Builders Vs. Firefighters in National Battle Over Sprinklers

A fierce battle is brewing over new requirements for sprinklers in homes. Firefighters say the sprinklers are needed, but builders say the Sprinkler Code Coalition is having undue influence on code development.

"According to the National Fire Protection Agency, an international nonprofit established in 1896, the fatality rate in homes with sprinklers is 80 percent lower than homes without sprinklers. The National Association of Home Builders counters that the survival rate for homes with operating smoke detectors is nearly 99.5 percent, and thus the added protection addresses a tiny proportion of fire-related deaths. The National Fire Protection Agency endorses the use of sprinklers in homes.

The home builders' association estimates the cost to install a sprinkler system in a roughly 2,200-square-foot home at $5,573. When factoring in financing costs, brokerage commissions, and other related costs, the builders estimate costs of nearly $6,700 per home - and up to $10,000 per home in rural areas, Toalson said."

Full Story: Builders Fight Proposed Home Sprinkler Requirement



Mandatory sprinklers in homes


A couple of points;

Smoke alarms, if fitted and working are near 100% effective in saving lives in Australia.

In many areas e.g. parts of Adelaide, South Australia, there is insufficient water pressure to sustain effective spray. The problem is decayed infrastructure, the old pipes cannot tolerate higher pressures. Similar problems exist elsewhere - insufficient pressure for whatever reason.

Sprinklers can do more damage than a small fire. If the sprinklers are triggered, resulting inundation can do way more damage than if the fire was contained - many fires are stopped before they take a major hold. Sure, I know it's about lives, but peoples lives are closely linked to property, so we try to avoid needless property damage.

Sprinklers typically react to a heat level of around 50C at ceiling level. By the time you get that temperature at ceiling level, the fire may be seriously out of control. Smoke detection is way more sensitive and a much earlier alarm trigger.

The cost of sprinklers can be huge. It can start with a new feed from the mains because the existing feed does not have the capacity to carry a full sprinkler-on event. Then you have to rig the house it self - my guess it would near double the plumbing cost. Then add the electronic controls. Then there is the local government oversight and monitoring - it just gets right out of hand.

Perhaps sprinkler systems can be offered as "intelligent systems" that detect the locality of a fire and then apply water to only that part of the home that it registers as burning. Maybe that is a way of dealing with some of the externalities, but again it adds to the cost. This is a problem because affordability is such an issue, and we seem to keep tightening the screws on new things for our "protection". Fair enough, but they still keep upward pressure on costs.

Sprinklers may have some advantages, but they also come with some pretty hefty social and economic penalties too.

What to do? Personally my option would be to:

New homes, compulsory hard wired (no batteries) smoke detectors in appropriate areas to provide adequate early warning of fire.

Existing homes, install battery powered detectors right now. These can cost less than $15 each, and batteries last a year or so. Installation to be compulsory within two years.
Hard-wired alarms to be installed on a "where-feasible" basis (I know, that's a can of worms) with government help. That help can be from a number of aspects but the aim is to help everyone get the best on-going protection at the lowest cost.

That's my take on the issue. I don't think sprinklers are a good bang-for-the-buck, there are better ways to save lives and property.

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