Debate: New Homes and Fire Sprinklers

Posted: March, 15, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

Should all new homes in New York State have fire sprinkler systems? The NY State Building Code Council is currently considering a new code in which it would be mandatory to install fire sprinkler systems in every new home. The new code is currently being debated and if it is passed it will then go on to Governor Cuomo's desk for final approval. This is a pretty hot topic in the NY residential building industry. We have some admittedly biased views that we would like to share with everyone :)

To begin, we would like to say that safety is the #1 priority when building a home. Current building codes do a great job of ensuring that each new home is as fire resistant as possible. Fire proofing materials and smoke detectors do a great job of limiting the spread of a fire and alarming the homeowners of a fire that has started. These are necessary and proven building practices that have saved lives.

If you are not familiar with fire sprinkler systems, take a look at the ceiling in nearly every commercial or apartment building you go to. You will see the little sprinkler heads in the ceilings.

These sprinkler systems are on their own water system throughout the building and when the temperature gauge senses a high enough temp. the system kicks on and sprinklers water to supress any fire in the area. To review, the Code Council is debating whether to mandate that these should be installed in every new home that is constructed.

From our perspective we are OK with installing fire sprinklers in new homes. However, we are against being mandated to do so. Builders have made it known to the Code Council that a fair compromise would be for builders to offer the system to future buyers. Builders would be happy to offer these systems and install them if the buyer sees the personal benefit of installing the sprinklers.

The fire sprinkler systems are expensive. They can cost roughly $5,000 to $10,000 on a 2,500 s.f home. This is one reason we would like to offer the option for fire sprinklers. Fire sprinklers may not be for everyone. Adding close to $10,000 to the cost of a new home may not be possible for some buyers. We propose to let the buyers decide if they want sprinklers or not. Let's not mandate the sprinklers and require people to pay such a large sum of money if they don't want to.

Another reason why we would like to see the fire sprinklers be an option rather than mandated is because of the maintenance required for them. Fire sprinklers should be inspected, tested or maintaned once per year. Is this another cost that buyers want to pay for each and every year? If they are OK with these costs and see the benefit, again, let the buyers decide.

Water source and supply is also an area for concern with fire sprinklers. Fire sprinklers must be charged with water pressure at all times. On a municple water supply this shouldn't be much of a problem. However, many new homes, especially in NY state use a well for the water supply, which brings a new set of issues. A new home on well water with fire sprinklers would most likely require, a larger well pump, larger expansion tanks, possibly pressurized tank systems and a water filtration system. All of these things add costs to the the sprinkler system and home.

Finally, another big reason why buyers should be offered the choice to install fire sprinkler systems is the aesthetics of them. You saw the picture above of what the sprinkler heads look like. Now imagine one of those in the ceiling of every room in your house. Smoke detectors are ugly enough and now there is the possibility of sprinkler heads in each room! Another thing to consider is the type of constrcution that is being done. For instance we build allot of custom homes in the Adirondacks. These homes tend to be open plans with wood beams and wood ceilings. They are designed and built that way to fit in with the Adirondack styles and cabin type feels. Please see the picture below and imagine sprinkler heads and/or pipes along the wood ceilings or beams! It would be a shame to have to install a sprinkler system in a home with this style construction.

To review, we are all for safety when it comes to building new homes. We believe the homes we build today are built so well and are very fire resistant already. If NY State is going to issue a new code regarding fire sprinklers, we just ask that the future buyer is considered. For some people the safety and peace of mind would greatly outweigh the costs and other reasons we listed above. However, for some people, the costs, maintenance, and looks are not worth the benefit of the sprinklers. We believe that new buyers should be offered the option to install fire sprinklers, and not mandated to do so.

Being a homebuilder and being directly affected by this new code, we know our views on this issue are skewed and very biased. We thought it was necessary though to state our thoughts and bring some facts to light, as much of the public is not aware of this new code which could effect their lives down the road. We would love to hear your thoughts about this issue!!  

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