Residential fire sprinklers: two sides of the coin

April 19, 2011
There are definitely two sides to every issue, that’s for sure. The article I wrote concerning the Pennsylvania residential fire sprinkler mandate up for consideration got our readers talking, and many of them aired their opinions on Contractor’s ...

There are definitely two sides to every issue, that’s for sure. The article I wrote concerning the Pennsylvania residential fire sprinkler mandate up for consideration got our readers talking, and many of them aired their opinions on Contractor’s website. Click here to read the article and comments.

It’s very interesting … the different perspectives on this issue. On one hand, safety seems to be most important when discussing fire sprinkler systems. On the other hand it seems there are concerns that sprinkler systems are too expensive and no one will be able to afford a new home with the added cost. Then there are the in-between perspectives, such as the sprinkler industry should be more concerned about older homes without sprinkler systems rather than focusing on new construction, that it should be up to the homeowner if they want a sprinkler system installed, that mandating fire sprinklers is a step closer to democracy being stripped from the U.S., etc.

Below are two of my favorite posts I read online about the issue:

Rob B, wrote, “Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, everyone will look back on this debate and wonder why it occurred in the first place. Because it was something new? Fire sprinkler technology has been available for a century or more. Because fire sprinklers were known to malfunction, causing unnecessary damage? The technology has been vastly improved, and malfunctions are rare. Because smoke detectors were considered sufficient protection? Smoke detectors do nothing to confine or extinguish a fire, and the early warning they provide sometimes isn't enough to save lives. Because residential sprinkler systems are prohibitively expensive? Only when the price is deliberately inflated. Because it was a government mandate? Yep, that was probably the biggest reason. As a society, we haven't grown up, and we just don't like being told what to do, even when it's in everyone's best interest.”

Jeremy wrote, “When does it stop? Next freedom of speech may be infringed. It needs to be a choice. If we have to do everything the government thinks is ‘in our best interest,’ this country stops being a democracy and is no longer the land of the free.”

I can understand the argument that home sprinklers should be a personal choice and that the government has no right to tell people what they can or can’t do. This argument reminds me of the controversy around helmet laws. Many people are against helmet laws, most arguing they have the right not to wear a helmet if they don’t want to. A law like this only affects me since the only person it would hurt would be me if I decide not to wear a helmet on a bike or motorcycle. And I do wear a helmet when biking. Believe me, I learned my lesson years ago when I was hit by a car while I was riding my bike. After that happened I bought a bike helmet. To me, having the choice to wear a helmet comes down to survival of the fittest, or should I say smartest. If you don’t want to wear a helmet, that’s fine, but you won’t hurt anyone but yourself and if you are fine with the risks associated with not wearing a helmet then more power to you – go for it.

However, the residential fire sprinkler law is much more than survival of the smartest. When regarding fire sprinklers, usually more than one person is at risk. For example, many homeowners have families or more than one person is living in a house. Also, what happens when a home is up for sale? I know the argument is that older homes without sprinkler systems are for sale and people buy them without a sprinkler system in place. But personally, if I had to I would spend extra money to have a home with a sprinkler system, but that’s probably because for the past few years I have lived in an apartment that does not have sprinkler systems, which is an unsettling feature to me that I try not to think too much about. For me, I believe when I do purchase a home I will value piece of mind over costs.

With all that said, I believe that the general public needs to be more educated about sprinkler systems. When conducting an interview with NFSA President John Viniello for the article, he mentioned that approximately 3,000 people each year die from fire, and one of the problems is that the general public does not believe that fire is going to happen to them, and when people understand how fire sprinkler systems work, and understand it’s the toxic smoke that kills and sprinklers prevent that, they will understand and want sprinklers in the home.

The next big step is for associations to educate the public on this topic, so they understand how sprinklers operate, what they can do, and how they are life saving technologies. I’m pretty sure if more consumers understood the benefits of a sprinkler system, they would request fire sprinklers in new homes, and builders would be more than willing to install them.

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