Last month in this space I talked about how homebuilders are determined to kill residential sprinklers (Homebuilders Continue to be Our Nemesis). Sprinklers cost too much, the builders complain, and they'll retard new homes sales. That's not true, according to a new study released by the National Fire Protection Association.
The results of a new study conducted for NFPA concluded that the presence of sprinkler ordinances has no negative impact on the number of homes being built.
Conducted by Newport Partners, “Comparative Analysis of Housing Cost and Supply Impacts of Sprinkler Ordinances at the Community Level,” compared residential construction in four counties; Montgomery County, Maryland, was paired with Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince George's County was paired with Anne Arundel County, both located in Maryland. Montgomery County and Prince George's County have sprinkler requirements; Fairfax County and Anne Arundel County do not. The selected areas, all developmentally mature, cover a wide geographic area and contain a variety of housing stock and income levels, making them prime for comparing municipalities with and without sprinkler ordinances in place.
“This study clearly demonstrates that home fire sprinkler requirements do not impede housing development starts,” says Jim Shannon, NFPA president. “This report is another point to make the case for enacting life-saving sprinkler requirements in local communities.”
Sprinkler ordinances were enacted in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in several stages, beginning in the late 1980s, but never in Fairfax County. Anne Arundel County adopted a requirement for single-family detached residences this year; this study looked at Anne Arundel County housing starts prior to the ordinance. No reduction in the number of single-family homes built in either Montgomery County or Prince George's County accompanied the enactment of ordinances, compared to the other two counties in the study that do not have sprinkler ordinances. Rather, both Montgomery and Prince George' counties saw larger relative increases in construction in the year after the ordinances went into effect, compared to the other two counties.
Data for the analysis included annual single-family building permits, surveys of housing and households, local documents and news reports released before and after adoption of residential sprinkler requirements, as well as reviews of other housing regulations. Interviews with key builders, trade association staff and local government officials were also conducted.
In interviews, builders and staff of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association all indicated that the sprinkler requirements did not significantly affect the volume, character or price of the construction of new homes. According to the report, “None of the statistical or interview information demonstrated that the requirements led to reduced housing supply.”
All model safety codes now require the use of fire sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes.
The Fire Sprinkler Initiative, a project of the National Fire Protection Association, is a nationwide effort to encourage the use of home fire sprinklers and the adoption of fire sprinkler requirements for new construction. NFPA has been in the safety business since 1896.
Also, in this issue (Letters), Forest Wilson, president of Cherokee Fire Protection, Dayton, Ohio, takes issue with efforts by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association to have plumbing contractors install residential sprinklers. We're not going to take sides since this publication represents both plumbing and fire sprinkler contractors.
Plumbing contractors should take note that fire protection contractors take their mission as seriously as firefighters. The sprinkler contractor must be able to prove that there is enough pressure and volume for the sprinklers to function properly during a fire; the contractor is liable if the job is botched.
Fire sprinkler contractors must note that residential sprinklers are a horse of a different color. Their colleagues who have been successful in the residential market started separate residential divisions with their own supervision, installers and overhead.
As long as homes get sprinklered, we're fine with however the marketplace decides this issue.