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« Op/ed: Mandate makes sense for home sprinklers | Main | NFPA applauds states’ actions on home fire sprinklers »

01/13/2010

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Would someone in the know please respond to "Will repairs or remodeling to existing homes trigger a requirement by the building department to bring it up to code and add sprinkler systems?" I would like to know what the threshold is (number of square feet being remodeled, number of square feet being added, cost of remodel, etc.) that will require sprinklers to be included in the remodel. Thank you. -Marjorie

The model codes require sprinkler in new home construction only. Some jurisdictions have amended the code to require sprinklers in homes undergoing substantial renovation. For specific requirements you must contact the local fire or building official.
Maria Figueroa

I live in San Francisco and I am about to undertake a construction project in my 1958 home where I am converting half of my 1200 square foot garage to a family room, living room and bathroom. I was just told by my architect that I need to budget for a sprinkler system which will cost approximately $15K-$20K. This will be my construction costs up from $60K to $80K. If my architect is correct my project has now increased by 33% and is out of our budget. Is this true?

I am appalled at the lack of foresight this agency has. In a time where our state is struggling with a weak economy, houses are being foreclosed, folks are just having a difficult time making ends meet, you have just implemented another rule/regulation to slow business and enterprise. I am in the llth hour of a permit process and the fire marshall is holding up my permit, because I will have and addition that is barely over 3600 sq feet. And because of this I will now need sprinklers, and possibly a new fire hydrant at my expense. I am sorry, don't preach to me about sprinklers saving lives. If you want to prevent a house fire, dont smoke in bed, dont use candles, have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen and dont be careless. Common sense saves lives. There will be much more damage caused to homes contents from sprinklers, carpets flooring, art work, leaks in the fire sprinkler delivery system, inadvertent triggering. Something is rotten in Denmark, sounds like the sprinkler installers union, has greased NFPA palm. Will you please disclose to us the general public 1) who did the residential sprinkler research 2) Is it a prospective study 3) Who funded the research? 4) How much money do sprinkler installers contribute to the NFPA?

I am truly disappointed by this rule.

My advice is to have all of those involved in) this decision (including their support staff) be required to have a new 2000 square foot home built with these requirements. This should have been done before they voted. Then they would be qualified to speak to all the problems & realistic cost estimates. Unfortunately most of them never have to deal with real life. Unfortunately our whole state of california is run this way.

Prime example of legislation for corporate interests. Fire sprinkler marketers realize there is very little new commercial construction. The only way to grow their market is to expand into single family residential. And since hardly any homeowner would willingly purchase sprinklers, the industry wants to force them by passing this law.

Most people are no match for professional marketers like the NFPA. Consequently most of the comments here miss the point. I find it particularly galling that you label yourselves "proponents of life safety". Do you suppose there exist some "opponents of life safety"? I would imagine all humans want fire safety, except the very, very few pyromaniacs.

Nanny state laws like this are ruining this country. A person should have a right to live their life as they see fit, period. There is no basis for this regulation whatsoever in the United States or California constitutions.

Ernest Kestone

Mr. Kestone:
The mission of the international nonprofit NFPA, established in 1896, is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.

NFPA codes and standards are widely adopted because they are developed using an open, consensus-based process. All NFPA codes and standards are developed and periodically reviewed by approximately 7,000 volunteer committee members with a wide range of professional expertise.

The fact is that home fires are responsible for the majority of fire deaths and fire injuries. Smoke alarms have done a good job of providing early warning, but do not control or extinguish a fire. Losing an average of 3,000 people a year in home fires in the U.S., the majority of which are high risk groups - older adults, young children and disabled persons - is unacceptable to the life safety community.

The 2006 editions of NFPA 1 Fire Code, and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code included the fire sprinkler requirement for all one- and two-family homes. The 2009 edition of the International Residential Code (building code) included this requirement. All model codes now contain the requirement. Now it is up to policy makers to adopt the model codes and standards; as is the case with the State of California.

Model codes represent minimum standards of safety. Fire sprinkler requirements are not unlike any other safety feature built-in to products; as there is an expectation from the U.S. consumer that the products that they buy, including their homes, are equipped with minimum standards of safety. Excluding these systems from new homes built today equals substandard construction.

I suppose that those who oppose fire sprinkler systems in new home construction, choosing profits and competitive edge over the welfare of the home buyer, would meet the definition of "opponents of life safety." It would not be the first time in our history where decisions were made by product manufacturers to protect profits over life. Remember the Ford Pinto debacle?

The State of California made a decision to adopt this requirement after an arduous process of consultation with all major stakeholders. California home builders did not oppose this regulation by the state, over liability concerns arising from building and selling a substandard product.

This is not about "nanny state laws", as you put it; it is about protecting life from the ravages of fire in the home. There is absolutely no difference between requiring smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems in new homes, and requiring seat belts and air bags in new vehicles. Protecting people from harm has been in the very fabric of our American culture since the beginning of this great nation. Comparing the requirement of minimum standards of safety in products to a violation of constitutional rights is simply misguided.

Fire sprinklers save lives!

Maria Figueroa
Regional Director
NFPA
Fire Prevention Field Office

A standard sprinkler system will NOT prevent complete home destruction in wildfire. In Oakland/Berkeley Firestorm my carpenter's new home had FS. I observed a GIANT water spout at center of completely razed home afterwords. This one home lowered the water pressure nearby. Imagine what 100 razed homes, each with FS, would do to the water pressure. Better be careful for what you ask for!

Mr. Reichel:
NFPA 13D systems are life safety systems designed to control or extinguish the fire and prevent flashover in the room of origin. They are not intended to protect property, although it has been proven that they do reduce property damage, when they operate as designed, by 71%.

Fires that start outside and enter the structure through eaves, spread through the attic, etc. will probably extend beyond the reach and effectiveness of the home fire sprinkler system.

For information on protecting your home from wildland fires visit the Firewise Program link: http://www.firewise.org/

Maria Figueroa
Regional Director
NFPA Fire Prevention Field Office

I am a Fire Protection Engineer and contractor. I would love to sell a 2000 sq. ft system for $15k. the cost of 1.61 should be in line considering the install goes in with construction. In reality the cost has come way down with plastic pipe etc. NFPA 13d systems are intended for 1 and 2 family dwellings. The requirements are very low and only provide life safety and not intended for property protection.
Franklin, Intuitive Engineering Services

I am serving on a board considering the residential sprinkler issue. Can anyone tell me what the increase in survivability (in percentage terms)is between a home with functioning smoke detectors and a home with both smokes and sprinks?

I am reading these comments, because a dear friend has undertaken a building project in the city of Burbank, and her project has been blown out of the water by, among other things, the overhead sprinkler regulation. The cost for it threw the project $15,000 over an already enormous and nearly obscene price-tag (that is just for the sprinkler system install). I asked her about the quoted 1.61 quoted here, and she laughed out loud, and then wanted to cry. Burbank hit her with this in the planning meeting, before final approval. They had been in possession of the drawings for two months. She is (or should I say "was") adding a 1000 s.f. single upstairs unit. In addition to needing the sprinklers in the unit, they (Burbank) also require her to add the sprinklers throughout her home, which was built in 1924.

I think, Ms Figueroa, that nobody wants to see rampant fire deaths, or children and old people dying from the "ravages of fire", however your entire tone is condescending and autocratic. You have universally "talked down" to every single person who has commented on this regulation, some of whom raised cogent points in direct opposition to your opinion and your "studies". Studies and statistics are notoriously flawed and are easily manipulated, to show exactly what the group sponsoring the study want them to, as I'm sure someone of your obvious intelligence, knows.

My observation, from reading these posts is that NFPA, like many worthy and stalwart organizations has become too big for its collective breeches, and is indeed in the business of enforcing "nanny laws".

I realize that my comments will probably do nothing but garner a withering put-down from Ms Figueroa meant to impress me with her knowledge and her self righteous desire to "protect" the old, sick and infantile, but I won't fall for it and I really don't care. Because Maria, beaurocrats are beaurocrats are beaurocrats - and California has some of the biggest stuffed shirt, big brother, "you're too stupid to take care of yourself" beaurocrats that I have ever seen. Poor, poor California.

And now my friend in Burbank with the failed building project, who has an elderly aunt living in a little, crappy old apartment in Glendale, won't get her lovely, clean new apt in Burbank, over the top of her niece's home, where she would have been safe and sound and secure, because my friend can't afford Ms Figueroa's sprinkler system. But I'll tell my friend and her aunt that Ms Figueroa and her cronies at NFPA really do care about what happens to her. They'll be so pleased.

I understand the concerns of everyone's need for safety. But, California always seems to go just over the edge with everything. Considering the economic times and how costly it is to live and build anything anymore. Do you really think that was the right time to impose another expense on our ever so declining economy? But maybe this is a good thing in the long haul. Maybe over time we can cut back on taxes and not see so many bonds on the ballot, in the way of fire departments. Over time we should be able to cut back on exspensive fire departments and over paid man power with ridiculous retirments. If from here on out we all have fire sprinklers, we won't have the need for another exspensive goverment agency, fire departments.

Maybe next year we can all be made to wear crash helmets in our cars, I see the need don't you?

Can anyone tell me more about the "repeal of this law" underway in California?

I'd like to build a home that uses either well water or rain water harvesting as a primary water source.

There are plenty of places in California that are not even serviced by city water lines.

I can't imagine that it's possible to both off-grid your water source and install fire sprinklers in your home. Without a repeal of this regulation, it sounds like jurisdictions would be making it illegal to get your water off the grid.

So this is the next 'nudge' of the building codes. What's next??
Soon we will only have social housing (built to code for your safety)and Government employee housing, as they will be the only ones who can afford it.

All of this 'for your protection'

I'm sure the people whining about minimum code requirements would be first in line to sue when their building fell down in an earthquake, during heavy wind or was just destroyed in an electrical fire. The truth is you will spend more on decorations than you do for fire sprinklers. Maybe it should be your choice but your choice also affects the surrounding neighbors as well as the safety of fire fighters. Plus it will pay for itself in savings on your insurance in a few short years. Building codes are one of the few things government gets right, which is why when CA has an earthquake there are minimal fatalities. Let them prevent hundreds of unnecessary deaths due to fire, please.


Go California

Fire Sprinklers in Homes Will Make Housing Unaffordable
Starting next year the cost of new housing built in South Carolina will increase significantly because of a new code change requiring residential fire sprinklers.
The net effect will be to put new home ownership out of reach of many hard working South Carolinians. Basic economics teaches us that as the price of a product increases, the demand diminishes. Subsequently, the already fragile housing and overall economy will suffer a $100 million annual negative impact, further hampering any recovery. This change in the code was adopted without any cost / benefit study and without the vote of a single elected official. Next week our legislators will be considering bills (S.1057 and H.4663) that will remove this mandate just as North Carolina and Georgia have already done.

Homebuilders share in the goal of preventing fire related deaths, but feel that that keeping safer, new homes affordable is the best way to achieve this, not by requiring the installation of an expensive technology. Unfortunately, this unfunded mandate will not prevent fire tragedies in older homes, where they most often occur, because they are unaffected by this code. The number of fire related deaths in South Carolina’s single family homes has trended downward over the past twenty years, even as the population has increased by over one million residents. This has been the direct result of a higher percentage of people living in newer homes as the result of that population increase. At the same time, many of the housing authorities in the state undertook aggressive plans to replace older, unsafe public housing units. As a result, the average age of the housing stock in SC declined and the number of people killed in residential fires did likewise. Subsequently, the very valid question arises; can we afford to spend over $100 million a year on a problem that is getting better on its own?

New homes are built safer than ever before.
The stated causes of residential fire deaths points to occupants of older homes being much more vulnerable in that a significant number are attributed to faulty heaters and electrical systems. It is almost unheard of for a modern furnace to catch fire and newer, safer electrical systems are designed to trip the circuit breaker before a fire starts. Other cost effective code changes over the years have improved fire safety by implementing building techniques, materials and fire separation that reduce flame spread. Openings in bedrooms are also larger in new homes which improve fire fighter access and the occupant’s ability to escape.

But possibly the most effective safety feature found in new homes is an interconnected and hard-wired smoke alarm system with battery back up. With these systems, if one alarm sounds, they all go off alerting the whole family to a possible fire and giving them time to get out alive. The National Fire Protection Association reported that the chance of surviving a fire when working smoke detectors are present is 99.45%. Thanks to the widespread installation of residential smoke alarm systems in recent years, South Carolinians are safer than they’ve ever been. In fact, according to an August 2006 U.S. Fire Administration study, only 3.7% of all the residential fire deaths from 2001-2004 were reported in homes with working smoke alarms.

Even though they account for 1/3 of all residential fire deaths in South Carolina over the past 10 years, Mobile homes are exempt from this new code because they are largely built in other states. Failure to pass these bills will give mobile homes a greater cost advantage over traditional single family homes, driving many buyers to this less expensive option. The resulting loss of real property taxes and housing related jobs in local communities could potentially have a devastating effect. Still, fire sprinkler manufacturers and installers would like to see this mandated for single family homes. In that what will be a $100 million+ tax on home buyers, it will be a windfall for them.

While smoke detector systems can be retrofitted to one’s home, so may fire sprinkler systems, even though very few people nationwide, including firemen have chosen to do so. In 30 years as a builder, I can never recall a purchaser asking for one, yet this code change forces home buyers to buy a product they have not chosen on their own. As a compromise, and part of this legislation, homebuilders have offered to counsel all buyers on fire sprinklers and make them optional for every new home built in the state, so buyers can chose what is right for them.

As 2010 President of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina (HBASC) I can unequivocally state that mandating residential fire sprinklers will put the dream of homeownership out of reach for many South Carolinians. Consumers should be given the final choice whether or not to install fire sprinklers as they have in many other states. We implore upon the House and Senate to protect home affordability and the freedom of choice for South Carolinians by passing these bills.

I am trying to build a 3,400 s.f. home in the bay area and the cheapest quote I have for a sprinkler system is over $16,000.00 This does not include the water main, the $900.00 design fee or the FD inspection fees, etc. I don't know where you get this $1.61 number from. I will be closer to $5.00 a s.f. and that is if I install the water main myself.

I'm planning to build an underground, all-concrete and rock house. Even the interior walls are all concrete. Is there not an exception to this sprinkler requirement for a practically fireproof structure? It seems absurd to install sprinklers in such a structure (even if they were free, which they are NOT).

Steve,
I suppose if the structure is not intended for human habitation and you intend to leave it empty, I may be able agree with your reasoning. As long as we live in homes and put "stuff" in them, fire death risk is very much a reality and national model codes will contain minimum standards to achieve a reasonable level of safety. You will need to contact your local fire marshal regarding specific requirements for underground occupancies.

I have a new construction home that I moved into in December of 2011. It is 2600sq. ft. and although it is a housing development and not a custom home the impact on the purchase price of my home was only $2,500.

I have to say that in my case I can see only benefits with having a new construction house which is fully sprinklered.

Vista Irrigation District in Southern California charges me $45 every bill for having sprinklers! On top of me buying the brand new home and paying for the sprinklers I also found out the reduction on homeowners insurance is 0%. So the same level of water pressure that equates to me flushing all my toilets at once and the amount of water to fill a spa constitutes this charge? Give me a break.

My condo was new in 1990 in Northern California and all units in this development have built in sprinklers. I was under the impression they were required at the time for new construction. Best of all, they work independently of one another and function even if the power is out. They are in every room, including storage and garage. If they weren't required by law, I'm surprised my developer put them in as they always seemed to be looking to cut corners. I think I may have heard once that they had to put them in because we have shared walls here. Makes sense.

Sprinklers really do help slow down a fire. The worst fires you hear about are the ones in buildings that have NO sprinkler systems. Case closed.

Should have waited until the Residential Fire Suppression industry was up to providing all the parts of a system. We are building a new house after a fire. The sprinkler system is put in by the only company anywhere near to us, but, they don't do the sprinkler heads or covers, and they tell us we need to have 400 gallons of water under 40 PSI and 40 GPM in storage. I can not find anywhere that this storage tank is required. Nothing on the GPM and PSI requirements of a sprinkler system. This was premature. L. Furnas

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