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November 1, 2009

Sprinkler-system requirement survives challenge

Should sprinkler systems be installed in every new single-family house? Fire safety advocates think so. Home builders aren't nearly as enthusiastic, noting the cost.

It's a national argument that last week came to Baltimore, during hearings held by the International Code Council. The ICC -- the organization that writes the building-safety rules adopted by states, counties and cities across the country -- entertained a proposal by the National Association of Home Builders that sprinklers be a "mandatory option" rather than a mandatory non-option. (A mandatory option might sound like an impossibility, but it would mean a feature that builders have to offer as an add-on, leaving the choice to buyers.)

Under the ICC's current code, sprinkler systems will be required in newly constructed single-family homes by 2011. The home builders are trying to get that changed, but sprinkler proponents outvoted sprinkler opponents. (Though it's not a done deal until the ICC's conference in May, it was a key vote.)

Sprinklers are already mandatory in all new townhouses in Maryland. Would you want sprinkler systems installed in all new single-family houses? What do you think of them, if you've had up-close and personal experience with them?

Given a choice, would you pay extra to have them in your home?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: New developments


My new townhouse has a sprinkler system just like all the others nearby. I'm glad it's there since I can't help it if my neighbors set their townhouses on fire. Fortunately I don't think the neighbors play World of Warcraft and therefore probably won't let things catch on fire in the oven because they were too busy raiding at the time (real college story)...but I digress.

For single family homes I can see the point of sprinklers if the houses are close together. Some builders put them right on top of each other it seems like. I think there needs to be a set distance between houses to serve as a determination for who needs sprinklers and who can have them as an option.

Good question. Do they work? We've obviously had smoke alarms in our house for decades and frankly they've been a real pain... always go off when cooking. If sprinklers malfunctions in any similar manner, presumably you'd also have water damage to furniture, flooring, carpets, etc.

lisa, how far is your home from the nearest fire house? how long would it take them to get to you in "the event"?

having sprinklers is the based in much of the same logic as the NRA uses when suggesting gun ownership by all.

it's a brave new world out there and public services aren't going to be what they once were.

ps: be sure your home owners insurance covers you for all the surface replacement needed from water damage; and for S&G's... see how they plan to handle multiple incidents.

MrRational, I think your analogy with guns is a little off; wouldn't it be better to compare fire extinguishers and guns? Both have to be controlled by a person who can logically assess the situation and hopefully determine what course of action is needed. Guns don't go off automatically when someone enters the house, but sprinklers will automatically turn themselves on. Admittedly, I don't know what circumstances start them - is it smoke, actual flame, etc.? I would need to do more research before I could say that I would or would not want to have them in my home, but I'm always concerned that more "stuff" increases cost and can lead to more problems (i.e., more pipes to burst).

P.S. If the fire extinguishers are as sensitive as the *&)#*&%*(#& smoke alarm in my kitchen, I am NOT getting them! We will end up drowning! Really, my cooking isn't THAT bad! :)

Mar, I think I get your point but whether sprinkler or extinguisher my point was about self sufficiency and self reliance (even in cloistered and coddled HoCo).

FYI: The detectors operate off heat (fire). You may safely continue to use your smoke detector to determine proper doneness (if not actual GBDness)

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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