Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MInnesota Considers Residential Fire Sprinkler System Requirement

Minnesota fire officials trying to require fire sprinkler systems in all new single-family homes, but builders oppose measure

Minnesota fire officials are trying to strike a deal that would require sprinklers in all new single-family homes built in Minnesota, but homebuilders aren’t budging in their opposition.
The Minnesota Fire Chiefs Association feels strongly enough about the issue that it’s willing to eliminate some existing code requirements — including egress windows in basement sleeping rooms — in exchange for mandatory sprinklers. Homebuilders continue to call sprinklers unnecessary and expensive.
Last week, by an 8-3 vote with one abstention, a technical advisory code committee rejected the fire chief-supported proposal, but the issue is far from settled.
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is reviewing numerous code-related proposals, including fire sprinklers.
James Honerman, labor and industry spokesman, said that the department is working with stakeholders and reviewing recommendations and that “we will continue to work with them before we make any final decisions. ”
Honerman said he doesn’t have a time frame for when that will happen.
Fire sprinklers are just one of the myriad code-related issues under review. The labor and industry website lists 13 advisory committees looking at issues such as radon, elevators, plumbing and accessibility.
Minnesota is in the process of adopting a new code based on the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), which requires fire sprinklers in new single-family homes.
It’s up to individual states to adopt codes such as the IRC and amend them as they see fit. Minnesota’s labor and industry officials have assembled advisory committees to weigh in and vote on proposed code changes.
In December, one of the committees voted in favor of a builder-supported amendment to remove the fire sprinkler requirement from the IRC. In response, the Fire Chiefs Association floated several code proposals of its own.
Most notably, under the fire chiefs’ plan, sprinklers would be required by code but some current requirements — including egress windows in basement sleeping rooms and interconnected smoke alarms — would be eliminated.
Such trade-offs would roughly cut in half the estimated $4,000 cost of equipping a typical single-family home with a fire sprinkler, said Nyle Zikmund, chief of the Spring Lake Park fire department and a legislative leader for Minnesota fire chiefs.
Zikmund said the builders appear unwilling to compromise. The only concession the builders seemed open to was requiring sprinklers for two-family homes, he said.
“We thought we came to the 50-yard line, and they came to the one-yard line on their side,” he said.
Zikmund added he’s not surprised that the advisory committee voted the way it did because the committee is controlled by builder interests.
Wendy Danks, marketing director for the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, said in a phone message that fire sprinklers are “a very complex and emotional issue, and we have made our stand clear at the Capitol. ”
According to the Builders Association of Minnesota, 27 states have already removed the sprinkler requirement from the IRC, including Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and Iowa.
The state builders association says that fires are more of a concern in older homes and that smoke alarms are more effective in saving lives. Moreover, sprinklers already are an option for homeowners who want them, BAM noted.
From 1998 to 2010, six of 187 civilian fire deaths in Minnesota single-family homes occurred in homes built in the 1990s and 2000s, according to a builders association assessment of Minnesota Fire Marshals Office data.
Cost is another factor. Builders say the actual cost of adding sprinklers can be much higher than the fire chiefs’ estimate, especially in rural homes with well water, where a booster pump is necessary.
In its supporting materials, the Minnesota builders group presented a fire sprinkler estimate for a new 3,086-square-foot single-family home on a municipal well supply. Under that estimate from Minneapolis-based Lifesaver Fire Protection, the cost to the homeowner was $17,842.

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