Fire Sprinklers in Single Family, Two-Family Homes and Townhomes

The Legislature's Public Safety Committee once again in 2016 (7th time over the past fifteen or more years) entertained a mandate to install fire sprinklers in 1&2 family homes.  And, once again the HBRA defeated this highly expensive requirement.  In 2016, a couple of twists on the mandate were tried by proponents.  HB 5278 would require fire sprinklers in all new 2-family homes, while SB 238 would allow municipalities to vary our statewide uniform building code and adopt a local ordinance to require sprinklers in all new 1&2 family homes. 

The Public Safety Committee leadership, Rep. Steve Dargan (D) and Sen. Tim Larson (D), proposed substitute language on SB 238, to require sprinklers in all new 2-family homes.  They brought this revised bill forward for a vote, and even with their support, it was defeated on a 7-18 vote in committee (see vote tally here).  This strong vote against a sprinkler mandate - in the Public Safety Committee no less - should send a strong signal to proponents that CT's place - standing with 47 other states that have rejected the fire sprinkler mandate - is the correct choice for CT's citizens.

Home Builders would be happy to construct and install a fire sprinkler system in a new home if requested to do so by their customer. However, the HBRA of CT opposes a mandatory requirement (sought by fire officials, sprinkler manufacturers and sprinkler installers) that all new homes include a fire sprinkler system. We greatly respect and honor the service that fire fighters provide to protect our communities. But our opposition to a fire sprinkler mandate is about logic, reason and common sense.

Now, for the next State Building Code that will become final in 2018, the state Codes & Standards Committee is considering a proposal from sprinkler proponents to require fire sprinklers in all new townhomes.  Recognizing that common sense sometimes does succeed, the committee removed again the sprinkler mandate for 1&2 family homes, but Codes & Standards Committee in an attempt to give the fire sprinkler coalition "something" defaulted to requiring this new cost in townhome construction.  Townhomes can be built under the same building code (International Residential Code, or IRC, as amended by CT) as 1&2 family homes. 

The arguments against this costly townhome mandate are the same as those made against the 1&2 family mandate.  See our testimony before Codes & Standards on Jan 24, 2018.  See also supplemental testimony we provided to Codes & Standards on Feb. 7, 2018, offering a better solution to residential fire issues (albeit not a code solution).

Principally, the cost is vastly too great for almost no life safety protection.  Proponents cringe at this suggestion, but the fact is that the evidence does not support their claim that this requirement will save lives.  Except for cases of arson or suspicious fires still under investigation, we cannot find, and the proponents have not offered, any credible statistics that people have died from fires in new townhomes ("new" meaning units constructed in the past 20 or 30+ years).  The vast majority, if not all, fire deaths in 1&2 family and townhomes (again with the exception of arson or other suspicious causes) occur in much older construction that this mandate on new construction does not address

The public hearing comment period closed on Feb 16, 2018, after which the full Codes & Standards Committee will meet to consider all comments.  To highlight how "off the rails" the sprinkler coalition's passion for this mandate has made them, their representative at the final public hearing, in attempting to refute the HBRA's opposition to sprinklers, stated that home remodelers want fires to occur so we can get more remodeling work.  

A final proposed code will be sent to the legislature's Regulations Review Committee - the final step in approving any state agency regulation.  The 2015 I-Codes, as amended by a new CT Supplement, is tentatively scheduled to take effect July 1, 2018.  Stay tuned here as to what happens at the final Codes & Standards Committee meeting (scheduled for April 11, 2018) and later at the Regulations Review Committee.

Some history of the proposed mandate and our reasons for opposing a mandate are noted below:

Building Code History regarding sprinklers:  The CT Code Amendment Subcommittee (CAS) voted 11-2 on October 13, 2010, to exclude the mandatory fire sprinkler section from the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), which covers 1 & 2 family home construction.  For the saga on how the mandate got into the 2009 IRC model code in the first place, i.e., how the vote was rigged, see below.  The 2009 IRC, as amended, is the current building code in CT up until Oct. 1, 2016.  The CAS has also exempted the sprinkler mandate in the 2012 IRC, which is expected to be adopted in CT as of Oct. 1, 2016.  These votes are an important common sense victory for home builders and homeowners to keep fire sprinklers optional in new homes.  See the minutes of the 2010 CAS meeting.

The issues surrounding the debate have not changed.  Indeed, the decreasing fire deaths in homes over time and higher costs for sprinkler systems make our arguments against a mandate even more powerful.

For a 1 page summary of all the reasons to not support a mandate to install sprinklers, either by the building code or by legislation, see:

For a Point/Counterpoint that examines the sprinkler coalition's points for a sprinkler mandate and the HBRA's responses, see:

To examine the motivation of the three sets of advocates surrounding this issue (i.e., the fire community, sprinkler manufacturers and installers, and home builders and realtors), as well as the proper role of legislators, see:

And, additional documents supporting our opposition to a fire sprinkler mandate:

  • Fire Sprinkler Working Group: Part of the CAS vote on Oct. 13, 2010, included establishing a Working Group to study sprinkler mandate implementation issues. Developer and home builder, Bob Fusari, Sr., represented the HBRA of CT on this sprinkler-proponent dominated group (just see the report for the member list). On 10-20-2011, a final draft of the Working Group report was released (click here); see also a corrected section m (click here). Comments from Working Group members were requested by Oct. 29, 2011 (see HBRA of CT's comments on final draft report).

IRC HEARINGS ON FIRE SPRINKLERS a FAILURE, RIGGED by FIRE SPRINKLER PROPONENTS: In September 2008, Final Action was taken on Proposals for the 2009 I-Codes, the model building codes that CT adopts with amendments. There were many proposed changes of concern to the members of NAHB, most importantly proposals to mandate fire sprinklers in all one- & two-family homes and townhouses.  Learn here why the ICC process and vote was a sham.

NAHB's Appeal of ICC's Process of Adopting Mandatory Fire Sprinklers in 1&2 Family Homes
2009 IRC: Hijacking the Code Development Process to Create the Best Code Money Can Buy
Note: NAHB's Appeal was summarily denied in a 1 page statement by ICC's Board of Appeals

Fire code officials from across the country who are ICC voting members attended the ICC hearings where their votes decided the matter. To sway the vote against builders and homebuyers, sprinkler advocates recruited a large number of fire officials to attend, directing them to vote in favor of mandatory requirements regardless of any concern raised. In 2007’s concentrated effort, the sprinkler advocates were unable to meet the required two-thirds majority to overturn the committee’s action, but they achieved success in 2008 and a mandatory requirement to install fire sprinklers in all new homes, single-family included, is contained in the 2009 International Residential Code. The CT Codes & Standards Committee has twice removed the mandate from the IRC before adopting this "model" code in CT.  As of Jan, 2013 - 40 states have removed the mandate; only 2 (CA and MD) have approved it, and MD allows counties to remove it ... and many have.

While the ICC Hearings were a sham due to the sprinkler advocates (primarily sprinkler manufacturers who stand to make $3 billion on a nationwide mandate), the CT Codes & Standards Committee has the authority to adopt exemptions from the ICC Codes. We strongly urge them to continue to exempt out the mandatory sprinkler requirement.

In addition to the links above, the following documents provide more detailed information:

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