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Int’l Code Council votes to endorse mandatory sprinkler systems

Installation of fire sprinklers in new U.S. homes got an overwhelming endorsement in a vote by the International Code Council at a conference in Baltimore.

Meeting downtown at the Hilton Hotel, the general membership of the ICC voted Wednesday to endorse mandatory sprinkler systems installed in all new one- and two-family houses in the U.S. after 2011. Currently, municipalities in 34 states require fire sprinklers in new residential construction, and legislatures in 44 states are considering such measures.

The ICC’s vote will serve as a major step in the adoption of residential sprinkler codes by various state officials, officials of the National Fire Sprinkler Association said. The group estimates it costs $1.61 per square foot to install the fire sprinklers, adding up to $5,000 to the price of a new home.

“Over a 30-year mortgage, that’s less than the price of a cup of coffee per week,” said John Viniello, president of the association. “That’s a small price to pay to save the lives of your loved ones in the event of a fire.”

Builders have debated making the residential fire sprinklers mandatory, preferring instead to offer them as an option to home buyers because of the added cost.

Michael Harrison, director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said a recent study by the builders concluded that for every $1,000 added to the price of a new home, 217,000 potential buyers are eliminated from its affordability.

“Sprinklers are adding between $3,000 and $10,000 to the price of a home and you are preventing a lot of people the financing they need to get new homes,” Harrison said. “It takes away the freedom of choice for buyers of new homes. Fire sprinklers should be an option just like any other option in a new home.”

Each state must vote to require residential sprinklers as part of their building codes. The ICC’s action is a recommendation for such legislation, Harrison said.

A final vote on the residential sprinklers by the ICC’s building code officials is scheduled for next October in Charlotte, N.C.