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Repealed Sprinkler Mandate a Hotly Debated Topic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requirement that all newly constructed residential homes be equipped with a fire suppression sprinkler system has been repealed.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Trappe Borough Councilman Paul Edwards said this about the repealed mandate, “As a building inspector, I feel that the current code regulations for newly constructed homes are adequate and make our homes safe.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.

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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