Sprinkler advocates beat builders again

Proponents of residential fire sprinklers fought off an attempt by the National Association of Home Builders to kill fire sprinklers in the 2012 edition of the International Code Council's International Residential Code. Residential sprinklers were mandated for the first time in the 2009 IRC, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2011.

I was going to write about how little I miss the ISH-North America Show, but then we received some exciting news. I'll get back to this at the end of this column.

Proponents of residential fire sprinklers fought off an attempt by the National Association of Home Builders to kill fire sprinklers in the 2012 edition of the International Code Council's International Residential Code. Residential sprinklers were mandated for the first time in the 2009 IRC, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2011.

The ICC met in Baltimore for a weeklong series of code update hearings at the end of October. The IRC panel voted seven to four to keep residential fire sprinklers in the code. The final action on the issue will be voted on at the May 2010 meeting of ICC, at which only building officials and code enforcers can vote. The vote was hailed as an important win for residential fire safety because it will force homebuilders and their allies to get a two-thirds vote to override the sprinkler requirements at the May ICC meeting, which is considered unlikely. The American Fire Sprinkler Association, National Fire Sprinkler Association, the International Residential Code Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and numerous other pro-sprinkler groups, the fire service and building representatives, lobbied in favor of sprinklers.

The fire service Web site FireRescue1.com reported, “Advocates in the home sprinkler debate were so numerous at the hearing that organizers were warned by the Baltimore Fire Department that the event was becoming a fire hazard by exceeding maximum occupancy of the building.

“An estimated 1,500 supporters of fire sprinklers were in the audience, according to Ronny Coleman, president of the International Residential Code Fire Sprinkler Coalition.“

Proposals to modify the 2012 International Residential Code included RB 54, which would have removed the mandatory requirement and made it an optional provision, RB 56, which would delete sprinkler requirements for townhomes and one- and two-family occupancies and move P2904 back to the appendix, making the requirement optional; and RB 57, which would have completely removed the sprinkler requirements from these residential occupancies.

The homebuilders' proposals were met by a scathing rebuttal by the National Fire Protection Association. The seven-page document presented by NFPA included statements such as, “The rationale for this proposal includes a number of statements, none of them substantiated and some of them demonstrably false. The petitioner does not provide any supporting evidence for the claim that high risk (elderly or low-income) households constitute a large or disproportionate share of new small-townhouse developments or that the communities hosting those developments ‘often' have limited water supplies available.”

Later in the document, NFPA stated, “In these words, NAHB plainly states its belief that there is no need to reduce the annual fire death toll in this country. In other words, 3,000 home fire deaths a year — including nearly 2,500 deaths a year in one- and two-family homes and townhouses — are safe enough. Most Americans would disagree …”

The ICC committee vote is good news for fire sprinkler contractors and plumbing contractors who would install residential sprinklers. Manufacturers have given contractors plenty to work with, including copper or CPVC standalone sprinkler systems or PEX-based combination plumbing and fire sprinkler systems.

Back to how little I miss the ISH-NA Show. The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association Connect 2009 convention was a resounding success and its mini-trade show won rave reviews. All of the exhibitors we spoke with were happy with the quantity and quality of the meetings they had with contractors. Next year's Connect 2010 convention and trade show at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas at the end of October should be even better with the incorporation of the Quality Service Contractors mid-year meeting.

Another Las Vegas show, WaterSmart Innovations, is turning into a quality show for progressive plumbing contractors and manufacturers, as our coverage on page 3 of this issue explains. WSI is boosted by GreenPlumbers co-locating its training classes next door to the show.

Both shows are worth the trip.