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Repealed Sprinkler Mandate a Hotly Debated Topic

House Bill 377 removes a requirement from the Uniform Construction Code that all newly constructed one- and two-family homes have a fire sprinkler system installed.

In a Collegeville Trappe Municipal Authority meeting last week, it was announced that the mandatory requirement that all newly constructed residential homes be equipped with a fire suppression sprinkler system has been repealed.

As Tom Corbett’s first bill as Pennsylvania’s governor, the repeal was the result much debate from both sides.

Earlier in the year, state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming County, introduced House Bill 377, which would repeal the mandate. The House approved the bill March 7 with a vote of 154-39. The Senate’s Labor and Industry Committee approved the legislation April 6, and the bill was signed on April 25.

Proponents say sprinklers save lives by extinguishing fires before firefighters can get to the scene. Opponents, led by the Pennsylvania Builders Association, say it would drive up housing prices unnecessarily.

The estimated sprinkler cost for a 2,000-square-foot house is about $5,000, not including the design work and backup pumps. This price is higher in more rural areas that do not use public water supplies.

Trappe Borough Councilman Paul Edwards said this about the repealed mandate, “As a building inspector, I feel that the current code regulations for newly constructed homes are adequate and make our homes safe. The sprinkler ordinance put an unnecessary financial burden on the homebuyer and builder."

There also will be a cost savings to the residents who would have had to pay for annual testing and inspection of the piping systems.

“This will not affect the operation of our water and sewer department or costs to the rate payers,” he added.

Corbett called it a "common sense" measure that will help keep new home prices within the reach of Pennsylvania's working families.

"Whether or not new homes are equipped with sprinklers should be a decision left to individual consumers and not the government," Corbett said. "While there are arguments on both sides of this issue, I believe the sprinkler mandate is wrong-headed, and I'm glad the General Assembly sent this bill to my desk."

Builders must still offer buyers the option of installing an automatic fire sprinkler system, and provide buyers with information about the costs and benefits.

Lin May 03, 2011 at 01:13 PM
The builders should offer the option to the new home buyer. Just like many homes are built with custom kitchens. In the 1970's, a functional air bag was invented for cars and Detroit decided, on behalf of all the people who ride in cars and whose lives could have been saved, that the car buyer would not be willing to pay the extra price for the extra safety. It was 30 more years before air bags became standard equipment - and only with the government's prodding. If sprinklers save lives, then the consumer should get to make that choice as to whether or not they can afford the extra cost.
joe May 03, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Pathetic! Another example of how backwards PA is. Instead of adopting the new standards like many other states, they bow down to pressure from the builders association. PA would be an ideal place for sprinklers being mandatory in new homes, since a lot of PA is very rural, and fire department response times could be lengthy. Forget about saving lives and property- lets just worry about which lobbying group/special interest donates enough money.
skycat May 03, 2011 at 03:36 PM
In new houses with hardwired interconnected detectors in every bedroom and other areas, and the availability of extra loud alarms if you need them, how can a person not escape a fire? Smoke alarms alert the occupant before the sprinklers go off in nearly all cases. If someone wants sprinklers, nothing prevents them from having them. Considering that you could build a modest house for about the same cost as every 20 fire sprinkler systems, I don't see them as being a smart buy.
Tim May 03, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Trappe Borough Councilman Paul Edwards, as a Building Inspector has been misinformed. As a building inspector he should encourage the adoption of model building codes, all have a requirement for residential sprinklers in one- and two-family homes. There's no requirement for annual testing and inspection of the piping systems that the homeowner can't do themselves (Valve open-valve closed, etc.). The fire deaths in PA continue to mount, over 70 dead in residential fires in PA since January 1st, this is a disgrace!
Jon Marsh May 04, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Don't know who put together those cost estimates for sprinkler installation, and all the other pencil whipped figures concerning design etc., but they seem to be double for what they are anywhere else in the country. People like Paul Edwards as a building inspector would do well finding a more suitable job such as a discount department store greeter. Perhaps Govenor Corbett should study his states history concerning fire and life safety. In 1913 in Philadelphia Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg addressed the first National Fire Prevention Convention in the U.S. stating"So far in this country almost every fire safeguard has beeen a matter of voluntary adoption.Too much liberty has been left to the individual about constructing,protecting,equipping,occupying,and managing property-to suit his greed,ignorance,indifference,or shiftlessness-thus permitting a frightful loss in life and property, resulting in a constant heavy and largely useless waste in both to the whole people."
josephine May 04, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Wonder how deep Paul Edwards has his hands in the Home Builder's pockets. For a building inspectior to ignore IRC codes is a total disgrace. How many more people have to die in home fires in PA before life safety is put before Home Builder profits??? The Governor made quite a statement with the first bill he signed. Thank God I live in New York
Clark DeBear May 04, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Put simply, residential sprinkler systems (RSS) work. They extinguish fire and prevent the loss of property. The cost difference from fire damage in a dwelling with and without RSS are vast. The average cost of RSS in new construction dwellings ($5,000) is comparitive or LESS than the average cost of kitchen counter upgrades in the same structure. Furthermore, RSS greatly reduce the risk of injury and death to those responding to extinguish the blaze, thereby reducing the tax-payer burden of paying for the related costs of a firefighter line of duty injury or death. In closing, $5,000 for something that has repeatedly been proven to prevent property loss and the loss of life versus repeated tax increases seems to me a no-brainer. The fact that this life saving bill was repealed proved PA politicians have no brains.
Paul M May 04, 2011 at 08:03 PM
Don't know about you all but I am seeing systems quoted at $1.20 a square installed. They are certainly high and I don't just mean the quote.
Paul Edwards May 05, 2011 at 12:56 PM
As previously stated, I believe the Universal Construction Code (todays standards) are adequate and our homes are much safer today than they were especially in 913. Are there other options and practices available to make your home safer, of course, and everyone has the option to utilize and pay for these as they see fit. However, I do not believe this should be mandated by government. For example, If our government mandated everyone would be required to install a home security systems, which would similarily make our homes safer and save lives, I'm sure some folks would agree and others would march up to Harrisburg in protest. Others might even imply that the Security companies have their hands in the governers pockect. Another factor that has not been discussed is the potential for sprinkler systems to cause more damage than the fire itself. Water damage to areas otherwise not effected by fire as well as damage resulting from system malfunction are a reality. How would the insurance company protect against this risk? Higher rates??? Contray to one of the comments made, annual nspections would be required of the backflow prevention valve and other components just as is currently required in commercial buildings. Lastly, everyone is entitled to their opinion, it's just unfortunate that some find it necessary to use personal attacks in order to express theirs.
Jim May 05, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Unfortunately, the real losers are the fire fighters in PA. Smoke alarms are an important safety feature but the NIST study done several years ago revealed that you had 15 minutes to escape your home in 1975. With todays construction materials and methods, and the synthetic fibers in the contents of a home, you now have less than 3 minutes. Builders have trade-offs with light-weight wood trusses and I-joists, Oriented Strand Board, etc. Check the fake-wood moldings sold at Home Depot & Lowes. Houses are built to burn. Residential sprinklers are designed to wet the ceiling and the top 28 inches of the walls when they activate by heat. They are not intended to protect the structure in the same way commercial sprinklers are designed to do. They are intended to prevent flashover in the space the fire starts. Ironically, while reading this article on-line, there was an article in the sidebar "Fire Causes Major Damage to Trappe Borough Home". Smoke alarms are not effective for young children who don't wake up to the beeping. Working smoke alarms do not guarantee you will survive. PA has a high number of volunteer fire departments. If we intend to get low-cost fire suppression services, we need to protect our fire fighters. The cost of replacing our fire fighters with career departments will far exceed the cost of residential sprinklers. In my opinion, sprinklers should have been mandated a decade ago.
Clark DeBear May 05, 2011 at 02:42 PM
"Safer"? Safer, yes. Safe, no. Granted, updates in electrical codes have made improvements. The elimination of lead paints has made improvements. I'm going to assume you're not a firefighter, Paul (this is not a personal attack). I was going to go on and on about how much more dangerous todays homes are to us firefighters, particularly multi-family units, and single family dwellings that are built within a couple feet of each other. I was going to go on and on about how much more risks there are for fighters in today's structures, but Jim did a fine job. In closing, RSS protects more than just the dwelling they're installed in. They protect those sworn to put the fires out and rescue those inside, too.
Clark DeBear May 05, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Amen, Jim. AMEN!
joe May 05, 2011 at 03:58 PM
I'll third Jim's sentiments with an Allejulah!!!
skycat May 05, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Thanks to a lot of people not even having working smoke alarms, the yearly odds of dying in a house fire are about 1 in 100 thousand. I would estimate that dual sensor hard wired interconnected smoke detectors (with extra loud option where required) in most rooms would reduce the odds to 1 in a million. U.S. gov research says smoke alarms "consistently provided time for occupants to escape" from most residential fires, so why make sprinklers mandatory? Sprinklers will let you die in a smoldering fire. Detectors can save you. When the power goes off and the candles come out, sprinklers on rural wells won't work. Smoke detectors will. Sprinklers force the homeowner to keep all rooms heated to prevent freezing. Smoke detectors don't. Sprinklers need smoke detectors. Detectors don't need fire sprinklers.
Clark DeBear May 05, 2011 at 05:05 PM
'Skycat', I'll refrain from any personal comments regarding your comment (i.e., idiotic) and simply say this: Smoke detectors do not require RSS, to that point you are correct. RSS do NOT require smoke detectors, so to that point you are ill-informed. While it is true that properly maintained smoke detectors do indeed save lives, the sad fact is that the majority of fatal fires are either void of smoke detectors altogether or even more sad have non-functioning smoke detectors. Look beyond the NHBA's rediculous arguments against RSS and think beyond the residents themselves. Smoke detectos may -MAY - alert occupants of a fire, but it does not extinguish the fire nor keep plames in-check; the fire grows unimpeded. As such those responding to the incident are placed imperil, a peril that is unnecessary. I will agree, somewhat, with your point regarding rural properties, but systems can be (at greater cost, of course) made to function when the dwellings power is cut. An argument against RSS would be similar to an argument against personal restraint systems and airbags in automobiles, which are government mandated and add a great deal to the vehicles sticker price, and do nothing to prevent property loss nor to add to the safety of emergency responders. While I respect your opinion(s), I strongly - obviously - disagree.
skycat May 05, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Sorry for not being clear (i.e., idiotic). In the PA building code, as of now, we have a mandate for only smoke detectors. We don't need sprinklers in order to be in compliance. But, when we had the sprinkler mandate, we also needed to have smoke detectors. I believe one reason is that smoke detectors, especially dual sensor types, will alert us to both fire and smoke, but sprinklers alone will do nothing to prevent fatalities as a result of outgassing from slow smoldering fires that don't generate enough heat to activate a sprinkler. If smoldering fire fatalities are ok with you, I guess you are justified in concluding that sprinklers don't "need" smoke detectors. You say smoke detectors MAY alert...? The National Institute of Standards and Technology says smoke alarms "consistently provided time for occupants to escape" from most residential fires. For some reason, they seem to be more enthusiastic about smoke alarms than you are. As for missing and non-functioning smoke detectors, I can only wonder how long it will take those with similar regard for safety to sell their sprinkler heads on ebay and replace them with pipe plugs. You can try to save people from themselves, but please don't make your solutions involve me. Thanks for your comments.

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