Pennsylvania builders unhappy with state-imposed sprinkler mandate

While many Pennsylvanians celebrated the arrival of 2011 on New Year’s Eve, home builders in the state likely did not blow their bugles and pop their poppers with quite as much exuberance. That is because this year marks the beginning of a new government mandate in Pennsylvania requiring that all new one- and two-family homes have an automatic fire sprinkler system — a feature that costs thousands of dollars.

Home builders say they have no problem installing sprinklers, but that the decision should be left up to the consumer, and with the economy struggling and business down, the added cost will be exceptionally burdensome.

“It is a private property issue, it should be the consumer’s choice, not a government mandate,” Pennsylvania Builders Association spokeswoman, Melissa Etshied, told The Daily Caller

Advocates for the mandate argue it is a safety issue.

“It will make everybody safer,” Bill Gault, president of Local 22, the Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union, told TheDC. Gault added that even though home builders fear the increased cost, sprinklers could help lower the cost of home insurance. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that decrease could be up to 10 percent.

The Fire Administration reports that in 2009 there were 377,000 residential fires, 2,590 civilian fire deaths, 13,050 civilian fire injuries, and $7.8 billion in property damage. The agency argues that sprinkler systems could have alleviated the damages.

“The installation of residential fire sprinkler systems could have saved thousands of lives; prevented a large portion of those injuries; and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses,” the agency website reads.

Yet, the Pennsylvania GOP House Policy Committee notes that data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System shows that there is a 99.7 percent chance occupants will survive a fire with an operating smoke alarm.

Economic concerns also nag at consumers facing the cost increase. Etshied told The Daily Caller that home construction represents a large facet of the area’s economic recovery.

“So many people are impacted when a home is built, contractors, and everyone else involved,” she said. “It is very good for the economy when homes are being built, and right now they are not and this is only going to make it worse because people are now looking at building new homes, and people are saying wow – whether it is $6,000 or $10,000 more – people are saying they just can’t do it.”

Pennsylvania is the second state after California to impose a statewide sprinkler mandate.

  • Americanfire

    Installation of Fire Sprinkler System is a costly affair. It is correct statement of home builders that it is up to consumer to get their house constructed with installed fire sprinkler system. But the installation is something bringing safety to house owner, his/her family and valuable assets in case of any misfortune. Hence, customers should understand that one time huge investment is a long time safety for his valuables. As per the Fire Administration reports there was huge loss of both lives and property in 2009. The incidence would have definitely touched people heart. We should not ignore the installation of latest designed fire sprinkler system. Please get ensured that the installment is done from best fire sprinkler contractor in the city.

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  • MaddieT

    I’ve been lookin gfor a house recently nd I have looked many tiems before, and I have never seen the extra added attraction o fa sprinkler systr. I do know with the water rights now belonging to the UN I can see a huge tax attached to any use of water, you will pay everytime you use and ice machine, a shower and I would think a sprinkler system. You would prob alby pay a tax just on having one. They are leaving no stone unturned.

  • Larry Culmer

    If this is such great legislation, why is PA only the second state to have it? Additionally, of the 377,000 fires reported in the article, if sprinklers had been in those homes, how many homes that were less than 10 years old, less than 5 years old, and less than two years old would have been saved. Probably next to NONE because almost all home fires occur in older homes.

    • barnone

      My thoughts too. I would also like to know in the case of the deaths, how many didn’t have smoke detectors, the income of the occupants and the cost of the home.

      Those in poverty have to “make due”. They cannot afford good detectors or replace the batteries reliably. They cannot afford proper maintenance on furnaces or even use approved indoor furnaces. I have seen more than one fire because they used the oven for heat.

      I am not saying that new expensive homes with wealthy occupants do not catch fire, but I would be interested in the differences in survival rates.

  • JohnGalt2

    WORSE YET,the requirement misses the REAL issue in fire, and tosses ‘high tech’ at the problem.
    1. Sprinklers are MECHANICAL, and must be connected, and operating to even work. They can go off in error and cause massive water damage, freeze in cold weather and fail to operate because they have been turned off or never turned on!
    25% of all SMOKE ALARMS are NOT working when a fire occurs, and those are simple systems that people can even check themselves. How do you check a sprinkler? [In commercial buildings annual expensive checks are required by outside firms.]

    2. Simpler, much less expensive PASSIVE methods are available to reduce fire risk by applying permanent non-toxic fire retardants to the structure [see http://CRESTLINEPROTECT.COM ] Treating all the wood in a home will cost less than $1500 and NEVER needs retreatment or maintenance!

    Unions, do gooders and the Sprinkler industry are pushing this, and it is a terrible waste!


  • bassboat

    So what is the next government intrusion into our private lives, a mandate to buy batteries for the sprinkler systems? The lawmakers (meddlers) should be exposed and voted out of office. If people want sprinklers let them decide.

  • Jasmine Clark

    this could be a path to more and more regulations of homes. and they’ll all cost money of course, this is such a bad idea… this will not help the economy.

  • didacticrogue

    Yet another reason to not live in Pennsylvania.

    This sounds like the typical exercise in nanny-state mentality, fraught with unintended consequences.

  • jiminga

    Some counties near me have required residential sprinkler systems and it has been a disaster. Most of the “systems” have been installed by plumbers using PVC pipe (that’s right…..flammable plastic) and not copper. Huge numbers of systems have leaks because nobody wants to shoulder the cost of commercial sprinkler heads. Of course the leaks damage ceilings, etc. So the solution has become: install the system, get the inspector sign-off, and turn off the system.

    “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

    • FF65

      I doubt they have been a “disaster” as it would be all over the news. And of course they are installed with CPVC (not PVC) and it doesn’t matter that they are not copper or steel…if the fire was large enough and hot enough to melt the pipes…you have a bigger problem than plastic pipes.
      “Huge number of systems have leaks”? Where? Who? How about some data! How about some links to stories or FD records!?
      There are NO commercial fire sprinklers in ANY home ANYWHERE.
      I recommend making sure a “fire sprinkler contractor” install a fire sprinkler system, NOT a plumber. Do you ask your car mechanic to install wiring in your home? No.
      Do your research and keep the fire sprinkler system on.

      • jiminga

        Thanks for the advice. I’ll be sure to check with you before I post facts to see if your opinions match.

  • goldbeachbiker

    Re: “It will make everybody safer,” Bill Gault, president of Local 22, the Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union, told TheDC. Gault added that even though home builders fear the increased cost, sprinklers could help lower the cost of home insurance….”

    Hmmmmm let’s see, the average home owner insurance reduction for fire protection might be about $50. For a $3,000 expense, that would take about 60 years to recover your money. sounds like a great idea ……..

    • FF65

      A $300,000 home without fire sprinklers costs $300,000. A $300,000 home WITH fire sprinklers will also cost $300,000.

      How come after 100 years of experience with Codes and other home trade-ups all of a sudden Builders have lost the ability to negotiate?

      How come homebuilders in other parts of the US have been working with fire sprinkler contractors successfully FOR 30 YEARS and have NO issues with increased home costs yet Builders in PA seem to be unable to handle this process?