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Residential Fire Sprinklers Endorsed By FEMA’s U.S. Fire Administration

August 14th, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

The U.S. Fire Administration Announces its Support of a New Building Code Calling for the Use of Fire Sprinklers in New Homes

After 30 years of testing, research and development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has announced its support of the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), which mandates the installation of fire sprinklers in all new homes beginning in 2011.

“Every day firefighters bravely enter homes to rescue people from fire and risk their lives under collapsing roofs and floors, because of the lightweight construction that’s so prevalent these days in home building. This endorsement by the USFA comes as great news to fire service professionals across the country, who are supporting the IRC to include residential fire sprinklers as a critical component in fire protection in the home,” said John Viniello, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, the longest-tenured fire sprinkler advocacy organization in the U.S.

The new IRC mandate, a response to the growing fire problem in the U.S., is an initiative that could prevent more than 3,000 fire-related deaths and 60,000 serious fire-related injuries across the nation each year. About 90 percent of all fires occur in the home, fueled by new lightweight construction and more flammable home contents. In fact, the new sprinkler regulations are being endorsed by fire service professionals across the country, such as the U.S. Fire Administration, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and the International Association of Firefighters. Groups including these agree smoke detectors are no longer enough in residential fire protection, as lightweight construction has become more prevalent, house contents are more flammable than ever, and the time available to escape a house fire has reduced from 17 minutes 20 years ago to three minutes today, according to a cost-benefit analysis by FEMA.

“It is the position of the U.S. Fire Administration that all Americans should be protected from death, injury and property loss resulting from fire in their residences. All homes should be equipped with both smoke alarms and residential fire sprinklers, and all families should have and practice an emergency escape plan. The U.S. Fire Administration supports all efforts to reduce the tragic toll of fire losses in this nation, including the recently adopted changes to the International Residential Code that require residential fire sprinklers in all new residential construction. The time has come to use this affordable, simple and effective technology to save lives and property where it matters most – in our homes,” said Glenn A. Gaines, Acting Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration.

USFA’s research regarding residential fire sprinkler systems has indisputably demonstrated that residential fire sprinklers can save the lives of civilians and firefighters and can reduce property loss as well as offset the risk of premature building collapse by lightweight construction when involved in a fire.

Category: Blog, Fire Prevention, News, Public Support | 2 Comments »

Santa Barbara, CA Approves Fire Sprinkler Mandate

August 6th, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

By Eric Lindberg – The Daily Sound

Fire sprinklers will become an integral part of construction in Santa Barbara after city leaders unanimously agreed to require new homes and commercial buildings to install sprinkler systems, a mandate that also applies to major remodels or additions.

After the concept took several laps through the approval process — particularly to answer concerns from the community about the increased cost of a sprinkler installation — the city council deemed the proposal had been thoroughly vetted and made sense from a safety standpoint.

“Although we lose more homes to wildfires, we lose more people to home fires,” Councilmember Das Williams said.

The new code requirement, which will be officially adopted next week as a procedural matter, mandates sprinklers in all new buildings regardless of square footage, although small utility buildings are exempt.

Residential remodels or additions involving 75 percent of the total square footage would also trigger the sprinkler requirement, as would commercial renovations or additions larger than 50 percent of the floor area.

The issue of cost cropped up during the hearing when several community members questioned the need to impose more expensive requirements on construction projects in Santa Barbara, an area already struggling in the arena of affordable housing.

“There is no question that this ordinance would add to the cost of construction in Santa Barbara, perhaps by as much as $7,500 per unit,” said Lanny Ebenstein, president of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.

City officials, however, noted that insurance carriers typically offer discounts on fire policies in the range of 2 to 20 percent if sprinkler systems are installed.

“It’s obvious this is an increase in construction costs, but there’s also a gain in reduced insurance costs,” Williams said, adding that the concept had been thoroughly reviewed during stakeholder meetings. “This was not considered onerous by our local Realtors,” he said.

Fire Marshal Joe Poire touted the lifesaving benefits of fire sprinklers, telling city leaders that homeowners are 82 percent less likely to be killed in a house fire if they have functioning sprinklers and smoke detectors.

He also addressed comments from a few public speakers asking for the city to consider an ordinance requiring residents in high-fire hazard areas to build exterior fire protection systems, such as rooftop sprinklers, rather than interior sprinkler systems.

“You are much more likely to be killed by a fire in your home than a Tea Fire or Jesusita fire,” Poire said.

The fire marshal noted concerns about sufficient water flow to single-family homes that had fire sprinklers installed. Questions had been raised during public meetings about whether the standard 5/8-inch water meter would provide enough pressure to supply a sprinkler system.

“Unfortunately, we can’t answer that in every single instance,” Poire said, explaining that it depends on a number of factors, such as the height of the building and how much distance the water pipe covers. However, he added, “I can’t remember the last time it failed to meet the water flow requirement.”

Should a 5/8-inch meter be deemed insufficient for a specific home, he said the homeowner could install an onsite water supply and pumps, connect to a larger meter, or build a dedicated fireline.

Upgrading to a larger meter or trenching for a new fireline would include one-time costs between $2,000 and $9,200, city officials said.

Councilmember Dale Francisco said he had been initially opposed to the proposed requirement, but decided to offer his support after hearing from fire officials in prior meetings and noting the amount of public input that had taken place.

However, he warned that it is growing increasingly difficult to gauge the value of incrementally improving safety through building code requirements at the cost of making construction more expensive.

“We are reaching a point of diminishing returns,” Francisco said.

Mayor Marty Blum likened the fire sprinkler requirement to mandating that automobiles include seatbelts, recalling her father saying years ago that he didn’t want seatbelts in his car simply because he didn’t want them.

“I think this is the same kind of thing in some ways, because it’s a safety issue,” she said.

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Home Fire Sprinkler System Requirement Consideration Moving Forward in Virginia

August 1st, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

By Carol Hazard – Madison Messenger

Builders in Virginia won’t be required to install sprinkler systems in new homes—at least for now.

Firefighters hope that will change, as the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development considers whether to adopt regulations regarding residential sprinkler systems.

The board voted Monday, after a public hearing, to move proposals for residential sprinklers through the regulatory process in Virginia.

Firefighters say sprinkler systems save lives. Home builders say the requirement would add thousands of dollars to the cost of homes in an already soft market.

A final decision on the regulation and whether it will be optional or mandatory is expected in the spring, said Hollie Cammarasana, spokeswoman for the Virginia board.

Firefighters argue that the installation of sprinkler systems is already optional. Builders want to keep it that way. “As long as it is an option, we are not opposed,“ said Barrett Hardiman, spokesman for the Home Builders Association of Virginia.

The debate was sparked by the International Code Council, a membership association dedicated to building safety and fire prevention, which approved a code this year calling for the installation of fire sprinkler systems in new oneand two-family homes.

Several localities across the country, including Prince George’s County, Md., and Scottsdale, Ariz., have adopted mandatory home-sprinkler regulations. No state has adopted the requirement.

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce is opposed to mandating the installation of fire sprinklers in new single-family houses, duplexes and town houses of three stories or less.

“Our greatest concern is with how an increase in the cost of production will damage efforts to develop more affordable housing and how that would affect economic development in Virginia,“ said Tyler Craddock, a chamber spokesman.

Art Lipscomb, spokesman for the Virginia Professional Firefighters, compared the argument against sprinkler systems to the same claims made in the 1970s by the auto industry regarding air bags.

The argument then was that air bags would make cars too expensive for most people, he said. But the cost and safety of air bags are no longer disputed.

The average cost to repair fire damage in a house with a sprinkler system is $2,900, compared with $40,000 without a system, Lipscomb said.

The initial cost for a home with a sprinkler system would be higher, but the higher price could be recouped in lower insurance premiums, he said.

The cost is a subject of debate. Firefighters claim the national average to install a system is an additional $1.60 per square foot.

Kevin McNulty, president of Lifestyle Builders & Developers Inc. in Midlothian, estimated the cost at $2.66 a square foot, which would add $5,000 to the cost of an 1,800-square-foot home.

“And that assumes the house in on a public water and sewer system,“ McNulty said.

A house in a rural area with a well-water system would cost even more, because a holding tank and separate system would be necessary, he said.

“We don’t need the additional stress on the home-building industry and the consumers, especially in this environment,“ McNulty said.

The building industry has suffered through one its worst declines in decades.

“We don’t believe it’s a cost-effective way to deal with a public-safety issue,“ McNulty said. The focus should be on properly functioning smoke detectors, he said.

Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner, spokesman for the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association, said the argument shouldn’t be all or nothing.

“Home builders and firefighters need to come together to see if we can come up with a middle ground,“ he said.

It’s important to sort out the truths and the myths, Werner said. “The most important thing is to start a dialogue. The issue is complex and emotional.“

Monday’s board decision calls for creating work groups that represent different interests to come up with a consensus position and a recommendation to the board.

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New Study Shows Fire Sprinkler Requirements Are Not Detrimental To Housing Starts

July 16th, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

A recently completed research report concluded that the presence of sprinkler ordinances has no negative impact on the number of homes being built. In fact, in the comparison of two sets of counties, the municipalities actually saw an increase in construction in the year after regulations became effective, compared to the adjacent counties without sprinkler ordinances.

Conducted by Newport Partners, Comparative Analysis of Housing Cost and Supply Impacts of Sprinkler Ordinances at the Community Level compared residential construction in suburban Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland, and Montgomery County, Maryland, and Fairfax County, Virginia. Prince George’s County and Montgomery County have sprinkler requirements; Fairfax County and Anne Arundel County do not. The counties were selected based on their demographic matches to each other.

Newport Partner’s analysis was based on an extensive review of annual single-family building permits, the U.S. Census Bureau Surveys of Housing and Households, and analysis of local documents before and after sprinkler requirements were imposed. In addition, Newport conducted interviews with builders, trade association staff, and local government officials to provide insight into the housing landscape in these counties pre- and post-requirements. According to the report, “None of the statistical or interview information demonstrated that the requirements led to reduced housing supply.”

Category: Blog, Fire Research, News | 3 Comments »

Fire Officials in Cheshire, Connecticut Hope Sprinkler Systems Become More Common

July 2nd, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

By Josh Morgan – Cheshire Herald

Approximately 40 homes in Cheshire are already equipped with fire suppression sprinkler systems, but that number was increased recently when a development was completed in town and local fire department authorities are applauding the action.

“There are certain criteria that has to be met to require residential sprinklers,” explained Cheshire Fire Chief Jack Casner. “But the majority of fire deaths occur in one and two family homes.”

In 2007, there were more than 400,000 residential structure fires that resulted in more than 2,600 deaths and nearly five times as many injuries. With over $7 billion worth of fire damage caused nationally in 2007, Casner believes those numbers could have been greatly reduced if residential sprinklers were prevalent in many homes.

“This could be the answer because new or old houses still burn,” Casner said. “Sprinklers can bridge the lag time from the call to our arrival on the scene. Sprinklers help keep the fire in check and a family could escape.”

Local developer Phillip Bowman recently completed “Cook Hill Crossing,” a three-lot subdivision off of Cook Hill Road. He installed sprinklers in each one of the homes and consulted with the fire department throughout the entire process. He had the option of extending the water mains and installing fire hydrants, but because of the deep access to one of the homes, sprinklers would have been required anyway, Bowman said. The sprinklers are not noticeable from the walls or ceilings because the heads are covered with a plate and will only shoot out when the temperature hits 135 degrees.

According to the United States Fire Administration, adding a sprinkler system in new construction could cost between $1 and $2 a square foot. For a 2,000 square foot home, a system would cost an additional $2,000 to $4,000. For homeowners, insurance benefits can be obtained by having fire suppression sprinklers. Bowman said it “wasn’t overly expensive” to add the sprinklers, but added that it “wasn’t cheap either.”

“It’s not that big of a deal from an installation standpoint, there are just extra costs,” Bowman said. “However, (the cost) is not really a (project) killer.”

Casner said Bowman was “one of the first developers to talk specifics” with the department, which proved to be beneficial during the process.

“There are still a lot of myths out there about sprinklers, like, if one goes off they all go off soaking the entire house. That’s only in Hollywood.” Casner explained. “Sprinklers might not extinguish the fire, but they buy time to get you out of the house. They save lives.”

Fire Marshall Jeff Boland said sprinkler systems are a “big deal” and are second to residential fire safety only to smoke detectors. Boland explained that there were currently no federal or state building codes or mandates for developers to install sprinklers, but a change could be on the horizon. An addition in 2008 to the International Residential Code requires new one or two family homes to be equipped with fire suppression sprinklers, but the state is still relying on the 2003 regulations, Boland explained. There is a contingent of lobbyists against the regulation and believe it should be voluntary, not mandatory, to install the sprinklers.

“It’s always been voluntary,” Boland said. “It’s not a law, it’s just a standard.”

Casner said that, when a new home is being constructed, owners usually think of the niceties, such a marble counter tops and hardwood flooring, but for a fraction of that price, sprinklers could be installed and might save their lives. Casner said sprinklers are required in schools, hospitals, museums, and other commercial buildings, but doesn’t understand why they couldn’t be installed in residential properties.

“There are so many options and things to spend money on, people should think about spending the money on sprinklers,” Casner said. “Most structure fires are residential, so sprinklers provide another level of comfort. For what they cost, it’s a relatively small price to pay.”

Bowman added that anytime an addition like sprinklers is added to a home, the cost is built into the sale price or “the builder eats it.” He said he has heard of potential changes to the code and hoped that people would educate themselves on residential sprinkler systems before making decisions.

“The costs are passed on but, at the same time, looking at the big picture, all it takes is for someone’s life to be saved and it will all be worth it,” Bowman said. “At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. They are being put in for a good reason.”

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Plumbing Contractors Needed for Residential Fire Sprinkler Work

June 15th, 2009 by Russ Leavitt, SET, CFPS

Part two of a five part series focusing on the rapidly growing residential fire sprinkler market and why plumbing contractors are best positioned to capture this opportunity.

To view part one of the series visit “Residential Fire Sprinkler Requirements Coming Soon!

The incorporation of amendment RB64-07/08 in the International Residential Code (IRC) for fire sprinklers to be installed in all single family homes constructed after January 1, 2011 will have a dramatic impact on the demand for qualified design and installation technicians. In addition, the demand for licensed contractors will experience a corresponding rise since most states and jurisdictions have some form of contractor licensing requirements.

It is estimated nationally that approximately 7500 firms were actively engaged in fire sprinkler contracting during 2008. The vast majority of these entities were of the cottage variety with average annual revenues of $1 million and less than 10 full-time employees. Industry data indicates that approximately 42 million sprinklers were installed in 2008 with less than 1 million of these in single family homes. Estimates indicate that there are presently 15,000 trained installation technicians serving the fire sprinkler industry and the vast majority are focused on commercial applications. As the 2009 IRC is adopted by various states and local jurisdictions, the numbers of qualified contractors and trained labor needed will stretch the available resources to the point where demand will far outstrip the available supply.

Using HUD’s 40 year average for new single family home construction and considering when the code requirement will be adopted by virtually all jurisdictions, it is estimated over 7000 additional trained installation technicians will be needed to meet the increased demand. However, even when conservatively assuming that only one-half of the new homes are sprinklered, the number is still over 3000 additional technicians. The plumbing industry is well positioned to supply a good part of this demand for skilled labor. Sprinkler systems are essentially a piping system equipped with nozzles (fire sprinklers) having specific installation criteria. The average plumber can quickly develop the skills needed to install fire sprinkler systems. In fact, it is expected that the majority of single family residential fire sprinkler systems will be combined with the domestic systems and, in reality, the plumbing contractor is the only choice to effectively install these systems.

Even with the historically low numbers of single family residences under construction in the current economic downturn, this is a billion dollar opportunity that the prudent plumbing contractor cannot ignore. However, there are barriers to entry. Licensing, insurance, and access to training programs are the most daunting, but all can be overcome.

Entities installing fire sprinkler systems are required to be licensed contractors in most states. Just as with plumbing, the requirements run the gamut. Some states are as simple as filling out an application and paying a fee while, at the other end of the spectrum, there are states that require years of experience, exams, and certifications in fire protection technology. Fire Smarts, LLC, in partnership with the PHCC, is developing resources specifically to help plumbing contractors sort out these differences and identify licensing requirements for the states they service. One movement that is already underway is creating a license that is specific to residential fire sprinkler systems to recognize the simpler design issues and the economy of having plumbing contractors involved in the market. The states of Washington, Texas, South Carolina and Georgia among others are examples of states that have already created, or are considering creating, this separate category.

Insurance is a barrier that the market place will address. There are reports that plumbing contractors who contacted their brokers have been quoted extravagant premiums when adding fire sprinkler installation to their business coverage. Others report that some insurance carriers are beginning to extend coverage for fire sprinkler installation provided that a qualified third party is supplying an approved system design. The demand for this insurance will open the insurance market and the carriers will meet the demand as the market expands. In the meantime, in regions where residential fire sprinkler systems are common such as California and Nevada, the general contractors have rolled the fire sprinkler contractor’s protection under their umbrella when the contractor was not able to bind coverage.

Fire Sprinkler Labor Needs

Training is the remaining significant barrier. Programs are in development at this time that will be geared to take experienced plumbers and add the skill set for fire sprinkler installation. The manufacturers of sprinkler piping, sprinkler heads, valves, and multi-purpose systems also have training programs for fire sprinkler contractors that can easily be adapted to the plumber. In addition, apprenticeship programs can be updated to incorporate modules that specialize in residential fire sprinkler requirements.

The market demand is coming and those contractors who are prepared to take advantage of the opportunity will see a significant return on the investment needed. It costs virtually nothing to investigate. With a market that is estimated to be $3 billion annually, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is calling for your attention.

In Part 3 of this series, “Residential Fire Sprinklers: Plumbing Contractor Competitive Advantage #1”, Steven Scandaliato, SET, will discuss how the fire sprinkler industry has little experience in residential construction compared to the extensive experience and existing general contractor relationships that residential plumbing contractors have and how this creates a clear competitive advantage.

Russ Leavitt is a Fire Smarts Faculty member and CEO of Telgian Corporation. With over 27 years of experience he holds a Level IV certification from NICET in Fire Sprinkler Layout and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS) designation. He serves on the NFPA 13 correlating committee, NFPA 25 technical committee and NFPA 5000 (building code) correlating committee.

Category: Blog, News | 1 Comment »

Residential Fire Sprinklers Put Texas Governor In The Hot Seat

June 7th, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

By Rick Casey – Houston Chronicle

The city of West University Place is hot under the collar over an amendment slipped into an innocuous bill on plumbing standards during the last days of the Legislature.

The amendment prohibits municipalities from requiring fire protection sprinkler systems in any single-family home or duplex.

The law would not take effect until Sept. 1, but it retroactively voids all local ordinances passed since Jan. 1, including one that West U. passed last month mandating sprinkler systems in all new homes.

The amendment was attached to a Senate bill by Rep. John Otto of Dayton, a small town northeast of Houston, who had failed to get his own bill on the subject to the House floor.

West U. Mayor Bob Kelly this week sent Gov. Rick Perry a letter asking him to veto the bill.

Mayor Kelly told the governor the issue wasn’t so much the ordinance itself, but the “assault on local control.”

Dayton is in a rural area “with entirely different dynamics than our urban community,” Kelly wrote. He said West U. building codes should not be made in Otto’s Liberty County.

“Local control has always been a fundamental tenet of your philosophy of government,” the mayor wrote the governor. “The amended Senate Bill 1410 attacks that philosophy. We strongly urge your veto.”

This puts Perry in an interesting position.

As his strong support of “states’ rights” indicates, he does favor local control.

But Perry also favors homebuilders, who average more than $200,000 a year in contributions to him.

Homebuilders don’t like the sprinkler requirement and lobbied for Otto’s bill.

They argue that the requirement prices low-income buyers out of the housing market, and that home buyers should be free to choose whether they want the system.

The arguments may make some sense in places like Dayton, where land is cheap and many houses are small.

But neither is the case in West University Place. A check of www.har.com, the Web site carrying listings by the Houston Association of Realtors, shows 17 vacant lots for sale in West U.

The cheapest one, 50 by 100 feet, is $300,000. The median one, not much larger, is $579,000.

The cheapest new house is listed at $850,000. Almost all the new ones are considerably more.

West U. Fire Chief Steve Ralls said he checked with installers, and state-of-the-art fire systems cost between $1 and $2 per square foot. So that would add at most $10,000 to a 5,000-square-foot house selling at more than $1 million. That’s not a big hit to the mortgage payments, and Ralls noted that insurers discount rates for homes with such systems.

Ralls said safety considerations are more important, especially in West U. where the huge new houses stand as little as 6 feet from neighboring houses.

A fire not only threatens the homeowner, but neighbors on both sides.

And, of course, fires endanger firefighters, which is why firefighters from around the state are letting the governor know how they feel about this bill.

Perry could express concern about vetoing the underlying bill to which the amendment is attached. But its author, Sen. Mike Jackson of Pasadena, says passage of the bill is not exactly an emergency. It mainly updates training criteria for various categories of plumbers.

So the governor is on the hot seat.

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Category: Blog, Fire Codes, News | 10 Comments »

Jesusita Fire Photos – Santa Barbara, CA

June 4th, 2009 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com

.

The Jesusita fire started Tuesday, May 5, 2009, in San Roque Canyon. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County the next day, freeing up money and resources immediately to fight the fire.

Along Las Canoas Road, rubble remains where homes once stood after the wind-driven fire raced through the hillsides north of the city of Santa Barbara on Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters did what they could to protect homes in the area, but the danger on the ground forced them to retreat from some neighborhoods.

Eleven firefighters were injured in the fire and more than 13,500 residents forced to flee. The fire cost more than $15.5 million to fight and the value of the 78 homes destroyed in the Santa Barbara foothills could easily could reach $109 million.

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Residential Fire Sprinkler Requirements Coming Soon!

June 3rd, 2009 by Russ Leavitt, SET, CFPS

Part 1 of a five part series focusing on the rapidly growing residential fire sprinkler market and why plumbing contractors are best positioned to capture this opportunity.

On September 21, 2008 the International Code Council (ICC) adopted amendment RB64-07/08 to the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC). This amendment mandates that beginning January 1, 2011 all new one and two family residential dwellings along with townhomes be equipped with fire sprinklers. Although the amended model code must ultimately be adopted at the state and local level, it is undisputable that the use of fire sprinklers for front line fire protection in residential structures will accelerate at a rate never before experienced. The timeline from now to the widespread adoption of the code is subject to debate, but given the fact that nationally over 400 local jurisdictions already have some level of single family sprinkler requirements in place, the momentum for mandatory residential fire sprinklers will certainly advance.

There is also no question that the passage of RB64-07/08 will accelerate the adoption of local residential requirements before 2011. The first comprehensive residential ordinance was adopted by the city of San Clemente, California 30 years ago. The growth of the single family residential fire sprinkler industry after that time was slow, but steady, with a noticeable increase in the last decade. Each ordinance was typically sponsored by local fire prevention officials and faced well financed opposition from the home builders lobby. However, with the most widely used model code in the world slated to require the installation of fire sprinklers in single family houses, the path for the adoption of a local residential ordinance now has the backing of the national code making community.

It is predicted by many in the industry that the number of communities specifying residential fire sprinklers in single family homes could double ahead of the IRC mandate in 2011. There is no doubt that strong opposition remains, but the passage of RB64-07/08 will make it difficult for jurisdictions to “amend” the requirement out of the code when it is adopted. The liability is high and public officials have little appetite for the potential risk that will come with the first fire death that occurs in an unsprinklered home that otherwise would have been protected as required in the IRC. As a result of these factors and the clear groundswell of support, the resolve of those opposed to residential fire sprinklers is weakening. Many home builders are now turning their attention to the task of how best to incorporate fire sprinklers into their marketing strategies and construction practices.

The impact on the fire protection industry will be profound. Using the number of housing starts and residential fire sprinklers sold for 2007, the current market size for sprinklered single family homes is placed between $90 and 100 million annually. The numbers are certainly noteworthy, but miniscule compared with the market potential. Based on HUD data, the 40 year average (through 2007) of single family houses built is 1.169 million units a year. The average size of a single family home constructed in 2007 was 2479 ft². When coupled with a conservative national installation cost of $1.00 per ft², the market value is a staggering $2.9 billion. When measured in terms of sprinklers, it is estimated that when the requirement is fully implemented, over 29 million fire sprinklers will be installed annually in single family homes.

SFH Residential Fire Sprinkler Market

The impact on the existing market size is huge. Up until the last few decades, fire protection requirements have been centered on property protection in commercial buildings. With the introduction of fast response fire sprinklers in the 1980’s, requirements have been extended to multi-unit residential occupancies, with a particular focus towards multi-story buildings. As a result of the small market, single family residential fire sprinklers have typically been the domain of a few specialized contractors.

The coming mandate for residential fire sprinklers in single family homes will change the look of the industry. Once the 2009 IRC is implemented, residential fire sprinklers will account for nearly half the fire sprinkler market. There are simply not enough qualified contractors, design technicians, and installers to meet the coming demand. The opportunity for growing your business is enormous and those contractors who are prepared have that once in a lifetime chance to transform their business. The numbers of contractors specializing in residential fire sprinklers must expand. The market will demand it and it is clear that plumbing contractors are in the best position to absorb this growth. Don’t procrastinate on investigating this opportunity. It is too good to ignore.

In Part 2 of this series, “Plumbing Contractors Needed for Residential Fire Sprinkler Work”, Russ Leavitt will discuss how a labor shortage in the fire sprinkler industry creates a critical need for plumbing labor, including an overview of the common “barriers to entry” that plumbing contractors need to consider when preparing to provide residential fire sprinkler services.

Russ Leavitt is a Fire Smarts Faculty member and CEO of Telgian Corporation. With over 27 years of experience he holds a Level IV certification from NICET in Fire Sprinkler Layout and a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS) designation. He serves on the NFPA 13 correlating committee, NFPA 25 technical committee and NFPA 5000 (building code) correlating committee.

Category: Blog, Fire Codes, News | 5 Comments »

Should We Promote Sprinkling Habitat Homes?

May 25th, 2009 by Paul L. Dove

This was an interesting question that I asked myself before the inclusion of the residential sprinkler requirements in the last remaining model code to accept them for one and two family homes and townhouses.

During the period in time where the International Building Code and International Residential Code (IBC/IRC) committee’s were reviewing code change proposals for this inclusion and subsequently during the committee’s refusals to accept numerous proposals to include them; I was approached by one of our fire suppression personnel who learned that a new Habitat home was being planned in our jurisdiction.

The firefighter informed me of the project and presented me with information on a physical limitation one of the family’s children had. He asked if I thought we could get sprinklers donated. This is what started the research process into the feasibility of the project.

The greatest road block to my surprise was the historic stance the National organization had in not recommending Residential Fire Sprinklers for their projects but historically leaving it up to regional groups and local affiliates to decide. The question that kept coming up was why?

Apparently the greatest concerns were; a perceived lack in ability for homeowners to maintain such a complex system like sprinklers, the potentials for water damage and the potential liability for a non-maintained system and failure to operate.

Seizing the opportunity to provide public education; the local affiliate here in our county was contacted to discuss and address some of the concerns that existed about Residential Fire Sprinklers. I met with the affiliate’s General Contractor and we had a pleasant discussion about the common myths associated to Residential Fire Sprinklers and the ease in maintenance. He suggested that the local Board of Directors for Habitat be contacted to present them with the information we had discussed during our meeting and possibly provide them with materials to explain Residential Fire Sprinklers.

Naturally, as things work out the meeting was scheduled during the ICC Final Action Hearing where the vote for Residential Fire Sprinklers was going to take place. I sought assistance from our Building Official who was willing to take the roll on and to discuss this with the Habitat Board and show them a presentation on Residential Fire Sprinklers. The meeting was a success and the local affiliate was receptive and voted unanimously to having a system donated for this project.

The work now began to find contractors and resources where we could get the materials and installation donated. Various fire protection firms were contacted as we discussed the proposal and details about the Habitat project with them. I received commitments from three companies who all agreed to donate the entire design, materials, installation and labor for the home.

I was now faced with multiple companies who wanted to get involved and a new question; would the project need one contractor or multiple? After contacting each of them back and graciously thanking each for their willingness to assist, I notified them that I decided to go with a single source for our ease and needs in consistency in plan review, inspection and final testing.

The first company to commit was chosen and in an effort to not alienate the other two companies; I asked each of them if they would be interested in getting involved in the future for other local Habitat projects if the affiliate wanted to do more being that this would be their first sprinkled home in our region, in turn both agreed.

The Habitat’s affiliate General Contractor was notified of the company chosen and they began the preparation work for the sprinkler company’s needs to design the system and establish work schedules for their installation. The sprinkler company and the Habitat contractor began to discuss the schedule and other details while we stayed involved to help with the various processes.

This personal touch also assured and reinforced the Habitat Board’s desire that we would be assuring full code compliance in the process. The local Water Department was contacted as we sought relief from tapping and metering fees associated to residential construction and they agreed to assist, which made the entire process work much smoother. We were also able to get an exterior and interior alarm donated that went above the minimum standard requirement in NFPA 13D.

Once the plan review, installation’s rough-in and final acceptance testing were completed and the system was approved, there was a presentation service held to give the home to the family. The fire department was asked to attend and during the ceremony. I was asked by the affiliate Habitat Board to explain the sprinkler system donation process to the guests in attendance. I seized this platform to provide some additional public education to the dignitaries in attendance and afterwards I privately asked the family if I could stay after the ceremony to provide some additional training and operational procedures on the sprinkler system to them. Some of the dignitaries wanted to learn more also, so I figured the more the merrier.

The entire process worked out so well that I honestly believe the additional personal touches, willingness to provide additional education and the development of partnerships allowed us to successfully get the sprinkler system installed. The regional Habitat organization has since agreed to install Residential Fire Sprinklers in all their future home projects.

Habitat homes are typically donated to disadvantaged socioeconomic populations that are directly related to our mission in public education related to fire prevention. We were extremely pleased that the our regional affiliate for Habitat allowed us to assist them with installing residential sprinklers and we look forward to working with them in the future.

So, should we promote the sprinkling of Habitat Homes?

Fire Marshal Paul Dove has been employed by the City of Coldwater Michigan, Fire Department for 14 years and has served 24 years in the professional fire service. He was formerly employed by the Lake Park Fire Department (Palm Beach County Fire Rescue) in Palm Beach County, Florida as a Firefighter, Inspector, Investigator and Officer. He is a past president of the Michigan Fire Inspector’s Society and served as Code Committee Chairmen for ten years. He is currently serving a second term on the Michigan Fire Inspector’s Society Executive Board. He is a former principle member of the NFPA Life Safety Code and Building Code Technical Committee on Fire Protection Features and former member of the NFPA North Central Region Fire Code Development Committee. He is currently an instructor for the NFPA Fire Inspector and Plan Review Certification programs and the State of Michigan Inspector, Plan Review and Firefighter I-II Certification programs. He has conducted fire cause and origin investigations as lead investigator with associated partnerships in arson investigations for over 700 incidents involving fire and explosion for commercial, residential, industrial and vehicle property. He is a court qualified expert witness. During his career he was awarded with the LPFD Combat Cross for Bravery (1992), Rookie Firefighter of the Year (1986) and was awarded the Michigan Fire Inspector of the Year (2001).

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