Michael L. Ashenfelter, Safe Electricity Advisory Team
Safety & Health:
Residential Fire Sprinklers Save Lives
Smoke alarms only warn of fire — sprinklers put them out
Millions of Americans have installed smoke alarms in their homes in the past few years, but a smoke alarm can only alert the occupants to a fire in the house — it cannot contain or extinguish a fire. Residential sprinkler systems can.
Schools, office buildings, factories, and other commercial buildings have benefited from fire protection sprinkler systems for over a century.
The International Code Council (ICC) passed a building code requirement to include residential fire sprinklers in new homes during a code hearing in Minneapolis on Sept. 21, 2008.
The code requires that sprinkler systems be installed in all single- and two-family homes and townhomes starting Jan. 1, 2011. Code proposal RB64 was passed by the ICC and as a result the following phrase is included in the 2009 International Residential Code: “Effective Jan. 1, 2011, an approved automatic fire sprinkler system shall be installed in new one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses in accordance with NFPA 13D”.
This change will not be applicable to existing homes that add additions or remodel.
The ICC is a not-for-profit membership association that develops the codes used to construct residential and commercial buildings. States, cities and counties can adopt these codes to regulate how structures are built in their communities. The mission of the ICC is protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the communities that adopt and enforce their model codes by creating better building standards.
Earlier additions of the International Residential Code have an Appendix P, which gives local jurisdictions an option to require fire sprinklers by adopting this appendix if they so choose. But the ICC felt it was necessary to take the sprinkler requirement and insert it into the main body of code rather than just leaving it as an optional appendix?
The National Fire Protection Associations says that: U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 399,000 home structure fires in 2007. These fires caused 2,865 civilian fire deaths, 13,600 civilian fire injuries, $7.4 billion in direct damage and roughly 84 percent of all civilian fire deaths in 2007 resulted from home structure fires. On average, eight people die in U.S. home fires every day.
The ICC membership felt that even though statistically at least one smoke detector can be found in homes with telephones, these detectors did not afford the protection that sprinklers did because in 25 percent of the reported fires the alarms did not work. Another study revealed that during a period from 2000 to 2004, 34 percent of fire deaths occurred in one and two family dwellings with working smoke detectors.
The ICC is hopeful that the Jan. 1, 2011 effective date will give the housing market time to recover. It is estimated that installing a sprinkler system in compliance with the new code requirement and NFPA 13D standard could increase the average cost of a home by $1 to $1.61 per square foot.
On the cost-saving side, many insurance companies are offering 5-15 percent cuts in insurance premiums for the installation of qualified residential sprinkler systems. These are costs and benefits that many jurisdictions and homeowners will face when weighing the addition of this life saving installation to their code and their new homes.
Residential sprinklers, listed by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., are now available. They are designed to respond to a fire much faster than currently available standard commercial and industrial sprinkler systems. The new home sprinklers react automatically to fires more quickly because of their improved sensitivity.
For More Information:
Michael L. Ashenfelter is the Sangamon County Electrical/ Mechanical Inspector and a member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Team (www.safeelectricity.org), 217-747-5111. Sources: Data referenced from the NFPA, ICC and The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and www.firesafety.gov.
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