Monday, January 4, 2016

Minnesota Home Builders Win Sprinkler Wars

Minnesota's sprinkler mandate for large new homes is no longer in the rule book as 2016 begins, after home builders won a legal battle to block it.

The Minnesota Supreme Court this week decided not to review a lower court decision that voided the sprinkler rule, so those automatic sprinklers will be a voluntary option in new homes for the foreseeable future.

"We're very pleased at that ruling. We think the court got it right," David Siegel, executive director of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, told KARE.

"We believe there's virtually no safety value to sprinklers, and there's extremely high costs."

The Minn. Dept. of Labor and Industry crafted the rule over several years through the administrative law process, and it went into the state building codes last February.The rule applied to new, single family homes larger than 4,500 square feet.

The home builders group lobbied against it at the State Capitol in 2014, asking legislators to bar the Dept. of Labor and Industry from imposing the requirement. But Gov. Mark Dayton, who favored the sprinkler rule, threatened to veto any legislation that contained a moratorium against sprinklers.

The builders sued the State in an effort to undo the sprinkler mandate, and in October, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed to block regulators from enforcing the new code. The appellate court didn't weigh in on the merits of sprinklers, but found that the rule's 4,500-square-foot threshold was an arbitrary standard.

"We believe the ruling reflects where the public stands on this issue," Siegel remarked. "In statewide research, we found that vast majority of people do not want sprinklers in their private homes. It's a different story on commercial buildings, it's a different story on multi-family units."

The Supreme Court's decision wasn't welcomed by the Association of Minnesota Fire Chiefs, which supports the sprinkler mandate for new single family homes.

"We have the solution to saving thousands of lives from tragic painful deaths from fires," Saint Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard, speaking on behalf of the fire chiefs group, told KARE. "We have the solution. We just need to use it."

Zaccard agreed that most fire deaths take place in older housing stock, because there are more older homes to begin with in Minnesota. But he said it's still important to install sprinklers in new homes, because they burn faster and reach the flash overpoint more quickly.

"Light weight construction materials, coupled with the flammability of the furnishings we use today give people inside less than four minutes to get out, once a fire starts," Zaccard asserted. "If you're an infant or an elderly person or otherwise mobility impaired, you may not be able to get out in time."
Home builders say hard-wired integrated smoke detectors now required in new single family homes are a more effective way to save lives than sprinklers.

But the fire chiefs say warnings are no substitute for a system that will put out a fire where it originates.
The two factions disagree on the question of how affordable the systems are. The builders estimate sprinklers add at least $9,000 to the cost of a 4,500 square foot home, and more if it's in a rural area where a cistern would be needed for water pressure.
The fire chiefs say they represent roughly one percent of the total price of a new home.
"People spend as much on carpeting or stone counters as they would on sprinklers," Zaccard said.
Siegel said the builders may be amenable to requiring that wireless smoke detectors be added to older homes when they undergo remodeling.

"Wireless interconnected smoke alarms are a new technology, and for us that would really save lives."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The fire chief needs to learn what sprinkler systems are for in residential house. They are not to put out the fire, they are to give the occupants more time to escape in case of a fire.