Md. county requires residential fire sprinklers

The county council of Anne Arundel County, Md., approved legislation Jan. 5, 2009, requiring residential fire sprinklers in all new homes built in the county.

ANNAPOLIS, MD. — The county council of Anne Arundel County, Md., approved legislation Jan. 5, 2009, requiring residential fire sprinklers in all new homes built in the county.

Councilwoman Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park, proposed the bill, which was backed by six out of seven county council members. The bill was first introduced and read Oct. 20, 2008. A public hearing regarding the bill was Nov. 17, 2008, and the bill was set to expire Jan. 23, 2009.

According to Vitale, a sprinkler bill was considered in the early 1990s, but at that time the cost and technology of the systems were an issue.

“Costs have decreased and technology has improved since those earlier days, and in a traditional sized home, you are choosing the cost of an upgraded carpet or indoor versus outdoor sprinklers,” commented Vitale.

Section three of the bill includes International Residential Code amendments and states that a sprinkler system shall be installed and maintained in accordance with the most recent version of NFPA 13, NFPA 13D or NFPA 13R … in all new one or two family dwellings, townhomes, and first-occupancy manufactured homes. The bill does not require retrofitting an existing home unless more than 50% of the house is being rebuilt.

“I commend Councilwoman Vitale for her sponsorship of this important public safety initiative, said County Executive John R. Leopold. “Passage of this law places a firefighter in every new home in our county who will remain on duty at all times. There can be no greater priority than saving lives.”

According to Edward Reilly, councilman of Anne Arundel County, there are more than 30 municipalities in Maryland that require fire sprinkler systems.

The National Fire Sprinker Association supports the recent bill, according to Raymond Lonabaugh, mid-Atlantic regional manager at NFSA.

“Houses are made differently today,” saidLonabaugh. “New homes are all open floor, with not a lot of masonry; floors are constructed differently and vinyl siding is used. This is why houses are not as fire resistant. Many new homes are built close together, so there could be two to three houses on fire since there is little exterior resistance on new houses today. Also, no matter what you build, the contents of a home burn in a fire.”

The Home Builders Association of Maryland opposes the bill and promotes giving owners of single family homes the option of installing a fire sprinkler system in their home, according to Susan Stroud, director of government affairs at the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

“New homes rarely burn and when they do the fires generally emanate outside the home on the deck or in attics and garages,” explained Stroud. “Sprinklers would be of no use in these situations. Another fact that is left out of the discussion is that water is not always the best thing to douse a fire with, in fact, with certain accelerants water will have explosive results.”

The county’s mandated residential fire sprinkler requirement closely follows the International Code Council vote in September 2008, regarding residential fire sprinkler requirements. The ICC’s approved fire sprinkler requirements are included in the 2009 edition of the International Residential Code and will become part of the IRC effective on Jan. 1, 2011, in jurisdictions throughout the country that do not amend the codes.

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