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Fire Sprinklers To Be Required In New Residential Construction

Fire Sprinklers To Be Required In New Residential Construction

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By Scott Simianer, City Building Inspector

The City of Hot Springs is a governmental member of the International Code Council (ICC) and utilizes the building codes published by the ICC, as does the State of South Dakota and 47 other states. California and Wisconsin do not currently use this code.

The City currently utilizes the 2003 Editions of the residential and commercial building codes (IRC & IBC) and is expected to update to the current edition early in 2009.

On Sept. 21, 73 percent of the voting members of the ICC voted to support two code proposals requiring fire sprinklers in one and two-family dwellings and townhouses covered by the IRC. The first proposal added the requirement for fire sprinklers in townhouses that fall within the scope of the IRC beginning in 2009, the second added the requirement for one- and two-family dwellings effective January 1, 2011.

The primary function of any fire sprinkler system is fire containment, to keep the fire from spreading. Through suppression and containment there is less smoke and fewer toxic gases, and thus fewer cases of smoke inhalation. Fire victims succumb to smoke and heat first; it is then that they are taken by the fire.

The effectiveness of fire sprinkler systems is proven and isn’t even arguable. So why not have fire sprinklers in residential dwellings? The cost?

Residential fire sprinkler requirements will be less stringent than in commercial or public applications, and there is typically far less space to be protected, so the costs of residential fire sprinkler systems are not expected to be overly expensive, especially when they become more commonplace.

Residential systems will not be required to be engineered. The code will supply charts for most given applications including sprinkler flows, square footage requirements and placement.

The cost of a residential fire sprinkler system is expected to be about $1.60 per square foot in a new home. By comparison, carpeting will cost you that much or more per square foot, wood flooring could cost $3.50 sq/ft on up. Considering that most insurance companies offer discount incentives for fire protection, that square foot cost of increased fire protection could pay for itself in reduced insurance premiums.

One common misconception about fire sprinklers is that if one goes off, they all go off. That is nothing other than Hollywood theatrics to make Arnold Schwarzenegger appear to be a crack shot, by triggering dozens of sprinklers with a single bullet. Fire sprinklers are heat activated. Should a fire spread, even while being engaged by a sprinkler, only the heat from the spreading fire would then activate an additional fire sprinkler, not all of them. Residential sprinkler systems are expected to be sized to operate two full-flow fire sprinklers.

Another misconception is the amount of water damage caused by fire sprinklers (again, thank you, Mr. Schwarzenegger). I would much rather have a single sprinkler containing a fire in my kitchen, using 18 gallons per minute (gpm) until the fire department arrives (in town) ten minutes after the alarm, or about 180 gallons of water. Compare that to a fire spreading from the kitchen stove, to the cabinets, to the ceiling and into the living room in that same ten minutes. Upon arrival, for fear of flash-over, the firemen will cool the fire first (about 200 gallons), and then suppress the kitchen and living room fire with an inch-and-a-half hose (175 gpm) for another ten minutes, or about 1,950 gallons of water. Scenarios will vary, but I believe you see the point I’m trying to make.

Alterations and home additions will not be affected by the new fire sprinkler requirement due to the possibilities of undersized existing water services. Only new construction will only be affected at this point.

I can foresee much discussion on the horizon regarding this new requirement, and my office will keep the community informed as to the direction this is going.

Good luck and good building.

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One Response to “Fire Sprinklers To Be Required In New Residential Construction”

  1. California and Wisconsin use the 2006 International Building Code, but not the International Residential Code.

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Ryan J. Smith