Calif. sprinkler measure lacks monitoring requirement

Sprinkler requirement for new residences is unlikely to generate revenue for alarm companies
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

PACHECO, Calif.—On Jan. 1 this year, California joined Pennsylvania in becoming the first states in the nation to require the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family homes.

John Viniello, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, praised the development as a life-saving measure in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

However, the new requirement in California is unlikely to generate additional business for fire alarm companies because it lacks an amendment mandating monitoring of home sprinkler systems, according to Shane Clary, VP, codes and standards compliance, of Bay Alarm Co., which is based here. Bay Alarm provides fire, security and monitoring services to more than 100,000 residential and commercial customers throughout California, and monitors commercial sprinkler systems and also has a small number of residential sprinkler accounts.

“Let me emphasize,” Clary told Security Systems News, “there is no requirement that these systems be supervised by a central station, there is no requirement that there even be a flow switch on the system … if alarm companies are thinking they can go out and start selling monitoring services to all these new systems, unfortunately they won’t.”

Clary, a former chairman of the board of the  Automatic Fire Alarm Association, said, “We did try though the AFAA to get an amendment as this code was being adopted two years ago to require a flow switch.”

A flow switch is designed to monitor any water flow through the sprinkler system and can be wired to an alarm or connected to a monitored security system. Clary said most of the flow switches are manufactured by Potter Electric Signal Co. or System Sensor, a Honeywell company.

However, Clary said, the amendment met opposition from builders as too expensive, and fire and building officials felt such a measure wasn’t necessary.

He said they argued that a home sprinkler system “is designed to suppress a fire so you don’t need to worry about it.”

However, Clary said, “I have a different opinion. Let’s say you’re on vacation or at work and something happens. It would be nice just because of water damage and whatever if someone would notice if something’s going on.”

Communities in California have the option of mandating their own local requirements for flow switches and monitoring to the state’s new residential sprinkler requirement, but Clary said at this point he’s not aware of any local jurisdictions planning to do that.

In Pennsylvania, one alarm company based in the city of Lancaster saw the new residential sprinkler requirement there as an opportunity to buy a sprinkler company last fall.

Select Security president Patrick Egan told SSN in December that the company’s new sprinkler division would offer sprinkler installation, inspection, testing, and service to residential and business customers throughout the state. He also hopes to sell alarm and security systems to his sprinkler customers.

Clary said he wasn’t aware of any alarm companies in California buying sprinkler companies, and said Bay Alarm had no plans to do so.