Fire Sprinklers to be Required in Many New Chicago Homes

St. Charles could possibly be one of the municipalities incorporating the new 2009 International Codes.  The code mandate fire sprinklers in all new townhouses and, beginning Jan. 1, 2011, in new one and two family homes and town-homes.  Each municipality in Illinois can choose whether or not to mandate fire sprinklers and undoubtedly will be a contentious issue for years to come.
Fire SprinklerThe International Code Council (ICC) passed the fire sprinkler mandate by 73% in late 2008 and incorporated the requirement in the 2009 ICC code.  The International Residential Code Fire Sprinkler Coalition was behind the movement to push the new mandate into the International Residential Code (IRC).  If St. Charles adopts the fire sprinkler mandate, your new home could cost as much as $15,000 more depending on what materials are required and specifications and interpretations of the city’s building department.
The total home fire death toll of roughly 2,500 deaths a year occurs in roughly 400,000 reported single family home fires a year (2,500 represents the deaths that would be affected by the new mandate – single family and multi-family 2 unit homes only).  Fire sprinkler opponents have been using this statistic of 99.45% survival rate to illustrate the effectiveness of smoke alarms in reducing home fire deaths.
According to the group ‘Fire Sprinkler Initiative‘, a project of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) quotes – ‘fire in the home poses one of the biggest threats to the people of your community. Nearly 400,000 home fires occur every year in the United States and, in one recent year, nearly 3,000 people died in fires that started at home. Home fire sprinklers are a proven way to protect lives and property against fires at home.  These life-saving systems respond quickly and effectively to the presence of a nearby fire. When sprinklers are present, they save lives.’ The NFPA also claims in their own study that the cost of installing fire sprinklers in a new home is approximately $1.61 a square foot.
The housing industry on the other hand, has a different opinion on the effectiveness, costliness and the motivations of the fire sprinkler industry in helping mandate sprinklers.  Home builders and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) too has a different take on the claim that ‘one of the biggest threats to the people of your community’ is the threat of fire.  How and which square feet they count is debated too as for how they attain the $1.61 figure.
In an age where words like ‘crisis’, ‘collapse’ and ‘meltdown’ are used daily to describe the financial system and real estate, many in the home building business were unaware of this now immediate fire threat to people in America.  In fact, many wonder why the NFPA would choose only new construction in it’s crusade to rid the country of this pressing ‘crisis’.   Shouldn’t we examine America’s housing stock – the 100% of existing homes that are so perilously close to going up in flames?
Most builders debate that the cost to install a fire sprinkler system is far more than the $1.61 per square foot cited by the NFPA.  In fact, builders estimate the cost to be significantly higher (perhaps as high as 5% or more of the cost) and yet be another blow an industry that is already suffering against the existing stock of homes in terms of values.  The effectiveness of properly installed, hardwired smoke detectors versus fire sprinklers is negligible, argues the NAHB and the home building industry in general.

Perhaps the largest issue that the home building industry has with the fire sprinkler mandate is the masked motivation that the NFPA uses in the name of safety.  Many contend that the vote was rigged in Minnesota in late 2008 by fire sprinkler industry people who packed the ICC vote to favor their industry.  Many builders wonder if the NFPA’s interest truly is safety of home occupants, wouldn’t they demand the retrofitting of all existing homes to save the lives of the hundreds of millions of existing homes that are without fire sprinklers?   New construction is an easy target for code changes and the prospect of profiting off ‘safety’ is a lucrative endeavor for the National Fire Protection Agency.  And an even more difficult issue to fight.