Pennsylvania builders unhappy with state-imposed sprinkler mandate

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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.