Incentivizing fire sprinklers in new homes

NFSA: Financial incentive laws for sprinklers are life- and cost-saving measures
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CAPE CORAL, Fla.—A proposed ordinance in this city would give homebuilders a break on city impact fees if they install fire sprinklers in new homes, saving lives and also saving money for taxpayers in the long run, according to the city councilor behind the proposal and the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA).

Similar laws offering incentives for the installation of home fire sprinklers have been enacted around the country by communities and even by the state of Washington, according to Buddy Dewar, VP of regional operations for NFSA. He told Security Systems News that in this down economy, such incentives are the best answer to the homebuilding industry, which has fought against laws requiring home fire sprinklers, saying they’re too costly.
 
“Passing a law saying, ‘You have no choice: Thou shalt put in a sprinkler system’ is not doable. It’s adding costs, which is reducing the profit margin of the homebuilder, and in this economy, where the sales price is incredibly low because of all the foreclosed properties that are out there, it’s just not a good way to proceed. Giving a financial incentive is a solution, and that’s the road we’re going down,” Dewar told SSN.

Because sprinklers suppress fires at an early stage, they save lives and also save taxpayers money by cutting municipal infrastructure and firefighting costs over time, he said.

Dewar has been pushing the incentive solution in places around the country such as Washington state, where he said a law enacted in the last legislative session waives the fire suppression portion of the impact fee if sprinklers are installed in a new home.

“In many cases that could closely offset, and may even more than offset, the cost of installing the sprinkler system,” Dewar said.

The average price nationally for installing a sprinkler system is $1.61 per square foot, but in some cases the cost is much lower, especially in places where freezing temperatures are not a factor, he said. “I’m seeing places around Scottsdale, Ariz., where they’re installing for under $1 per square foot,” Dewar told SSN.

Altamonte Springs, Fla., is another community that offers a reduction in impact fees when fire sprinklers are installed in new homes, Dewar said.

Cape Coral, a city of 150,000 on the Gulf Coast, will be considering such a measure in 2012, said Chris Chulakes-Leetz, the city councilor who proposed it. He told SSN that in January, a City Council committee will start drafting the ordinance language and then it will go the council for approval.

Chulakes-Leetz, a former paramedic/firefighter, said he had NFSA come to the city this fall to conduct a seminar for city officials about the need for fire sprinklers—which included a side-by-side burn demonstration of unsprinklered and sprinklered rooms—and plans to ask the organization to get involved again at the time of the vote.

He said home values in Cape Coral dropped dramatically in the recession and the city is struggling with reduced revenues. “How do we provide fire coverage without hiring additional firemen, building fire stations and adding capital equipment?” Chulakes-Leetz said. “Well, we support the people who want to put in these [fire sprinkler] systems by getting [city government fees] out of the way.”

Even though reducing impact fees for new homes with sprinklers would mean less in city fee revenues, the city would save much more on not having to add more firefighters and even by reducing water costs, he said. “A fire sprinkler system will suppress a fire with 20 gallons of water,” he said. “A fire department [fighting a fire] will go through 500 gallons of water routinely.”

Chulakes-Leetz said that after the NFSA seminar, a fire official from a nearby community who attended told him that “he’s going to work diligently to make it [a financial incentive for home sprinklers] a county effort instead of just a city effort because he realizes he can’t run his fire department under current revenues. He can’t expand or anything like that. The money’s not there and it’s not going to be for many years to come.”