Update on Fire Sprinklers for New Homes
The Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards met earlier this month to discuss the adoption of Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, but the bottom line is added cost, and minimal benefits. Here is a report on the meeting from the Boston Globe:
December 13, 2011
Firefighters and home builders today argued at a Board of Building Regulations and Standards hearing on installing fire sprinklers in newly constructed homes.
At the hearing, held in the State House, much of the debate came down to cost: Officials from fire departments around the state argued that the sprinkler systems, which can cost thousands of dollars to install, would save lives and limit property damage.
But developers and construction managers said that sprinklers have not been proven to be any more effective in saving lives than smoke detectors. The added cost, they continued, would discourage potential homeowners from settling in Massachusetts, and would raise the cost of affordable housing.
The proposed amendment to the state’s model code would not mandate that sprinklers be installed in every newly-constructed one- or two-family home in the state. Instead, it would be part of a “stretch code,” which encourages cities and towns to adopt the change.
At a press conference before the hearing in front of the Massachusetts Firefighter Memorial, James M. Shannon, the president of the National Fire Protection Association, said the sprinklers help to extinguish or retard fires, which would allow more time for families to evacuate, and would also reduce risks to firefighters entering burning buildings.
“This is really about not only public safety, but it’s also a huge firefighter safety issue,” Sherman said.
So far, California, Maryland, and South Carolina are the only states that have enacted a statewide measure to require fire sprinklers in newly-built homes.
“It’s high time Massachusetts joins the list of forward-thinking states that mandate automatic fire sprinklers in new home construction,” said Thomas Burnett, president of the Massachusetts Call/Volunteer Firefighters Association, during the hearing.
But Doug Pizzi, a spokesman for the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts, said after the press conference that the state should focus its fire safety efforts on ensuring that all homes in the state have working smoke alarms. That would also help keep firefighters safe, he said: If everyone quickly evacuates a burning house, firefighters do not need to enter.
The added cost of fire sprinklers — he estimated that they cost about $10,000-$15,000 per home — would also raise the cost of affordable housing units, making it more difficult for residents with low incomes to pay for their own homes, Pizzi said.
“We’d drive a lot of people right out of the ability to get that home,” he said.
Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.