Homebuilders will not challenge home sprinklers

WASHINGTON — The International Code Council has released the final action hearing agenda for the 2012 International Residential Code and there were no public comments challenging code requirements for residential fire sprinklers, the International Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition reported.

Accordingly, under ICC regulations, requirements for residential sprinklers will not be subject to debate at ICC's final action hearing in Dallas in May. Instead, proposals to rescind sprinkler requirements from the IRC will be automatically disapproved, without discussion, as part of a consent agenda.

ICC's membership has implemented requirements for residential fire sprinklers using a gradual approach over more than 20 years. ICC's legacy organizations began requiring fire sprinklers in multifamily occupancies in the 1980s. Those requirements were extended to single-family homes in 2006 via an optional IRC appendix, and in 2008, ICC members approved fire sprinklers as a standard feature to be included in all new homes. That action was upheld on appeal and was then reaffirmed last year by the ICC code development committee that oversees the IRC. In the latter vote, every member of the code development committee, other than the four who were appointed by the National Association of Home Builders, voted in favor of residential sprinklers, and that vote was then ratified by a vote of ICC members in attendance at the hearing.

“The true beneficiary of this great news is the American public,” said Chief Ronny J. Coleman, president of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition and former fire marshal for the State of California. “Model code requirements establishing fire sprinklers as a standard feature in new homes are clearly here to stay, and that accomplishment, earned through the courage and commitment of our nation's building and fire-safety professionals, will save lives, prevent injuries and reduce property damage associated with residential fires.”

The 2009 IRC, including the fire sprinkler requirement, has been adopted in California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina and New Hampshire, and the code has cleared administrative adoption hurdles in New Jersey. Homebuilder associations (HBAs), however, in these and other states, with the exception of California where the building industry association supported residential sprinklers, have attempted to block adoption of the IRC sprinkler provisions.

“HBAs have largely controlled building codes affecting new home construction for decades, and they clearly don't like the idea of public safety officials stepping in and exerting authority over their industry,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, executive director of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition. “Nevertheless, we are pleased to see public safety trumping politics in a growing number of states.”

One issue that may ultimately shift the perspective of builders towards residential fire sprinklers is legal liability. Regardless of whether a state or locality chooses to amend fire sprinkler requirements out of the IRC, courts may well hold that it is incumbent upon builders to follow established standards of care for fire safety when they construct a new home. With every national code (including the 2012 IRC) now requiring every new residential property to be equipped with fire sprinklers, that standard of care is clearly established and is now well known to the industry, especially given the high profile of HBA opposition to sprinklers.

Founded in 2007, the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition has grown to include more than 100 international, national and regional public safety organizations, including associations representing 45 states, all of whom support the mission of promoting residential fire sprinkler systems in new home construction. The Coalition was formed to educate public policymakers on the value of residential sprinkler systems and to support related legislation.