New Data Available on Fire Sprinkler Mandates

Filed in Codes and Regulations, Home Building by on September 7, 2016 32 Comments

fire sprinklerVoting members of the International Code Council will once again consider an amendment to move the requirement to install fire sprinkler systems in one- and two-family homes from the main body of the International Residential Code – where it has been since 2009 – back to the appendix.

It makes a difference because when a requirement is part of the main body, it’s much easier for states, counties and local jurisdictions to adopt it lock, stock and barrel when it comes time to update the building codes. When it’s in the appendix, the jurisdiction has to decide to amend the model code to include the requirement.

That’s not been an issue for fire sprinkler requirements, though. The overwhelming majority of states have decided that installing the systems should be an option, not a mandate, for home buyers. And the overwhelming majority of home buyers have decided that the systems are not worth the additional expense.

This set of tables and maps produced by the NAHB Construction, Codes and Standards Department breaks it down: By either the code adoption process or legislative action, 44 states have rejected fire sprinkler requirements. Only two states – California and Maryland – require them for all new one- and two-family homes.

Delaware, Colorado, Illinois and Wyoming have not chosen to pursue statewide requirements, although Delaware builders are required to give buyers a cost estimate for sprinklers and install them if the buyer wants.

NAHB agrees that fire sprinklers should be an option for all home buyers, and it’s helped state and local HBAs create materials that their builders can use to offer that option. But the price – the Fire Protection Research Association puts the average cost per system at about $6,000 – can make new homes unaffordable for many buyers.

In addition, today’s smoke alarms, coupled with recent advances in building science and in the building codes themselves – make new homes safer than ever before.

For additional information, contact NAHB’s Dan Buuck at 800-368-5242 x8366.

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  1. Timothy Diehl says:

    Why not put the average cost per square foot (1.31) verse the blanket cost average (6000). I believe this is misleading. In the states with mandated sprinklers, there has not been a lost of life due to fire in a sprinklered residence. Smoke alarms alone are not adequate for allowing residents time to evacuate the structure in the case of a fire.

    • Bob Fusari says:

      In Connecticut, there has mot been a fire-related death in a one- or two-family home built since battery/hard wired smoke detectors have been required by the state building code. (mid 1980s).

      In the early 1990s, I built a 363-unit subdivision of single-family homes. In one of my models, in cooperation with the local fire department, I installed a fire sprinkler system and provided all of the supporting information, including video tapes then available from the National Fire Sprinkler Association, National Fire Protection Association, etc. to all prospective buyers. I offered the systems as an option at my cost. NOT ONE BUYER CHOSE THIS OPTION. When the model with the fire sprinkler system was offered for sale the system was a liability.

      I have testified at public hearings on this issue and listened to countless proponents elaborate on the virtues of fire sprinklers. After the hearings, I ask as many as possible if they have a fire sprinkler system in their house. I HAVE YET TO FIND ONE WHO HAS A SYSTEM IN THEIR HOUSE.

      • Tim Diehl says:

        Once again your facts are incorrect. Unfortunately there have been fire deaths in the State of Connecticut since hard wired smoke alarms were required. I just pulled the data from 2015 which showed 18 civilian fire deaths in the state. This is the irresponsible comments which take away from the issue. https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/civilian-fatalities/incident/reportList?searchState=connecticut&searchStartDate=01/01/2015&searchEndDate=12/31/2015 is the website if you like look it up yourself.

      • Bill Ethier says:

        Tim Diehl and Bob Fusari, you’re speaking past each other despite Bob’s best efforts to restate and clarify what he said. And, when that happens, unfortunately, intelligent debate is the victim. Let’s start with how data is reported. Yes, there are deaths each year caused by fires. In CT, there are, using recent multi-year averages, about 2 dozen fire deaths per year in “residential structures” About half of these are in multifamily, and the other half occur in single family homes. This data comes from various sources, but none of the sources on fire deaths track the age of the home or apartment or condo (i.e., the year it was built) in which a death occurred. Fortunately, for research purposes, the address of the fire is usually reported. In order to determine the age of the structure (which is Bob’s point), you have to get that from various sources. You can use newspaper accounts of specific fires that report the age of the home. You can send the address to the local tax assessor’s office and they can report back the age of the structure (it’s all public information, just difficult to obtain when the assessor does not respond). Or, you can use web searches re the street or neighborhood to determine age of the home (brand new homes are not typically built in a built-out 1940’s subdivision).

        What Bob was/is saying, Tim, is not that there are no fire deaths in homes (on which you focus), but that using all the possible sources of age data for places that have had fire deaths, none of those fire deaths occurred in homes that were built after CT adopted hard-wired, battery-back up smokes. In other words, all the fire deaths that continue to occur are and have been occurring in older structures, i.e., those built prior to the adoption of required hard-wired, battery-backed-up smoke detectors. Or, at least, given some holes in the data (e.g., where an assessor does not reply to a data request), for every fire for which we have age data, every fire death has been in an older structure.

        So, Tim, your final comment “Enough Said” is based on a gross misreading of what Bob originally stated. Bob did not say “there have been no fire deaths in CT since” smoke detector codes changed. He said “there have been no fire deaths in homes built since” smoke detector codes changed. The “built since” qualifier makes a huge difference in meaning that should not be ignored.

  2. Sam says:

    The $6,000 number quoted in this article is very misleading. $6,000 is the average price for a system for homes in that study. A better number to use would be the average cost per square foot ($1.35) and multiple that by the average size of new construction. Let’s just assume 2,000 ft2 x 1.35 = $2700.

  3. Fred Durso says:

    This post has misrepresented the facts. The Fire Protection Research Foundation report that is mentioned did not place the average cost of home fire sprinklers at $6,000. This was the average cost of systems of the homes in the study, some of which were extremely large. The relevant number in the report is $1.35 per sprinklered square foot, which drops to $1.16 in Maryland and California, where sprinklers are required. On average, sprinkler installation is about one percent of a home’s total construction costs.

    What has also occurred in California is a housing boom since the state sprinkler requirement took effect. From 2011 (when the requirement took effect) to 2014, California built more than 130,000 single-family homes and more than 150,000 multi-family homes, according to data pulled by the National Fire Sprinkler Association. These figures prove fire sprinkler ordinances will not stall construction or price people out of homes.

    Smoke alarms are extremely important, but nothing can suppress a fire as quickly as home fire sprinklers. For more information, please visit http://www.FireSprinklerInitiative.org.

    • NAHB Now says:

      NAHB Economist Paul Emrath says,

      $6,000 is the average cost per home per a report sponsored by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.

      Note that the $6,000 cost per home and $1.35 cost per sprinklered square foot are both averages based on the same cost data for the same homes in the same FPRF study. $6,000 per home and $1.35 per sprinklered square foot are two ways of saying the same thing.

      To those unfamiliar with the FPRF study, $6,000 per home might seem large relative to $1.35 per sprinklered square foot. This is because the total square footage covered by sprinklers in the average home tends to be much larger than the normal living space because basements and often garages and sometimes attics are sprinklered (page 2 of the FPRF report).

      Therefore, a 2,000 square-foot-home would represent a very small new home when the basement and garage is included.

      • Sam says:

        “$6,000 per home and $1.35 per sprinklered square foot are two ways of saying the same thing.”

        Umm, no they aren’t. And in most cases, basements and garages are not required to be sprinklered.

        • NAHB Now says:

          Section 8.3.1 of NFPA 13D Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes states that “sprinklers shall be installed in all areas except where omission is permitted by 8.3.2 through 8.3.8.” No exception is given for basements, whether finished or not.

          While it is true that garages are not required to be sprinklered by NFPA 13D, nearly half of the homes in the Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment study do have garages covered by sprinklers. Therefore, multiplying the cost per sprinklered square foot by the living space of a house will result in a dollar amount that is too low, because those areas differ in size.

    • Roland Garcia says:

      Thank you Fred.
      NAHB, what could you do to encourage builders in Texas to work with sprinkler contractors to include them on the list of inventives for buyer? Let the buyer decide which incentive to add to their mortgage. Instead, sprinklers are left off the incentive list and the buyer does not have cash up front. Unfair!

  4. chuck bryson says:

    mark omalley is the reason maryland has mandated fire sprinklers in all residences this was to stop growth in rural areas since the mandate rural area construction down 45% the 2009 and 2015 code added 42,000 to 45000. dollars to the hard cost in housing

    • Tim Diehl says:

      Your comment is inaccurate on many levels and is apparently only your opinion. You incorrectly identified the Governor, and your costs are not in line with actual numbers from the State.

      • Jerry says:

        Sorry, he is correct. Martin O’Malley was the governor. Construction in rural areas is down. And while $42,000 to $45,000 is high – it is easily $15,000 to $25,000 in additional cost.
        But being a town Fire Marshall instead of a builder, you wouldn’t know the real costs.

  5. Melissa Noel says:

    Explain to me how $6000 can make a home unaffordable over a 30 year loan….give me a break, people spend more money on upgrades than making sure their family will be safe. If your going to do an article on sprinklers, give both sides of the story…like how much people spend in upgrades and the cost savings of a sprinkler system vs. not having a sprinkler system and you have a house fire. How about the cost savings over the entire insurance industry by having sprinklers in homes .

  6. HARLEN CORE says:

    Older homes in our city are where people die in fires. These same homes, in many cases, have smoke detectors that were given to them by our local fire department and they often aren’t replaced when the batteries are dead. Why does anyone think that fire sprinklers would be maintained by home owners as the homes become older? I have just retired from building residential and commercial for 50 years and my experience with sprinklers has not been good.

  7. Jon Cravath says:

    Wow! If only I could put Sprinklers in for $1.35. I’m building 1,500 sq ft Townhomes with basements (3,000 sf total) & it’s running twice that for the system. The consumers do not want them & builders don’t want them.

  8. Chip says:

    There is no mention of the costs associated with the water company; a tap charge and monthly charge for the rest of your life. What about the increase in water damage to residence if system is activated ? Another expense. I would rather go to type “x” sheet rock than to put that junk in my homes.

  9. Chuck Halloran says:

    Ok, if you can not afford $3-6k for a sprinkler system in your new home, your cheap. That is less than most people waste in money each year going to movies and eating out, or buying toys we do not ever use. Insurance companies will raise rates so high you would want to install sprinklers in you home.

    So , why not do what is best for yourself , family, neighbors and prepare for most an hope it never happens.

  10. Guy Webb says:

    Although not part of the state-wide residential building code in Massachusetts, there are situations where sprinklers have been required in single family homes. Beyond that, we have worked with sprinkler installers to get a handle on what actual costs are. The reality is that a 13D system in a single family home is roughly $4-$6 per s.f. or more if the structure is more complicated than a typical 2-story colonial with attached garage. One of my builders recently had to install a 13D system and his lowest quote worked out to nearly $7/s.f., partially due to a couple of factors. First, the house was served by a well (therefore a cistern and pump was required) and second, the house has a complicated shape.

    No misleading numbers here…these are real costs of real systems installed.

    Adding $10k or more to a new home is not inconsequential.

  11. John Berres says:

    Fire Sprinklers save lives and property!

  12. Russell Socha says:

    Freedom of Choice!!!! Enough said. All of you that want to pay extra go ahead. Insanity. Stop forcing people to do stuff without giving them an option. Spend all your money how you want and work as long as you want to pay for all of these extras. How many of yall are actually in construction. Houses built in the last few decades are not burning down all the time.

  13. Robert says:

    Can I choose plywood over OSB? Can I choose copper over PEX? Can I choose dimensional over iJoists? Can I choose framed roof over trusses? The answer is “NO” unless I am building custom. So the “choice” argument is a gigantic farce. The public never chose to be in a less fire safe home. UL, NIST and others have proven that modern building materials burn faster than classic construction materials. The national and local news media have even reported on how fast new homes burn.

    Hence why we have building codes. I don’t expect my daughters to know what the tensile strength of a seat-belt is in her car or why a two-stage airbag was developed to save even more lives especially given she weighs less than 120lbs. I expect that the government officials who regulate automobiles on our roads ensure that my children are as safe as possible when they get in their car. I can teach them how to drive, to put their seat-belts on, but I can’t protect them from errant other drivers or “accidents” hence why the government requires these safety measures to save lives.

    It is therewith that the International Code Council develops a model code by which they have received input and influence from special interest groups, building officials and fire officials and publish an internationally recognized model building code as a minimum building standard. Fire sprinklers have been in the model building code since 2006 and required since 2009 due to the overwhelming evidence that new building materials burn faster, in a more open floorplan that facilitates a faster flashover than older homes.

    It will be interesting to know why $1.35 per square foot (as indicated in this reply chain) would price anyone out of a new home. If that prices you out of a new home we are looking at another housing recession. At $6,000 per home that is an increase of $28 per month for 30 years, with interest rates at an all time low.
    (3.625% per $1,000 financed is $4.56 per month = $27.36 bankrate.com)

    I absolutely show my customers the benefits of buying a home with fire sprinklers, as there is nothing more important in this world than the lives of our loved ones.
    Recently I took some clients through a new home that had a $25,000 custom owner’s suite closet, but we couldn’t get them to “opt” the plastic plumbing to copper.

  14. Kurt Volmer says:

    Most of the arguments presented here do not correlate to the issue of a statewide requirement for fire sprinklers for single family detached. The costs being stated here are most likely from regions of the nation where sprinkler systems are not widely required (no city/county mandates), and so there are no competing suppliers to the residential market. Yes, if you hire a commercial sprinkler contractor to design/install a sprinkler system in a home, the cost will be $1.35 psf or more. I work for a residential fire sprinkler contractor in California. Our ownership would be extremely happy if we were able to get $1.35 psf for production residential sprinkler systems. In order to compete we routinely design and install systems for close to half that cost for SFD production homes – sometimes less (depending on variables such as square footage and jurisdictional requirements). For a design/build trade like ours, obviously the psf cost of a single system is greatly reduced when a significant portion of the cost (such as design time) can be amortized over an entire project, and when we are able to take advantage of various economies of scale that are inherent in production work. If a builder offers a fire sprinkler system as an option, you’d be lucky if one buyer of each plan selected the option for the entire project. That would change our cost structure dramatically from production to what basically becomes a one-off (custom) design, which can quadruple our cost.

  15. Bob Barnard says:

    Bob Barnard – Georgia

    I hear the argument that it is only $xxxx where ever you are. But you all are forgetting, builder mark up, real estate mark up, taxes to local jurisdiction for life of the house, system financed into a mortgage and in the state of Georgia when we looked at it. It cost the consumer $27k.

    Now add what has not been discussed the maintenance of system and the insurance. In Georgia the insurance companies will write a separate insurance policy for water damage due to the system. Insurance folks said that more damage would be caused by the system from accidental breaks then fires combined.

    Leave it to the consumer to decide. Just like building green, most folks don’t want it.

  16. Charlie says:

    These arguments from activists pushing the sprinkler mandates are not true. Actual costs for a 1 level twin-home unit here are $16000 for a single 2050 sq ft unit. Add electrician costs, builder costs, supply line costs, etc. Not one buyer I have worked with in the last 2 years wanted to pay for it. The local fire marshall loves to quote $2.00/ft as the costs but no contractors here will do it at that rate.

  17. Just what I was looking for, appreciate it for posting.

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