The Fire Sprinkler Choice
Good news! After respectable sales increases in 2012 a stronger, more dynamic housing market is predicted for 2013. While driven by a variety of factors, it is primarily due to the growing confidence among home builders and prospective homeowners in the outlook of the US economy and the housing market itself along with unwavering support from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
For several years now, the NAHB has been a vocal presence on Capitol Hill supporting active legislation to restore the flow of credit for new housing production. However, fire sprinkler manufacturers along with other fire suppression advocates have now begun to voice concerns as to whether or not this new stream of homes and home owners will be properly informed and educated about the underlying dangers of lightweight construction and fire.
The skepticism is due to a long historical precedent by the NAHB to try and suppress measures to implement fire safety mechanisms in newly built homes. In the 1970's, according to the federal Department of Homeland Security, fire related deaths in the United States fell more than 40 percent from 6,000 a year to roughly 3,500. This drop directly correlated to the widespread adoption of smoke detectors mostly driven by legislative mandate. Yet this measure was vehemently and unanimously opposed by the NAHB, citing costs and consumer choice.
More recently, there has been an infusion of political donations to specific Congressional state districts to limit any form of fire sprinkler mandate. These mandates stem from the independent, non-profit International Code Council, which develops model building codes, and voted in 2009 to require fire sprinkler systems in all one and two family homes. It was then left up to local jurisdictions to implement the mandate – or not. To date, California and Maryland are the only states that require sprinklers in all new homes while Scottsdale, Arizona, is the municipality with the longest running mandate – and zero fire deaths in a protected home since its enactment in the late 1980s. By some estimates, the NAHB and similar organizations are spending millions annually to misinform the public and influence local government as they debate whether or not to enact the mandate.
So why does the NAHB believe home fire sprinkler systems should not be mandated? Texas State Representative John Otto sums it up: "I'm for fire safety, but you're taking the decision out of the hands of the homeowner, and you're mandating something that ought to be left to the homeowners." Mr. Otto was instrumental in sponsoring TX state legislation that passed in 2009 banning a mandate.
From another point of view, Ned Munoz, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Texas Association of Home Builders, puts it like this: "When you start mandating a fire sprinkler system, you are going to price a lot of people out of these new homes.”
Both Mr. Otto and Mr. Munoz do have a point and basis for their position. The question is: are homeowners being offered the option of fire sprinklers? Are they being explained the potential life-saving benefits of a fire sprinkler system or the off-set in costs home owners insurance savings of up to 10% annually? How about the difference between a fire fighter’s response time and fire sprinklers? Are the home builders explaining the benefits of extinguishing a fire while it’s still small and manageable rather than after it has grown to the point of destroying a home? How about the safety benefits for fire fighters and neighbors when a fire sprinkler system is present? More often than not the answer is no.
There even seems to be a conflict of interest within the NAHB’s membership.
"I still personally think fire sprinklers are a good idea. I would pay the extra money to install them in my own home if I were building a new home. This is because I still believe that if a fire starts in a home when no one is present, there is likely to be much less damage if a fire sprinkler system is installed. But […] it should be up to the homeowner if [they want] to install them,” explains Randy West, owner of Professional Building Consultants in Prescott, AZ, and a proud NAHB member.
The bottom line, in our most humble opinion, is home owners should be entitled to the choice.
So we’ll pose these questions (please comment):
If you’ve recently built a home, was a fire sprinkler system a discussed option? Should it have been?
Where do you draw the line between personal freedom and mandated safety measurements?
Would you add a fire sprinkler system to your home?
Prefer to discuss your home's fire sprinkler options? Call QRFS at 888.361.6662 or email us here for a free consultation.
For more information on fire sprinkler legislation around the country, see:
Residential fire sprinklers, National Association of Home Builders, National Fire Protection Association, fire sprinkler mandate