Residential sprinklers remain under attack

Back in the '80s I talked with a fire sprinkler contractor who told me he had a buddy who was a homebuilder. Supposedly the builder had told the sprinkler contractor that homebuilders would make do without indoor plumbing if they could get away with it. It's just another source of leaks and another trade to deal with.

Back in the '80s I talked with a fire sprinkler contractor who told me he had a buddy who was a homebuilder. Supposedly the builder had told the sprinkler contractor that homebuilders would make do without indoor plumbing if they could get away with it. It's just another source of leaks and another trade to deal with.

Unfortunately, homebuilders have spent the last few decades living up to their reputations. Granite countertops? Sure. Then they put in the cheapest furnaces and water heaters they can find. The whining coming from homebuilders about residential sprinklers reminds me of the automakers saying air bags would put them out of business.

In this month's issue, our Candace Roulo reports on how the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved legislation to repeal the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the state's construction code. The bill would exclude all new one- and two-family residences from the sprinkler requirement that became part of the Uniform Construction Code, retroactive to this past January. The measure is now headed to the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration.

Pennsylvania was one of the first two states in the country to require sprinklers in every new home based on the International Code Council mandating the installation of residential fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family residences, including townhouses in the 2009 International Residential Code. In December 2009, the Pennsylvania Review Commission voted to adopt the IRC and its residential sprinkler requirement, updating the state’s Uniform Construction Code.

In the fall of 2008, the International Code Council mandated installation of residential fire sprinklers as part of the International Residential Code. The 2009 International Residential Code now requires sprinklers in all new one- and two-family residences, including townhouses, as of Jan. 1, 2011, a change approved by more than 73% of the voting members. Approved automatic fire sprinkler systems must be installed in accordance with NFPA 13D.

Fire chiefs and fire marshals were the ones who spearheaded the ICC vote on residential fire sprinklers at ICC's Annual Business Meeting and Final Action Hearings in Minneapolis in September 2008. The nerve of those fire officials thinking they should have something to say about fire safety!

The homebuilders counterattacked but were defeated in subsequent ICC votes. They've taken their fight to the state level.

In our April 2009 edition we reported that fire service organizations are warning against state-by-state legislative efforts, orchestrated by homebuilders, designed to prohibit communities from requiring residential fire sprinklers in new home construction.

According to International Association of Fire Chiefs President Chief Larry J. Grorud, there were bills in approximately 15 states that ignore the life-safety benefit of sprinklers.

In July 2009 we reported that local legislative efforts against residential fire sprinklers were continuing, with California and Texas as the latest battlegrounds. In California, the City of Long Beach exempted older residential high rises and large apartment complexes from a mandate to install fire sprinkler systems. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that prohibits municipalities from enacting residential sprinkler ordinances. The Texas law was retroactive to Jan. 1, 2009.

In Texas, the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of Fire Chiefs asked Gov. Perry to veto Senate Bill 1410, that prevents a city from having a residential fire-sprinkler ordinance. They lost out to the lobby from homebuilders' group, the Texas Association of Builders.

In August 2010, Candace reported that Alaska, Idaho, Texas, South Dakota, Florida and Georgia had passed legislation banning residential sprinklers.

"Because of the intense lobby by state homebuilders associations, some states have ruled it is acceptable for homebuilders to build new homes in non-compliance with the national model construction and safety codes; a trial bar relief act," said National Fire Sprinkler Association Vice President Buddy Dewar. The trial bar relief act Dewar alludes to refers to the trial lawyers making a fortune suing jurisdictions.

According to Pennsylvania State Rep. Bill Keller (D-Phila.), the homebuilders attempted to head off the code change by getting the state to create a code advisory committee. It didn't work. The advisory committee voted to keep sprinklers in the code, a decision upheld by a local court decision.

So they turned to the legislature, prompting my favorite quote in the story from NFSA President John Viniello: "The homebuilders have bought the legislature in Pennsylvania."

We couldn't agree more, John.