers is about $1 to $1.50 per square foot. Andrews said homebuyers could receive insurance discounts for installing the devices, and pay off the remaining cost for less than $20 a month.
"You really are getting a firefighter in your house for that," he said.
Homes that use well water would need a water tank with sufficient water pressure to power sprinkler systems. The cost of the tanks ranges from roughly $500 to $1,000.
The change would cost the county about $750,000, most of which comes from hiring four more fire inspectors. About three inspections would be processed daily to handle about 2,000 building permits each year, said Michael T. Love, deputy chief of fire and rescue services.
Fees charged for the inspections would offset the cost eventually, Love said. The fees are $2 per sprinkler head for commercial development and .015 cents per square foot in a residential development.
Realtors and developers opposed the legislation, saying other measures would be more effective.
Raquel Montenegro, a lobbyist for the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association, said many fires are sparked in older homes with bad wiring.
"If the goal is to reduce property damage and save lives, we think what should be looked at is warning systems in existing homes," she said.
New homes, on the other hand, have better wiring, use fire-retardant materials and have firewalls, Montenegro said.
Andrews said the county already provides a property tax credit for retrofitting homes with sprinkler systems, and the process is much more expensive than installing the sprinklers during construction.
Prince George's County has required sprinklers in all new residential buildings since 1989, and both Rockville and Gaithersburg enacted the requirement last year.