Fire Safety and Seniors: Builders Oppose Sprinklers

Fire sprinkler systems have long been required in commercial buildings, apartments, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, and the most recent version of the International Building Code (IRC 2009) requires automated file sprinkler systems in new homes too. That’s great news, except home builders have been fighting in State legislatures to prevent adoption of the new rules.

Home builders have opposed new laws requiring fire sprinklers and have promoted misinformation. Some of the facts are:

  • Besides saving lives, home fire sprinklers:
    • reduce fire damage by up to 97%,
    • reduce water usage to fight a home fire by upwards of 90%, and
    • reduce the amount of water pollution released into the environment.
  • A tragic Christmas Day fire that killed two boys ages 10 and 12 provides evidence that smoke & fire alarms are ineffective when people are awakened from a deep sleep and find their one escape route down the stairs engulfed in flames.
  • If over 50,000 people die nationwide each year in home files, and new homes have become so flammable that escape times have shortened from 17 minutes to 3, then opposition to fire sprinklers is deplorable or worse.
  • A Texas legislative battle over fire sprinklers resulted in something more devious – the State preventing local ordinance making, including the ability to require adoption of the stricter building codes.
  • Builders opposing sprinklers argue that they add too much cost to homes and that only sprinkler companies would benefit. Their real concern, however, is more likely that the systems, installed by subcontractors, would add another source of construction defects that could increase their liability.
  • In reality, the added cost would be small if sprinklers were mandatory but be very large if they were optional. Builders want them optional so they can price them artificially high and discourage a choice that they clearly don’t want consumers to make. In reality, the cost spread over a 30-year mortgage amounts to less than the cost of one cup of coffee per week.
  • In Texas, Governor Rick Perry was caught between his buddies in the powerful homebuilder’s lobby, with their large campaign contributions, and a public safety issue that attacks municipal rights and nullifies existing statues for cities that already have adopted the new building codes. Perry’s own Governor’s Mansion would have been spared by sprinkler systems, but instead it burned down.

The Faces of Fire campaign puts the life-saving impact of home fire sprinklers in personal perspective.