ICC mandates home sprinklers

The International Code Council has mandated installation of residential fire sprinklers as part of the International Residential Code. The 2009 International Residential Code will require sprinklers in all new one- and two-family residences, including townhouses, as of Jan. 1, 2011

Minneapolis — The International Code Council has mandated installation of residential fire sprinklers as part of the International Residential Code. The 2009 International Residential Code will require 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 will be installed in accordance with NFPA 13D.

ICC voting members, comprised of local code officials and fire marshals, passed the change at ICC's Annual Business Meeting and Final Action Hearings here in September.

The National Fire Sprinkler Association said the vote shows that a large majority of code officials in the U.S. believe fire sprinklers are an integral part of safety in new one- and two-family housing.

“Countless lives will be saved as a result of these historic code changes,” said John Viniello, president of NFSA. “I am proud of America's fire service communities and representatives, the voting members of the ICC, and building officials for joining together for such an important cause. It has been a long fight but we've never wavered. Our collective dedication and perseverance has prevailed as we emerge victorious on this critical public safety issue.”

NFSA said it helped educate code officials on the importance of the change. NFSA mobilized its members to carry the positive messages about fire sprinklers' benefits to local officials throughout the country, while debunking myths promoted by the main opposition to this code change: large national and regional homebuilders.

“This code change, which will affect local and state building codes nationwide, will provide tremendous benefits to the public, saving lives and property in every state of the union,” said Fred Benn, chairman of NFSA's Residential Committee. “We are incredibly proud of our work in taking the simple idea that fire sprinklers save lives and property and convinced a large segment of the country's governmental code professionals to adopt a code change that would be truly revolutionary for our nation's residents.”

The International Residential Code is adopted or cited by numerous states and municipalities, with the result being that code mandates for residential sprinklers will spread throughout the U.S. in coming years. The vote also provides backup to all the municipalities that have previously passed residential sprinkler ordinances, noted Janet Wilmoth, editorial director of CONTRACTOR's sister publication Fire Chief magazine.

“Fire sprinklers save lives — including firefighters' lives,” said Wilmoth.

An advocacy group, the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition, an association of more than 100 fire service, building code official, and safety organizations representing 45 states, assumed a leadership position and secured unified support for this issue over the past 18 months.

“Our team worked hard to rally support throughout the United States for a residential fire sprinkler requirement, but our supporters deserve the recognition for showing up en masse in Minneapolis,” said Ronny J. Coleman, president of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition. “They know from experience that sprinklers are the answer to the nation's fire problem.”

Fire deaths in the United States realized a dramatic decline over the past three decades as smoke alarms became common - today, more than 95% of homes have them. Still, more than 3,000 people die each year from fire, and a home burns every 80 seconds. Consequently, the proposal's passage has pleased home safety advocates across the country.

“We work with families every day that are directly affected by the ravages of fire,” said Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council. “We are thrilled not only because this moment has taken decades of demanding work to achieve, but because it provides protection for potential victims of future fires.”

Kaaren Mann, a fire safety advocate and the mother of a fire victim stated in her testimony, “the cost to put sprinklers into the home where my daughter died would have been less than what I had to pay for the flowers at her funeral.”

Calling it a major step toward reducing deaths and destruction from fires, National Fire Protection Association President James M. Shannon applauded the vote. Residential sprinklers are required in the 2006 editions of NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code; NFPA 101, Life Safety Code; and NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code.

“Getting home fire sprinklers in new homes today means we will provide a life-saving benefit for generations to come,” said Shannon. “It is an issue we can all get behind to lessen the fire problem in this country.”

Before the vote, Habitat for Humanity International and the National Association of Home Builders urged ICC members not to mandate sprinklers for new homes.

“Our concerns center on the potential of pipes being susceptible to freezing in colder climates, damage from the accidental discharge of sprinklers and the availability of an adequate water supply in areas served by wells or where water is a scarce resource,” said Sandy Dunn, NAHB president and builder in Point Pleasant, W.Va. “Some homeowners may choose to have them installed anyway, but that's where these systems should remain: as a choice, not a mandate.”

Elizabeth Blake, senior vice president of advocacy, government affairs and legal with Habitat for Humanity said, “Our affiliates build all across the country and around the world. Mandating fire sprinklers fails to recognize their varying needs, and runs the risk of requiring something that may be impractical for some of our partner families.”

“Habitat's mission is to provide simple, decent and affordable shelter for families,” said Blake. “Each home we don't build due to an added and unjustified regulatory requirement such as this can leave yet another family in substandard housing.”

Nevertheless, Habitat affiliates in North Carolina have been building houses with fire sprinklers for a number of years. Habitat board member John Sehon said the Chapel Hill affiliate has been including fire sprinklers for the past four years. It was an idea brought to them by the Pinehurst, N.C., affiliate that taught them how to do it.

Chapel Hill Habitat Construction Director Tyler Momsen-Hudson said all of the pipe and sprinklers are donated and they are installed by firefighters and other volunteers. He said another builder estimated the fair market value at around $3,000, but he said he would not build a house without fire sprinklers, even if they had to pay for them.

Momsen-Hudson said sprinklers have saved one of their Habitat houses. The family spent just one night in a hotel and returned to their home the next day.