[Update 1: Clarifies NAHB's position]
The International Code Council
’s (IRC) recent decision to mandate the installment of fire sprinklers in new homes will go forward, despite protest and opposition from the National Association of Home Builders
The council is responsible for publishing the International Residential Code, and last year, updated the residential building code to require fire sprinkler systems in all new homes built after January 1, 2011. The code is used as the basis of 48 states’ residential construction standards.
But at a hearing last week, the NAHB petitioned the council to repeal the sprinkler requirement, which was rejected by a committee vote of 7 to 4. Members of the residential building code committee include homebuilders, building and fire safety officials, architects and engineers.
A NAHB spokesperson said the association isn’t against sprinkler systems, but believes the industry’s safety priority should be ensuring homes have smoke alarms, instead of mandating “expensive sprinkler systems for consumers who overwhelmingly don’t want them.”
The spokesperson said many home buyers don't want sprinkler systems because they are too expensive and research provided by NAHB showed 89% of respondents believe smoke detectors sufficiently protect homeowners. Further, 28% of respondents surveyed said they would not want sprinklers, even if they were offered free of charge.
But some pro-sprinkler sources believe homeowners recover the cost of residential sprinkler systems over the course of their homeownership because of the discount insurance companies offer on policies on homes with systems.
“This vote is significant in two ways,” said Ronny Coleman, president of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition
and former California state fire marshal. “Not only did the RBCC reject the homebuilders' request to repeal the sprinkler requirement, but if you look at the vote, every member of the committee, other than the four who are appointed by NAHB, voted to uphold the fire sprinkler requirement.”
But the NAHB wasn’t going down without a fight. The association attempted to squash the ruling by taking the issue to a vote of the full council, which also rejected the homebuilders’ protest.
“ICC's message on this matter is pretty clear,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, an engineer and executive director of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition. “Their membership has now supported the home fire sprinkler requirement at both the 2008 and 2009 annual hearings, and each of those votes passed by more than a two-thirds margin.”
Write to Austin Kilgore