8 comments on “California Forcing you to Put Fire Sprinklers in Your Home

  1. When properly installed, sprinkler systems are reliable and freezing is not a problem. Improper installation AND maintenance is the number one cause of sprinkler system failures. Sprinkler systems do save lives and property.

    I applaude California for their efforts to create safer homes! Maybe if the money was spent to properly install and maintain the system that you say failed and leaked, then these things would not have happened. Fire spinklers DO save lives. You mention the air systems (properly identified as a dry system) leak air and it can happen. But, a properly installed system will have alarms that will sound for low air pressure and when the air pump runs thus alerting the property owner/tenant to a potential issue with the system. It ounds like your area has a big issue with improperly installed systems and systems that are NOT properly maintained.

    The cost to install a sprinkler system in our area in a new one or two family dwelling is less than $1.85 a square foot. The maintenance is no more than what you do with your current plumbing system and precautions against freezing in an unoccupied home would be the same as with the regular plumbing. This type sprinkler system (not one found in commercial property) only flows about 12-14 gallons of water per minute and is activated during the incipient stage of a fire and thus able to contain the fire to the area/room of origin until the fire department arrives. As I am sure you know, the handlines on a fire truck generally flow over 100 gallons per minute and usually more than one line is required to extinguish the fire since it is not contain to the room of origin in a non-sprinklered home. But, instead the fire grew exponentially and has involved a large amount of the home.

    Scottsdale, Arizona, passed an ordinance in 1985 requiring sprinklers. Here is a link to a study they conducted after 15 years. Here is proof that sprinkler work!!! http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/fire/residentialsprinkler

    Here is another link where peopl may edicate themselves on the FACTS about sprinkler systems. I suggest that everyone do their own research and not depend on my opinion or anyone else’s opinion on this issue. But just imagine, you could live in a home with sprinklers and know that you will not lose a loved one due to fire in that home. WOW! Here is the other link: http://www.homefiresprinkler.org/

    • First, don’t criticize that the fire sprinkler systems haven’t been properly maintained or doesn’t meet code. They all do. The fact is they get old. Just like any system does whether its an engine, power plant or even hinges on a door. After 30-40 years issues arise. My entire point is that it should be your choice if you want a fire sprinkler system installed. Not another law imposed on me. Don’t tread on me. Absolutely fire sprinkler systems will save lives, just like fire alarms have. Even more they can prevent less damage and have a better chance of a rural volunteer fire department saving a structure. Here is the debate from the NFPA site. I posted this blog on here knowing it will be criticized. I have an entire new approach to the issue. I still am just a believer for reserving my rights and that the less government regulations imposed on me and how I will live and spend my money , the better. We are all grown ups and can make our own decision if we want a sprinkler head over our head when we sleep at night or not. Enjoy!:

      >Hal Key • If there was a problem with the sprinkler pipes freezing, there probably was a problem with the installation. All of your arguments are old and tired arguments and have been vetted over the last six years in the International Residential Code (IRC) arena. All of your arguments were used by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to prevent this requirement in the IRC. All of those arguments failed badly during the numerous code hearings over that time. When the residential sprinkler requirements became part of the IRC, they were adopted with very large majorities by the membership if the ICC. Now the NAHB is lobbing all the states in the country to prevent the requirements of the IRC from becoming code at the legislative level in the arena where they are the most effective in lobbying.

      >Harold Berciunas • the pictures shown are extreme. If the system was properly installed and with proper alarms connected, this much water would never be discharged from a sprinkler system without someone (fire department) responding.

      I am not sure if you are with the fire department or with the water department . . . or both?

      It sounds like your experience with fire sprinkler systems is very limited. Please consult an expert before making bold and uninformed claims.

      It sounds like you have been listening to someone who passes on horror stories that they have heard from many others. The propaganda . . .

      >Harvey West III • First, my main point was the fact that I dis-agree with the law. I feel that it is a perfect example of our government over-regulating. I know as it is your career and business that the law would only help your business. Yet, it should be your choice if you want fire sprinklers installed in your home. They should promote it more, not enforce it.
      Work with me as I am not a fire sprinkler expert.Yes, our sprinkler systems are older and were installed to code back in the day. They still meet the code as we recently just remodeled one of the buildings and didn’t have to touch the sprinkler system. Our systems are air over water. They are commercial buildings where we turn the heat off at winter. Our Problem is it is an older system with more condensation developing over the years. The condensation then freezes and breaks. Or we have had it were it was a slight air leak and eventually it triggers the system. In a building that is closed for winter with five feet of snow all around and only gets checked on once a week. A small leak can do tremendous damage.
      Now, in a residence house yes we have all our water pipes and we see at least five homes a year where the homeowner doesn’t properly drain their house and the place floods. Usually it isn’t until someone walks by and hears the water running!!! Not to mention what is the purpose of a fire sprinkler system when the system is drained! Down the road the systems installed today in homes will only have the problems we have with ours.
      Question for you…. all our residential hook ups have a meter. A 5/8’s meter that only allows 18-19 gpm flow. Will that actually take out a fire with that low of flow unless the fire is directly under it?

      >Thomas Hayden • There are plenty of antifreeze type solutions for the problems you propose. I agree with Hal. The rest of us in the fire service have been fighting tooth and nail for the requirement for years. Prince Georges County Md had some of the same problems you mentioned when we first required residential sprinklers over 20 years ago and we worked through it. In addition, prices dropped as more contractors got into the business. As water department employee you might have to deal with some of the problems. As a firefighter, they might save your life or the life of one of your crewmembers

      >Page Dougherty • You may disagree with the law, but you also need to understand, remeber or know that here it California, the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) worked with the State Fire Marshal’s Offfice along with many others to bring sprinklers into the residential code allowing for several different installation methods allowed under NFPA 13D. The CSFM is also working with members of the water departments to deal with water supply issues. It has been a long process at the national and state levels.

      Nothing is perfect in this world, but the number of people who die each years in residential fires is not acceptable in todays world when we have a way to prevent it from happening. The CDC gets very upset when just a few people are exposed to bad food because of the possibilities, why should the fire service and the fire and life safety community be any less concerned for people lives and fire deaths.

      >Ivan Humberson, P.E. • Harvey, while you may disagree with the law, it does not help you in making your point to quote mistruths and false information. You may feel like it is over-regulation, but, just like smoke alarms, no matter how much you promote them, they won’t get installed unless it is required by code. As a firefighter you should already know that 85% of fire deaths occur in residential properties – residential sprinkler systems are a reliable, affordable means to accomplish that. (And as for affordablity, you need to look at areas such as Prince George’s County Maryland and Cobb County Georgia where sprinklers have been required for years, and you’ll see that the numbers you quoted from the California Building Industry are quite out of line.)

      It sounds like your biggest concern is broken pipes caused by freezing temperatures. Here in the northeast atlantic area, we usually have some very cold (below 20 degrees F) weather in the wintertime (not so much this past year, though). Granted, every time we have some extreme cold temperatures, there are several systems that have ruptures due to frozen pipes, but almost without fail, it is commercial dry-pipe systems that have not been properly maintained and were allowed to build up water in the system due to condensation. As Shon pointed out, all houses have water pipes – the sprinkler system piping, when properly installed, is no more likely to cause water leaks than the plumbing pipes. In fact, it probably is LESS likely because sprinkler system components are listed to more stringent standards and are designed to last a lifetime.

      You also ask, what is the purpose of a fire sprinkler system when the system is drained – if the system is drained, that would only be for the home to be vacated during time periods that may have freezing temperatures, and if the house is vacated, then the sprinkler system is not needed. Residential sprinkler systems are NOT intended for property protection, they are designed for life safety – the goal of a residential sprinkler system is to keep a fire from reaching flashover conditions for a time period long enough to allow the dwelling occupants to safely evacuate.

      Lastly, in answer to your question a standard 5/8″ water meter will usually flow adequate water for a residential sprinkler system in a 1- or 2-family dwelling (NFPA 13D system). Typical flows for that type system are about 26 gpm, which will have about 18 psi friction loss in a 5/8″ meter. In this area, the water authority typically installs 3/4″ meters, which will only produce about 8 psi friction loss at 26 gpm. Some residential sprinklers are listed at flow rates as low as 9 gpm per sprinkler – and, yes, it will definitely take out a fire within that sprinkler’s designed coverage area without the fire being directly under it.

      Please, do yourself a favor and visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative webpage (www.firesprinklerinitiative.org) and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (www.homefiresprinkler.org) and do some research on residential sprinklers. Even if it doesn’t change your mind on the validity of residential sprinklers, you’ll at least be able to make more informed arguments.

      >Rich Webb • Harvey,

      While I agree with your basic argument that this is an unnecessary and intrusive law, I also understand that there are ways around all the problems you mention, as noted previously. All you have to do is ensure you spend a LOT of money on the fire sprinkler installation, and much intrusive regular maintenance, and the problems can be solved. In many jurisdictions the argument for, and against, a fire sprinkler installation in residences seems to come down to the “regular inspection” requirement, which authorizes the AHJ to inspect (Or require proof of inspection for,) your installation for proper function. Which of course would preclude the guy like you or me, who would shut the system off, drain it, and leave it that way to prevent the accumulation of problems over time.

      Locally, this idea gets mentioned every time there’s a residential fire death, especially if it’s a multiple or child, but no one ever seems concerned with the fact that the vast majority of home fires, and therefore fire deaths, don’t occur in homes which would even be subject to the law. A recent example was a double-wide trailer, that was in excess of 30 years-old, and being heated by a wood stove. Someone with a vested interest in installing expensive residential sprinkler systems (Like Hal, or Ivan, or Page, above.) made the point that the deaths would have been prevented by a sprinkler system. Which is technically true, but irrelevant, because even with the law, no one would have ever required a 30-year-old mobile home, on a private rural lot, to have been retro-fitted with a sprinkler.

      So, is it a bad law? Certainly. Expensive? Absolutely, especially over time. But this is one that must be addressed politically, and in California (The People’s Republic of,) the politics are strongly Nanny-State, so you’re stuck. My suggestion to you is to move back to the United States.

      >Hal Key • For the record, I do not install nor do I sell fire sprinkler systems or equipment. I am merely a design professional that is concern with life safety. Keep in mind that when smoke detectors and GFI electrical outlets were mandated in the codes, they got the same sort of arguments and objections. In addition, the argument of the local government requiring entrance into your home if you have a residential sprinkler system is often brought up as an argument against sprinklers and is a bogus argument. There is nothing in NFPA 13D that requires the local AHJ to require annual inspection or reports unlike NFPA 13 and NFPA 25. As a firefighter one of the things that you should be concerned with is the light weight construction that the latest building codes allow. Where we had full house involvement at about 18 minutes 30 years ago, we now have full house involvement and roof collapse at about 6 to 8 minutes. The argument of the older homes is always brought up in this discussion and that most fatalities occur in the older homes. Scottsdale Arizona which has had a residential sprinkler ordinance for over 25 years has not had a fatality in a single-family residence during that time. This has always been one of the favorite arguments by the NAHB because they build the “newer safer home.” Keep in mind that they advocate for building new houses because they are in the business of selling more houses.

      >Rich Webb • Hal,

      You are technically correct that NFPA 13D does not require a regular inspection. It recommends, because the systems are prone to failure over time. However, I’ve NEVER seen this come up as a point of discussion (Locally, of course, I don’t track all the national discussions.) without the local AHJ insisting that implementation MUST include some sort of inspection. As far as “lightweight construction”, I don’t know where you live, but with the currently “sky-rocketing energy prices” (To quote their most famous advocate.) the trend in the upper Mid West is towards heavier, not lighter construction. If construction in Scottsdale is anything like Sierra Vista, where I spent several weeks recently, “lightweight” is by far the least of anyone’s worries in fire prevention or spread. We will never reach a point where we get to zero fire deaths. The question then becomes, how far do we go towards mandating added costs to lower the likelihood of already minimally probable events?

      >Ivan Humberson, P.E. • Rich, your two statements ” to prevent the accumulation of problems over time” and “because the systems are prone to failure over time” infers you have some reason to believe that sprinkler systems are not reliable. What basis do you have for making these statements – where are the statistics to back it up?

      Also, you say that NFPA 13D recommends regular inspection. Well, it does, but by the homeowner – nowhere does it recommend any inspections that would require an inspection by anyone other than the homeowner. As for inspections by the AHJ, of the jurisdictions that require residential systems, yes, the AHJ inspects them, but only at the time of installation – not as an ongoing scheduled basis. Can you name even one jurisdiction that requires this?

      >Thomas Hayden • The DC Metro area is full of lightweight construction and it has caused a major shift in firefighting tactics in our area to adjust for the quicker failure time of the structural elements on those minimally probable events. Yesterday was the 5th Anniversary of the death of Firefighter Kyle Wilson who died in a minimally probable event, in part due to lightweight construction. Here’s the link: http://statter911.com/files/2012/04/Prince-William-County-VA-Wilson.pdf

      >Hal Key • Rich,

      The heavier construction you are seeing is heavier in insulation not construction materials. The primary structural members (roof trusses and floor joists) are all manufactured light weight members. Go to the Underwriters Laboratory web site for videos of test they conducted which shows the failures I talked about. The NAHB has lobbied the residential building codes to such an extent for lightweight construction that it is scary what is now allowed structurally.

      >Page Dougherty • Rich

      You are correct that many fire deaths are not in sprinklered
      residences/mobile homes, bu t we have to start somewhere and the new homes
      of today are the old homes of the future.

      >Rich Webb • Now that I’m back briefly, I’ll respond to a couple of items asked earlier.

      1. While NFPA 13D doesn’t require an inspection, the simple reality is that fire sprinkler systems are prone to failures, especially as they age. Very few homeowners are capable of inspecting these systems adequately to determine whether they’re even working, let alone whether they’re approaching failure. That means that the homeowner is going to have to hire an inspector, probably annually to inspect and test the system. Expensive. Second, most jurisdictions, when they begin to push for adoption, also push for mandated inspections. It’s one of the barriers to getting residential fire sprinklers mandated. Very few jurisdictions are willing to fight that fight, politically.

      2. While Hal is technically correct, that floor joists in particular are getting lighter, and likely more susceptible to rapid failure in a fire, the converse is typically true in walls. Also, properly installed, composite joists shouldn’t make that much difference. Unless you’ve got a particular AHJ issue where you’re working, I’d challenge your assumption that the floor joists alone are responsible for the early floor failures. Further, from what I’ve seen, the problem isn’t “engineered” lightweight joists as much as it is poor workmanship and AHJ inspectors who are in the pocket of the local builder community.

      3. Unless you smoke cigarettes in bed, the chances of a house fire in a modern home in the U.S. today is as small, if not smaller, than the chance of getting hit by a tornado. In a tornado, your sprinkler is only going to aggravate the damage caused by the tornado.

      4. Page, while I agree in principle with what you say, why should I add tens of thousands of dollars to the price of my home, and many more tens of thousands over the lifetime of the home, because YOU feel better that it’s sprinklered? If you want a sprinkler in your house, then by all means, suck up the costs and pay the piper as you go to keep it working. But don’t ask me to do the same. In my 60 years I’ve known only one person who actually had a house fire. And that was his own stupidity.

      Finally, to me, this is much like the “Air Bag” issue. No one can point to a valid, scientific, honest reason to require residential sprinklers in single family homes. And there is no possible way to justify the long term costs across the market. Like air bags in cars, this will ultimately cost more money and cause more damage than will ever be saved.

      >Harold Berciunas • Disclaimer. I am in the commercial sprinkler industry and the residential work would not effect us, except that it will keep plumbing contractors from getting into commercial work.

      @Rich & @ Harvey, It really sounds as if you are listening to the political propaganda rather than the facts. Don’t listen to the hype and lies . . . please do your research.

      @ Rich
      1. Sprinkler systems, especially wet pipe systems have very few failure or maintenance issues. I am not sure where you are getting your information. Even dry systems, if properly maintained (not much more than your HVAC) you will not have problems for 30 plus years. (We replace thin wall piping in commercial buildings with dry pipe systems that are not as old, but schedule 40 black pipe lasts 30 years easy.)

      Any homeowner could do easy quarterly checks to insure water supply and alarms function, easy as checking your smoke alarm batteries and changing the filters in your HVAC.

      We do small commercial annual inspections for less than $200. If we did residential, I am sure we would charge much less. HVAC annual maintanance is comparable.

      2. the strength of the structure is really not an issue – if you have fire sprinkler protection.

      3. I would be interested in discovering the cause of home fires. Smoking in bed is a significant cause. There are many others.

      I have responded to sprinkler activation in residential buildings. Fires were caused by electrical shorts or equipment failures. Another cause was candles. Heating vents, fire places, bbq grills and dryer vents are also major causes of home fires.

      The electrical, candle, and bbq grill fires that I responded to were in comercial residential buildings with strict construction standards, recent construction, and strict maintenance requirements. (Nursing facilities and college residential housing.)

      The damage caused in a tornado would be no different than the damage caused to the domestic water piping damage . . . issue nil.

      4. A fire in your home affects your whole community, not just you.

      Fire fighters respond, with our tax funding.

      They also have to fight a fire that has been burning perhaps 5 to ten minutes from the report, which may have taken 5 or more minutes for someone to discover the fire. Have you seen how fast a fire grows in a home? Now they are fighting a very dangerous fire instead of coming to close a valve and mop up some water.

      The difference in the amount of water used in a sprinklered building and a non sprinklered building in a fire is well documented. Again, this use of water affects the whole community.

      The air pollution affect is also dramatically different.

      If someone gets hurt or dies in your home fire, are you the only one paying for that? Probably not – even if you have insurance, the group that your insurance is with helps cover those costs though premiums.

      What about the family trauma that accompanies the loss in a fire? Compare to a bit of water damage that can be easily cleaned and repaired. (there are companies that specialize in this type of work). You and your insurance would gladly pay for water and a bit of smoke clean up rather than the replacement of your home.

      Finally, there are many statistics that prove that most deaths happen in home fires. There are many studies that prove that residential fire sprinklers save lives in homes.
      The costs are not that large as you seem to think (less than a HVAC system during construction.)
      Studies show that insurance premium savings over 7-8 years covers the added cost of the installation of a residential sprinkler system.

      “Air Bags” really? Air bags save lives. I guess you are against saving lives.

      I guess seat belts, speed limits and lead paint are all “air bag” issues? What about asbestos, CO2, water pollution, rodents/insects in our foods . . . Do you really want to do away with all regulations? (Every regulation has faced these same critiques.)

      >Shimon (Shon) Harel • Why can’t we just rely on the fire department?

      Fire departments are an irreplaceable ally in fighting fires, but they depend on onsite alarms to notify them after a fire breaks out. By the time they arrive, fire could have spread and caused considerable damage. With building fires, a bad situation can get worse more quickly than most people realize. Fire sprinklers should be viewed as an effective first line defense or a “first response” system.

      >Page Dougherty • Mr. Webb

      I cant make you believe in something you don’t want to. Your cost
      estimates are high unless you have a really big house. I have been
      involved in the fire service and code development for 40 years and fought
      many house fires during my suppression days, many in older homes. At some
      point we in fire and life safety need to do something for the the public we
      serve, firefighters, and the community. As an example, the City of San
      Clemente approved a sprinkler ordinance in approximately 1981. This saved
      the city from having to build an additional fire station in the build out
      of the city, which saves everyone in the community a whole lot of tax
      dollars each year. at this point I guess it can be said that I believe in sprinklers, you
      don’t, we will just have to agree to disagree on this issue.

      >Hal Key • Rich,

      Here again, it sounds like the old tired arguments from the NAHB. However, I fully understand your “nanny state” argument. I am against government intruding in our personal decisions, but in this case the arguments you presented are not totally correct. I will attempt to address your points:

      1) I am still interested in what jurisdictions out there that require annual inspections by the jurisdiction. I work for a fire department that in a city where there were many houses with fire sprinkler systems. We did not require annual inspections by the fire department of single-family houses with sprinkler systems. I am very familiar with the requirements in Scottsdale, AZ as well. They don’t require annual inspections. I also know many fire marshals across the country, none of them require annual inspections by the fire department. Please give us at least one name.

      2) The problem with lightweight truss and joist construction is the nail plates. When the nail plates get hot, they no longer kept the connection with the wood and the trusses and joists simply come apart which causes the collapse. The wall construction has gone from 2×4’s spaced at 16” on-center to 2×6” spaced at 24” on-center. The exterior wall treatments (especially in warm climates) do not use wood panels such as plywood or OSB, but use strapping for lateral load support. The exterior sheathing in these cases is usually Styrofoam with wire lath. In colder climates, the exterior treatment is usually plastic or aluminum siding. The walls are not a robust has they were 30 years ago when the houses were built with plywood sheathing and wood siding.

      3) Cigarettes are always an issue. In the recent house fires in the Northeast with fatalities, smoking materials were the fire cause. The other major fire in cause in houses is cooking fires. These fires are usually a situation where cooking (primarily cooking with oil) is left unattended and the pan catches on fire which then extends to the rest of the house.

      4) The cost of the residential sprinkler systems is approximately $0.75 to $1.00 per square foot depending on the location in the country and the water supply available. The cost of a single (and there are usually several) granite countertop is more that the cost of the entire residential sprinkler system. In the city where I worked for the fire department (population of approximately 450,000), we had approximately one to two house fires on average a week. The fire department trained primarily for house fires. The City of Phoenix with all of its industry and commercial properties still trains primarily for house fires. Most of the fire departments in the country primarily train for house fires. I still sight the success of Scottsdale, AZ. Scottsdale has had a residential sprinkler requirement for almost 30 years. There has not been a single fatality in a single-family house during that time. What is the value of a human life?

      None of these arguments are new arguments. They are same arguments we have seen over the last six years of defending the residential sprinkler issue. And, these are the same arguments that the NAHB are still using with various state legislatures to lobby against the adoption of the new building codes that require residential sprinkler systems. I relish the idea of researching a new argument against residential sprinklers. So far, I have not heard a new one in several years. If you want to use the argument that it should be personal chose, to me, that is a valid argument. But, please don’t use arguments that are not correct.

      *>Harvey West III • Hold on, let me pull the daggers out and try to stop the bleeding! I actually enjoy playing devils advocate on here, I knew this would bring great controversy on the NFPA group. No, I am not a fire sprinkler engineer who has yet to develop a flawless fire sprinkler system like all you of guys. I am a full time business student that also works for three different companies and volunteer what time I have left as an EMT/firefighter! With that, I have made the uniformed decision, without even looking at what a fire sprinkler system does, but rather the law imposed on my liberty as an American and the government telling me how I will live and under what conditions… socialism, communism… (funny, its usually the older person telling the younger person this) But to sit on here (I’m sure your paid hourly) and tell me I’m ignorant and listen to “propaganda,” makes me question your maturity and professionalism. If you feel better sleeping at night with a sprinkler head over your bed than by all means put it in and good for you, that’s your choice. As for someone who simply doesn’t want it, they know the risk and studies, they can be big boys and make the decision for themselves to not to and shouldn’t have to if that’s what they decided. Don’t tread on me. Get off your high horse!

      Yes, a sprinkler system can save you a little money on your home insurance rate. Big deal. Especially when the annual maintenance check costs you $200 a year. Now, look at the cost of a sprinkler system. Now do the Time Value of Money compared on the cost to the rate savings. No longer a “savings”, especially in your/our life time.

      Shon – Yes, I completely agree, especially in rural and volunteer areas where the station isn’t staffed, a fire in a residential home would be a “first response” and help retard the fire for the fire department to get there and extinguish. Hands down, but this was never my argument.

      I have had issues with older fire sprinkler systems. As Page said, “the new homes are the future old homes” (great quote). But look Harold, our systems are getting older and having issues, just like the new systems of today will. The standards for the systems will always change and people will always be out of code as time goes by and regulations change. You think the homeowner is going to care on the changes? no. So when the changes in the regulation change but the homeowner doesn’t stay current, you just created an outlet (when it is a mandatory law to have a sprinkler system) for insurance companies to not have to pay for any fire or water damage that might occur as, ” oh well your system wasn’t up to date to the recent code, you were illegal – see the fine print, therefore we are not liable to pay for the damages.”

      >Greg Loomer, SET • How do you put a value on your childrens lives? I certainly agree that mandatory laws can be incidious, but like seat belts there will be a time we wonder why anyone ever questioned sprinklers. You are a fireman? It is hard for me to believe you don’t recognize the value of sprinklers. When a fire starts in your home at 2:00 AM and you have children in several bedrooms in the house you immediately recognize there worth, as the commercial goes priceless.

      >Rich Webb • The reality of the whole thing is this:

      The probability of a house fire, unless you’re in one of a very small set of “high-risk” groups, is almost the same as the probability of a malfunction in the sprinkler system, which will also destroy your home. Mandatory sprinklers will, over time, require mandatory, routine AHJ inspections. The first time you have a mandatory sprinkler house which catches fire, and the homeowner had shut the system off because either he couldn’t afford to keep if fixed, or he’d gotten tired of paying for repairs, the local AHJ is going to start demanding routine inspections. These things are insidious like that. While maintaining functioning alarms are one thing, this is an entirely new level of intrusion.

      If you’re in one of that very small set of “high-fire-risk” groups, the odds are you’re not going to live in a house which requires a mandatory sprinkler system anyway. Harvey has said it very well already this morning. This isn’t really about “fire safety” at all. This is about CONTROL. First it’s Code control, which gives government the window of opportunity to act to enforce “legal” (Although probably unconstitutional.) control over one more aspect of our lives. I see all the scams the government is running to demand greater and greater control, (CAGW (By CO2), PM2.5, etc.) and I’ve come to doubt whether any effort such as this is undertaken “In good faith”.

      I also wonder, when I see something like this, will the law enacting enforcement be like the law forcing air bags in our cars? That law specifically prohibits the collection of data regarding injuries, deaths, and accidents CAUSED by air bags.

      >Harvey West III • Thank You Rich, well written!
      Greg, of course I put a strong value on any life. Don’t make me out as a criminal. But a fire alarm is what also saves the life. If a fire sprinkler system goes off in a room do to a fire, without the alarm a person in a room next door could keep on sleeping through it. People will build the cheapest system they can from the contractor who had the cheapest bid!
      The question is what value do you put on your freedom and rights as an American. The more we roll over and allow them to regulate us the more your grandchildren will not live in a country of freedom. The one thing I have noticed in my studies is the fact that once they regulate an area they add more jobs to regulate (tax dollars) it. Then those people think up new things to regulate along with… Then more jobs are created. This happens! One thing that scares me is that someday 50% of the country will be employed by the government. Once this happens who do you think they will vote for? The same entity that provides them with a paycheck, and bam, socialism is created in our country.
      This is way off topic, just food for thought!
      Hope you all have a good day!

      >Patrick Bradshaw • Harvey, this is not socialism. Airbags in vehicles in conjuction with seatbelts have saved many lives. Fire sprinklers will do the same when used in conjuction with fire alarms/smoke detectors. You scenario about a person in the next room sleeping through a sprinkler activation…yea might happen. But a properly installed sprinkler system that is properly maintain will keep that person safe.

      You mentioned your studies; what topic(s) have you studied? I would suggest that it has not been the cost effectiveness of residential fire sprinklers. So many things can be accomplished with sprinklers. They use less water than the fire truck will need to use because they react during the incipient stage of the fire. In many jurisdictions, they have found they can reduce the number of trucks that respond to a subdision that is fully sprinklered. Why? The fire is out when they arrive. Some jurisdictions are allowing the road width to be reduced in subdivisions where all the homes are sprinklered. Did you know that sprinklered square footage added to a fire department’s response area is not counted “against” that department’s ISO rating? Thus minimizing the cost of additiaonl stations, trucks, equipment and personnel to maintain an ISO rating.

      >Patrick Bradshaw • Rich and Harvey,

      Regardless of what you think the risk of fire is, they do happen and people die every year from residential fires. Sprinkler requirements are not intrussive. Just like the current electrical and plumbing systems in these homes. Once the home is built and all ssytems are inspected, then a C/O is issued. you don’t have electrical inpsectors demanding to come in every year to see if you are maintaining the electrical system or not. Such arguements are just scare tactics.

      I agree, I do not want the government in my life any more than it already is. THis is not the intrusion that you two are trying to scare people into thinking it is.

      The cost of a residential sprinkler system in our region is under $1.85 a square foot in a new home being built. So, far about $3,700 adding to the cost of this new home, you can live in a home that you can be almost certain that you, your spouse and children will not die in due to a fire. ANd you think that is too much??? Wow!

      >Hal Key • For all those who have been following this debate, this has been a very good discussion. All of the arguments made by the opponents are those same arguments we have heard for the last six years. All of them are untruths, half-truths, myths and conjecture. For those who are advocating residential sprinklers, this discussion will give you the tools you can use to combat the opponents arguments. Other tools that are available can be found on the NFPA web site (Note, NFPA is a major advocate for residential sprinklers and this discussion group is also an NFPA group) and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. Each of these organizations addresses these arguments as well as supplying other advocacy materials.

      Now Rich brought up another myth. The myth that residential sprinkler will destroy your home due to a malfunction. There is more of a problem with plumbing systems than with residential sprinkler systems in terms of water damage. However, in the event of a fire, typically, only one head maybe two will activate. The water flow from that on head or two will be about 18 to 28 gpm. When the fire department arrives and fights the fire, they will use approximately 250 gpm to fight the fire. The residential sprinkler system will use much less water and control the fire quicker. The best response time for the fire department will be 3 and half minutes after they are notified. Keep in mind my earlier discussion on building collapse at about 7 to 8 minutes. For the newer homes, the fire department will arrive just before whole house involvement. For those out there that are fire fighters, the risk to your life now goes up considerably if you asked to fight that fire.

      Harvey, I fully understand the personal choice issue and I support that issue. But, keep in mind that the government is already controlling how you building your house and what materials you use to build it by imposing the building code. The government requires you to employ an architect or designer to draw your plans, the government requires you to pay for a building permit and in many areas the government requires you to use a contractor. The government control is already there. You have every right to not like residential sprinklers and you have every right to advocate against them as well. However, please use personal choice arguments and not the untruths, half-truths, myths and conjecture to advocate against them.

      Harvey, with this posting, some might say, “It sounds like you really stepped in it.” I’m not sure you expected the robust discussion that your posting provided. Thank you for the posting as it gave many of us a chance to address these issues from a technical perspective and not a subjective position.

      >Harvey West III • haha, relax Patrick – I haven’t even had a chance to look at my blog in the past day or two because of school and work! I just get hit with all the linkedin updates so I am on here when I can cause of this epic debate. No need to point fingers and single me out. I will be happy to approve your comment on the blog. It will help show readers your knowledge!

      You guys have all helped put a new outlook on residential fire sprinkler systems for me. Thank you.
      But could it be a decision done by maybe the community and county level, not necessarily the state and federal level?

      >Patrick Bradshaw • Harvey, I wish it could be done at all levels. Just kidding. I feel that the State level is not the wrong place but neither is more local. In our State (SC) local jurisdictions have to adopt the codes as approved by the State Building Codes Council. And they have no other choice. This was done to have more consistency across the entire State. However, when the 2009 edition of the International Residential Code was adopted here, the State Legislature stepped in due to lobbying from the Home Builders’ Association and blocked it from being implemented. Thus, we are currently still using the 2006 edition of the I-Codes.

      One of the biggest challenges to residential sprinklers is education. If nothing else, this discussion has shown that. Too many people believe what they have seen in the movies and on TV about sprinklers. A large majority of people still believe that if one head goes off then they all go off. And that is just not true (except in a deluge system).

      Have a great week!

      >Rich Webb • Jon,

      I think Harvey and I would agree completely that you should have the right to install a sprinkler system in your home if you choose. And in Oklahoma you rarely have to worry about loosing power when it’s 20 below, so freezing probably isn’t a concern. What it comes down to is a personal choice. I have very good smoke alarms, I don’t smoke and don’t have anyone in the house who does. The only “high-risk” activity that goes on in my house is a wood burning fireplace, but I keep it well maintained and check it regularly. Our problem is a government mandate to install a sprinkler system. And of course, since Harvey and I don’t trust government, once they’ve got a mandate to have one installed, we fully expect that the mandate will expand to include regular inspections (Typically by the AHJ.) and regular “updates” when the Code requires a different configuration. Some of us assume that once the government gets it’s “nose” in our tent, the rest of the camel won’t be far behind. If I wanted a government inspector doing a survey of my house every year I’d already live someplace where they think they should, like California, or New York. The primary job of government these days has become the making of more government. Do what you want to make yourself feel good, but don’t encourage government to force me to do something that gives them an excuse to become ever more deeply involved in my life.

      >Jon Roberts • Harvey to answer the question you had regarding all your residential hook ups having a 5/8’s meter that only allows 18-19 gpm flow, that can be enough to take out a fire and no it does not have to be directly under it. If you get a chance I would suggest that you take a look at some of the many side by side burn demonstrations that are on you tube and maybe even attend one in person if you have the chance it is quite and eye opener for anyone that has not actually seen a fire sprinkler in operation. I know the first time I saw it I was definitely impressed.

      That was just one of the many things that led me to have my home sprinklered, other than the fact that I want to protect my family, my pets, and all things I own. The house is around 1100 square feet and it cost me about $1,600 and it took 12 hours to install. In addition it was a retro fit application since the house was built in 1936. The reason I bring this up is that it has been that way for years now and I test it just like I was instructed to when it was installed. I have had no freezing issues and no failure issues either (Im really not sure what could fail with such a simple straight forward system).

      I know in the end the bottom line is money so I guess I should add that I also get a 15% discount on my homeowners insurance and so it pays for itself, and then the discount continues so it’s like its putting money back in my pocket. I know my living proof story again addresses old arguments that have been brought forth in the past, but I fail to see the down side of protecting my entire home from fire for ¼ the money that it cost to purchase the material for the deck in my backyard.

      >Andy Lawley • Sprinklered protection of your own home should be choice , if the government are telling you to do it pockets are being lined.

      >dy Lawley • How about smoke alarms linked to central station in the 3-4 mins they take to get there, central monitoring would pre warn brigades.

      >Brian Houska • As a firefighter, former carpenter, and advocate of residential sprinklers I’d be willing to live with an ordinance that allows the homeowner the choice of where to spend his or her money. Lightweight construction with residential sprinklers required, or traditional dimensional lumber construction with no such requirement.

      I like it much less than mandated sprinklers because it condones less sustainable behavior (traditional construction uses more resources, pound for pound) and does nothing to protect the home’s occupants from flashover. But I could live with because it allows for some individual freedom for the homebuilder and limits firefighter risk.

      Much as firefighters like to rail at the construction industry, viewed favorably homebuilders are trying to provide cost-effective housing. Contractors may not “care” about firefighters but that’s not their job. Nor do they have any vested interest in doing so. Firefighters need to get over that and look after themselves actively — which means supporting sprinklers throughout the built environment. Builders need to realize the value-added of residential sprinklers and the growth potential such systems represent for the plumbing sector. Plumbers — time to get vocal.

      Builders could choose to level the playing field by bringing all up, rather than keeping all down. If they did so, all would benefit. To pursue narrow self-interest at the expense of mutual gain is poor economics, bad strategy, and shoddy ethics. But as Dennis Miller says, that’s just what I think; I could be wrong.

      >Christopher Ostrom • I really need to check in more often – Missed the early parts of this.

      I can’t believe ANY of the people interested enought to follow this group are actaully against the mandatory installation of residential sprinklers in NEW construction. As far as I know, they are not talking about existing residential homes, correct? So what is the problem?

      The points have already been brought up – the government ALREADY tells you how to build your home. You what to know why? Because most consumers are too cheap, and builders too greedy, to worry about safety. They are both more concerned about upgrading to granite counters and tiled entryways than a safe electrical system or fire-stops in the walls. I hate to admit it (and if you knew me you would really understand) but his is one area that Big Brother needs to tell people what to do.

      The government requires things from all of us – not jsut for our own safety, but for those around us as well. Having my neighbor’s house sprinklered is insurance against my house becoming involved because of thier accidental, or negligent, act. You can keep your house in tip-top shape, not smoke in it, and have all your alarms wired. Does it matter a bit if your neighbor doesn’t and your house goes up in flames with his?

      Noel St.Pierre • If a system is designed and installed by professionals, then there should be no problems with the sprinkler systems. If pipe is freezing, it probably was installed or designed wrong.

      I’d rather have to clean up some water then to have lost everything. When I build, in the next year, my house will have a residential sprinkler system. Well worth the extra money for the overall cost of the project.

      >Patrick Bradshaw • Let me know how that smoke detector does putting out that fire before it expands beyonfd the room of origin. Smoke detectors are a great idea but they have their limits. Just like seatbelts in vehicles were a great idea and saved lives. However, when airbags were added, more lives were saved!!! Just like adding sprinklers will do.

      Scottsadale, Arizona took the lead in this arena back in the mid 80’s by passing an ordinance that required sprinklers in all new construction. If you have never read their report on their 15 year study, you need to follow this link and read it. http://www.homefiresprinkler.org/fire-department-15-year-data

      You will learn that the average cost of loss in non-sprinklered buildings was aorund $45,000 but in sprinklered ones it was under $3,000. Instead of almost 3,000 gallons of water used to put out a fire, the sprinklers did it using under 350 gallons of water. And most importantly, look at the fire deaths totals in the report.

      >Bob Ballard • I think the strongest point for the benefit of residential fire sprinklers includes the light construction methods that include the use of roof trusses instead of stick-built rafters….if the truss system is breached, the roof is going to collapse which is not so with stick-built. However, the main factor that I think support the sprinkler requirement is the fact that flashover occurs much faster today due to the types of materials used in our furniture. 30 years ago there were many cotton fabrics and fills. These smolder and take time to ignite and time to burn, releasing less initial heat and less input to the ceiling layer leading to flashover. Today we have primarily synthetic materials and fills that do not smolder, ignite readily, produce large flames and heat quickly, generate a ceiling heat layer leading to flashover in some cases in less than 10 minutes after first ignition.

      If you are asleep in a back or upstairs bedroom and a living room fire occurs, you may not wake up fast enough to get out before the hot gas layer makes exiting impossible, except through a window, even without flashover occurring. Fire sprinkler systems will either extinguish the fire, or delay its growth while cooling the hot gas layer, thereby preventing or delaying flashover and providing the ability to vacate the premises.

      I still hear idiots telling me they do not wear seat belts because in a wreck they do not want to be restricted from exiting…..I guess they think if they fly through the windshield or out a damaged door their soft flesh impacting the road/ground/tree, etc., will provide better protection than being strapped into the steel vehicle…..

      Those who think residential sprinklers are a violation of some perceived right are probably the same persons who don’t wear helmets or use seat belts….the fact is helmets, seat belts and fire sprinklers WORK…….

      >Greg Loomer, SET • Harvey, this is a subject that eats at me, because I too hate government intrusion in our lives as much as you do. But I have been in the sprinkler industry for a long time and I do know the value of them. I also see many scare tactics employed by the home builders association, misinformation by the film industry (every system is a deluge system), most people have very limited knowledge about these systems.
      A properly installed system should require very little if any maintenance.
      This is personal to me because I have had occasion to be awakened in the middle of the night by a smoke alarm at 2:00 AM out of a deep sleep somewhat disoriented I got out of bed on the first floor and ran to the area that was involved, the dining room, someone had left a candle burning on a table that had just been varnished and the flames were already lapping at the ceiling. I was able to go to the kitchen and fill a pan with water and cool it enough to knock it down and the it took several more pans to extinguish. If I hadn’t reacted immediately I can only imagine what would have happened. It gave me pause to think deeply how important sprinklers can be. I will say thank God for the smoke alarm it saved our property if not our lives that night.
      I think education on the value of sprinkler systems and how they actually work would be a good start and home builders that give people a choice to install (rather than downplaying them) might be better than a mandatory law. Bottom line is they do save lives and property and when it happens to you its to late to say I wish I would have spent the extra 3-4 Thousand dollars.

      >Jon Roberts • Hey Greg,
      How much did the clean up from that fire cost?

      >Greg Loomer, SET • Several hundred dollars, it was limited to painting and rug shampoo etc.

      >Jade Van Dyke • I am a retired Firefighter and now a Realtor. I personally think home sprinkler systems is a great ideaI fought fires in the Oakland Hills Firestorm and if those houses would have sprinkler systems they would not have been lost. At least most of them.

      The city of Livermore CA. has had the city ordnance for sprinkler systems in new construction for over 20 years. Now in remodels it will be very tough and those I think would have to be looked at on an individual basis.


      >Thomas Marxmiller • Another case of govt gone wild with power. These fools that pass these and many of the laws we all have to live with, don’t have a clue. We need term limits and if the had to live with the laws that they impose on us, things would surely be different. Get out and vote these fools out. That is our only salvation.
      And the courts aren’t much better
      >Budd Dunson • It is sad when the gov’t can tell you how to build your house.

      Dave Lapof • Come on— there have been building codes forever. They save lives for the most part. Wire the correct size, proper electrical panels, adequate water supply, sheet rock thickness and the list goes on.

      This is about life safety and an unrealistic ability by fire departments to be able to get to fire quickly and save lives.

      It also take into account that there is not a regulation on building materials, meaning homeowner can build for less money by using lightweight materials which fail in less than 8 minutes in many home fires. Also all the plastics used today in homes create deadly smoke with even the smallest fire.

      So the next time a fire sprinkler home doesn’t start a wildland fire take a moment and think is this really that bad of an idea.

      >Budd Dunson • I don’t have a problem with sprinklers but with the government telling me what to do.With MY MONEY in my house.The role of government is to do the will of the people and follow the constitution this is not in the constitution.

      • Harvey, they don’t call this the “Mommy” State for nothing. Like Harvey I’m also a Firefighter/EMT. Here is my 2 cents…

        Consider the costs of sprinkler systems. If you think they are worth it, then it would be worth it to sprinkler all residences in theory. Assume you could retrofit every house in Plumas County for $3700 each (figures from someone else here, and I know they meant for new construction) that means we would spend about $58 million. Amortized over 30 years, and adding in additional property tax for the installation over 30 years, we end up with a 30 year cost of $120 million or $4 million per year. Well, that significantly exceeds the total annual budget of every Fire Department in this County added together. Never mind factoring in opportunity cost of those funds and annual inspections (possibly somewhat mitigated by lower insurance premiums). Seems kind of upside down to me.

        You can always make statements that sound impressive by saying “if it saves just one life” or “isn’t your child’s life worth $3700?” Well, by that logic you (or certainly your child!) should wear a helmet and a nomex suit in the car, and add a full roll cage as well. Also, you better wear a full face helmet on your bike, wear a bullet proof vest when you head into town and so on. After all, isn’t your child’s life worth it?

        One last thing, I didn’t look at the Scottsdale statistics but I bet I can guess one thing, and that is that there is more to the story. I bet the sprinklered homes bear no resemblance to the homes where people died, besides the obvious difference of having sprinklers. I’ll read that study as soon as someone independent controls for variables like socio-economic differences, presence of smoke detectors, construction differences etc.

        I wouldn’t doubt that sprinklers can save lives, and they can certainly make firefighting easier. Whether the case can be made that this is the best investment of the funds required to do so is entirely a different story.

    • I know I’m really late to this party, but the other factor is not just the cost of the system itself, but the cost to connect to a water line when you have to increase the meter. In Oakland, CA, they want to charge $24,000 vs. what would normally be $8,000, for us to connect and retrofit the line to a larger meter (1 – 1 1/4″). We are looking at a very modest single family home on a 3,850 sq ft lot. I would prefer to just have a water tank on the property.

  2. A different perspective- If the insurance industry could make out in reduced claims overall and REQUIRED the sprinkler system for all one and two family residential occupancies it insured, would this be an evasion of privacy or a protection of assets?

  3. Magnificent items from you, man. I’ve be mindful your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely magnificent. I actually like what you have received here, certainly like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You are making it enjoyable and you still take care of to stay it wise. I cant wait to learn far more from you. This is actually a great website.

  4. I walked into the same crucible on a LinkedIn discussion about the same issue a month or so ago. It ended up ok because everyone was nice to each other. But I’m noticing a pattern in the arguments and it’s helping me solidify my stance on this–which happens to agree with yours. The arguments on this issue seem to be centered around these:

    1) Fire sprinklers save lives…this goes on and on because it is the best argument. It is, after all, perfectly true. This is, in fact, a very good argument why someone may voluntarily install a residential sprinkler system–I’m actually thinking about it myself. The problem lies in extending this to justifying a mandate. That’s a big jump. For example, I can argue that diet and exercise save even more lives, so how do you feel about a mandatory broccoli and gym membership mandate?

    2) Mandates are ok because there is precedent–the State can already tell you what to do in many other aspects of your life like seat belt laws, building codes, etc. I suppose the argument is that if you have accepted past intrusions on your freedoms, you must accept all future intrusions. Otherwise you are a hypocrite. This is invalid on it’s face, so I won’t go deeper.

    3) The third general argument I will preface with Jeremy Bentham’s (philosopher from a few centuries ago) principles. He said that there are three types of laws–laws that protect you from harm caused by other people, laws that protect your from harm caused by yourself, and laws that force you to provide assistance to other people. He said (and I believe the majority of Americans would agree if they actually thought about it in those terms) that only the first type are legitimate laws. But people who don’t agree will argue: What about the people who visit your unsprinklered house, or the firefighters who are at greater risk in fighting a fire in an unsprinklered home, or the effects on the community?

    This is twisted in two ways: First, this is “potential” harm weighed against “real” harm caused to the homeowner in loss of financial resources. A common argument is that it’s just a little bit of financial resources (like if you installed new carpet…) and a life is worth any amount of money or inconvenience, right? But that’s nonsense. If that were true, the speed limit would be 10 mph everywhere. So obviously the value of a life is not infinite–it is a judgement call. And in cases of judgement, the person subject to the real harm–the person shelling out the money (who ironically happens to be the person usually at most risk of dying in the fire)–is the one who has the most claim on the right to decide what’s “cheap” vs. “expensive”, which is very different to different people (not to mention the value of his own life). No one else has any legitimate standing to make that call.

    As for effects on the community, helmet laws twist this same “community harm” claim. If a person has an accident with a motorcycle and gets a head injury, current welfare and disability laws (of Bentham’s illigitimate third type, by the way) say that the State (taxpayers) have to take care of him. Therefore the State has the right to mandate helmets. But that’s basing the legitimacy of a law on the very existance of a preexisting illegitimate law! I have an idea. If we eliminate all the illegitimate laws, this problem is automatically solved.

    Anyway, good luck. I’m with you on this. Bottom line is, this really isn’t an argument about sprinklers at all. It’s an argument about how nanny state laws violate a person’s individuality. They imply that an adult is not free to do with his own life what he wants for his own benefit–that the good of the community trumps individual rights. A lot of people subscribe to that (especially in your state)–that’s the essence of social democracy. But history shows that it has never worked, and a good look at California is showing that it’s not likely to start working now.

  5. Originally Posted by Popular Mechanics
    The sprinkler mandate was one of 2400 code change proposals in the past IRC revision. The NAHB took a position on 960 proposals, with an eye on one particular concern: “You have a number of manufacturers trying to promote a specific product,” Orlowski says. According to the NAHB’s communications director, Calli Schmidt, “The only way for sprinkler manufacturers to make money is to focus on mandates. Otherwise, they’re not financially feasible.”

    The fire survival rate in homes with working smoke detectors is 99.41 percent, according to the NFPA. Toss in a sprinkler, and the rate rises to 99.6 percent. “Consider how little it costs to install smoke alarms,” Orlowski says. “For the cost of the sprinklers, you’re really not getting a significant increase in safety.¹

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