ICC: Hold Firm on Sprinklers
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2009
NFPA’s residential sprinkler campaign is attracting a lot of interest among people who share our belief that requiring sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes is the next logical step in reducing fire deaths. We are also seeing the anticipated opposition from homebuilding interests who argue that sprinklers are too costly.
The movement for residential sprinklers got a big boost last year when the International Code Council (ICC) included a residential sprinkler requirement in the International Residential Code®. NFPA codes included this requirement in the 2006 Life Safety Code® and Fire Prevention Code®.
Because of these actions, we are seeing, for the first time, a large number of jurisdictions around the country actively considering, as part of their code-revision process, the benefits of residential sprinklers. One state, Maryland, is far ahead of the others. As a result of its county-by-county adoptions, well over half of Maryland’s population now lives in a jurisdiction that requires residential sprinklers. Prince George’s County, for example, has had a sprinkler requirement in place since 1992, and none of the deleterious effects predicted by sprinkler opponents have appeared there. In fact, that area experienced a booming housing market throughout the 1990s and into this decade.
This summer, NFPA issued a report comparing housing markets in similar counties with and without the sprinkler mandate. Montgomery County, Maryland, was compared to Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince George’s County, Maryland, was compared to Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The study showed no reduction in the number of single-family homes built in the counties that require residential sprinklers. In fact, in the year after the enactment of the ordinances, those counties had larger relative increases in construction.
Under ICC rules, an effort is now underway to reverse this historic advance in fire safety. At NFPA, we hope that the members of the ICC will hold firm, because we believe that the combination of NFPA and ICC code requirements mandating residential sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes creates a powerful platform for a national movement for residential sprinklers, and we believe that residential sprinklers are essential in reducing fire deaths.
The homebuilding interests are now arguing that smoke alarms provide enough fire protection in homes. While there can be no doubt that smoke alarms have played a significant role in reducing the number of fire deaths over the last generation, we still lose around 2,500 people every year in home fires, even though about 95 percent of homes in this country have smoke alarms.
There is no magic bullet solution to the problem of fire deaths, but it would be illogical and indefensible for us not to work hard for the application of a technology that is available, affordable, and proven to be extraordinarily effective in protecting lives from fire.
We are convinced that now is the time to put sprinklers in all newly constructed homes in the United States, and we are eager to work with communities, the fire service, and other interested parties, especially home builders, to expand the use of efficient, affordable residential sprinklers. At NFPA, we take pride in the role we have played over the last century in reducing the human costs of fire. The next important step in that historic progress is our campaign for residential sprinklers.