Sprinkler requirements in homes hot issue
CONCORD, N.H. and HELENA, Mont.—Legislation prohibiting municipalities in New Hampshire from requiring fire sprinkler systems in homes has passed the Legislature and is headed to the governor’s desk.
Gov. John Lynch has not yet signed the legislation, which is opposed by fire officials, and may veto it, according to news reports.
The governor’s spokesman, Colin Manning, told Security Systems News today that the legislation has not yet come to Lynch’s desk and the governor is continuing to speak with fire chiefs about it.
The president of the National Fire Protection Association, Jim Shannon, has sent a letter to the governor asking him to veto the legislation, Tim Travers, NFPA regional fire sprinkler specialist, New England region, told SSN.
The governor of Montana recently vetoed a similar bill in that state, winning him praise from the regional director of the NFPA’s Fire Prevention Field Office, Maria Figueroa.
“The Montana governor saw it was the right thing to do to overturn that particular law,” Figueroa told SSN this week.
She said what the Montana Legislature did in passing the law, which would have prohibited state building codes from requiring sprinklers in one- and two-family homes, “was outlaw a minimum standard of life safety for new homes.”
Figueroa said that all model fire and life safety codes—not just from the NFPA but also from the International Code Council—now require fire sprinklers in new home construction, but that’s sparking opposition from homebuilders.
“So what’s happened, now that it’s in the model code, the builders, the special interest groups, have gone to the legislatures and they carry a lot of political weight so they get legislatures to outlaw the minimum standard from the code so it prevents anyone in the state from promulgating that particular code,” Figueroa said. “That’s what happened in Montana and that’s what is happening in a few other states.”
Builders complain that a sprinkler requirement makes homes more expensive and difficult to sell but Figueroa called that “a pretext.”
“We’ve done research studies that indicate that the fire sprinkler requirement has no bearing on housing supply or cost,” she said.
Travers told SSN the cost of fire sprinklers—which he said averages $1.61 per square foot nationwide—is on par with other amenities such as granite counter tops and hardwood floors that builders include in new homes.
In the Montana case, Gov. Brian Schweitzer told legislators in an April letter that he was vetoing the bill because it didn’t include amendments he had sought allowing local jurisdictions to mandate sprinklers in residences if they deemed them necessary.
Figueroa wrote an article praising Schweitzer on the NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative web page this month. “Although the goal should be for statewide mandatory requirements in the building code,” she wrote, “Gov. Schweitzer is to be commended for his commonsense approach to achieve a workable compromise.”
She noted to SSN that modern homes are designed to last 50 to 100 years. “So the decisions that we make today [about sprinklers] will impact a couple generations to come,” Figueroa said.
Travers said the NFPA opposes the New Hampshire legislation banning local communities from adopting sprinkler ordinance because many residences in the state are particularly vulnerable to fire because they are in areas with limited water supply and/or are served by volunteer, on-call firefighters. Also, he said, if the legislation passes, “I think this will create bigger issues in the state, if the state government starts deciding what cities and towns can do on their own.”