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« News report: Seeing the difference sprinklers can make | Main | NH State Code Review Board Votes to Adopt Home Fire Sprinkler Requirements »

12/15/2009

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This will add to the price of a new home and increase the maintenance requirements with very little benefit. Most home fires occur in older structures with outdated heating systems or because of poor maintenance or other factors. Are you now going to mandate retrofits?

Mr. Jezovnik:
The code requirement only involves new contruction and the average cost is $1.61 per square sprinklered foot, much less than homeowners already pay for upgrades such as granite counter tops and whirlpool baths. This is a very small price to pay for protecting your family and property from the devastation of fire.

Maintaining an NFPA 13D system requires no more effort than normal inspection and maintenance of other appliances in your home.

Today's new homes will become tomorrow's old homes. The code is intended to protect the housing stock for this and future generations.

I am a custom home builder in the Pocono region. The homes that I build are all served by private wells. Please do not use the "average cost" when answering my questions. Have you done an actual cost analysis for homes with wells that supply 2-4 gallons/min flow? I have briefly consulted with my plumber who has done some research and he is telling me the cost will be closer to $3/sf or $9,000.00 for a 3000 square foot home. That does not include the price of building/design change nessesary to hold the proposed 500 gallon holding tank in a heated area. This does not address the challenges in my region where frozen pipes occure quite often. More time/money will have to go into installation so that the sprinkler lines and heads are not on outside walls where they will freeze. Alot of the homes in the Poconos are second homes and are not kept at 68 degrees. These homes are kept at 50 degrees when not occupied thus posing a threat of frozen pipes when temps drop to well below zero. Locating the 500 gallon holding tank will also be a challenge. Where I build, basements are not an option. We are constantly fighting with bedrock. Why didn't we just improve the smoke detector systems instead. This sprinkler code requirement WILL increase the costs of construction significantly more than what they are stating in areas where there are low flow wells and no basements to hold the tanks. Averages don't work. How about ranges of pricing with real numbers? This is too much govenment control. How about letting the consumer chose if he wants a sprinkler system in his/her new home.

Mr. Petrillo:

I would like to address your comments, provide information, and clarify some points.

The Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment report available on this site contains the range of costs for multipurpose systems. The costs ranged from $0.38 a square sprinklered foot to $3.66. Reviewing the entire report will provide a better idea of cost impacts for a particular region. Incentives negotiated with authorities having jurisdiction decrease costs.

Private water supply
NFPA 13D systems run off the pressure of a domestic water supply. Homes with cisterns or wells supply part of the demand, and therefore, the duration demand of 7 or 10 minutes can be met by these sources.

According to residential pump and tank manufacturers, these systems can be set up to effectively address a fire protection application. Generally speaking, they are set up at the inception of the home building process and a larger pump is usually installed along with larger expansion tanks. Homes on private water most likely will need a pump to serve the domestic water supply. The cost associated with providing additional pressure to run the fire sprinkler system may simply be the difference between the regular pump the homeowner must install to obtain the necessary pressure for domestic use, and a higher flow pump, or a booster pump and tank.

The same residential pump and tank manufacturers tells us that the expansion tanks are sized to pick up the difference between the private water capacity and demand so they are not necessarily as large as you stated. You may need to consult a private water (well) contractor/installer, not a plumber, to obtain approximate costs. To meet the requirements of NFPA 13D, many installations have been done using this method, effectively and cost competitively.

According to NFPA 13D, where a pressure tank is used for the water supply those who meet the requirement of ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code are acceptable, provided the authority having jurisdiction considers the air or nitrogen supply reliable.

Stand alone tank systems are similar to the pressurized tank systems in that they can be set up to provide for the difference in supply as opposed to total demand. According to manufacturers, generally for little extra cost, total demand can be covered. They say that stagnation is easily addressed during testing, and that no problems have been identified. They advise that a separate pump is required but is also for relatively low cost and highly competitive. It has the benefit of not being used for anything but the fire demand, so the system is never compromised.

Stand-by power is not required by code, but many manufacturers build their systems with battery back-up as a standard feature. They posit that frequent maintenance is not required on these systems. It consists of periodic checks that are neither difficult nor time consuming.

NPFA has not conducted a study on the price of these configurations. However, some field research shows that it adds approximately $500-$900 to the total cost of the system. According to General Air Products, one of the manufacturers consulted with to address this technical issue, they “sell systems every day to meet the varying demands of the marketplace. Every situation is not the same but we have yet to find a scenario which cannot be addressed technically or cost effectively.”

Freezing
NFPA 13D standard prescribes design/installation solutions to prevent freezing. Multipurpose systems have no more freezing problems during winter than those associated with domestic water supply lines. Precautions followed by absent homeowners to protect their pipes in winter will mitigate this problem.

During cold temperatures, system piping needs to be adequately insulated to protect it from freezing.

Installation should follow the guidelines of the manufacturer. NFPA 13D recommends the following insulation arrangements:

•Insulation installed tight against joists without any spaces or voids
•For areas having temperatures of zero degrees farenheight or lower, an additional batt of insulation covering the joist and the fire sprinkler piping should be used
•Locating the fire sprinkler piping through boring holes in the joist and stuffing loose pieces of insulation in the bored holes around the piping

Care should be taken to avoid compressing the insulation and reducing its R value.

Other types of insulation, such as blown-in insulation, can be used to protect wet pipe systems. A combination of batt insulation over the sprinkler piping and blown-in insulation in adjacent areas is also another potential method of insulation.

Smoke alarms are not enough
Smoke alarms provide early warning, fire sprinklers control or extinguish the fire, providing occupants with more time for escape, or a survivable atmosphere for firefighters to operate if they have to rescue someone trapped by fire.

Home fire sprinklers are a proven way to protect lives and property against fires at home. These life‐safety systems respond quickly and effectively to the presence of a nearby fire. When sprinklers are present, they save lives. Sprinkler systems provide additional benefits, on top of the benefits already provided by smoke alarms.

•Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire by 50 percent.
•If you have a reported fire in your home, the risk of dying decreases by about 80 percent when sprinklers are present.

There is no way to achieve the kind of life-saving effectiveness provided by sprinklers through any other fire safety strategy.


The problem with choice
Home safety features have always been included in the codes. A homeowner is never given the choice to opt-out of any other safety feature. Why start with fire sprinklers?
Only the original buyer of a home under construction gets to make that choice. That choice is taken away from subsequent buyers. Retrofitting a home expensive and sometimes near impractical in a two story home without ruining aesthetics. When multipurpose sprinkler systems are installed in a home under construction they become part of the domestic water system and the cost is maintained at an affordable level. That's why the code only applied to new home construction.

The new homes of today will become the older homes of the future. NFPA is committed to "bringing safety home" for this and future generations.

Maria Figueroa
Regional Manager - NFPA
Fire Prevention Field Office


I am a design professional with 25 years experience, including designing residential systems. It's seems to me, that even a system with a pump and tank still only adds around 10% to the cost of the home and it WILL save the lives of everyone in the home in the event of a fire. There are plenty of reports to support the life-saving capabilities of a sprinkler system.

I would suggest a design professional be consulted in specific design elements. Plastic pipe can be installed in interior walls during new construction and a house maintained at 50ºF would not have any threat of freezing the sprinkler system. Sprinklers systems can also be easily retro-fitted into homes utilizing closets and the corners of rooms.

What price would you put on lives of loved ones or even irreplacable posession kept in the home like pictures of relatives or antiques?

Very informative. Thank you for the information, it's much apreciated! What are your views on using fire alarm systems in place of sprinkler systems?

I have a house with a sprinkler system, it is an unreliable expensive albatross. Heads regularly leak and anti freeze stains the floor and carpet. I keep the system drained, but have to keep it intact for resale. Had to remove all the heads and drain the risers to stop the leaking. Repairs are exptremely expensive, the local gov restricts the number of contractors to keep prices high. Its time to stop the madness on this.

Mr. Levin:
I am sorry to hear you are having such terrible problems with your system. Your experience is the exception and not the norm. NFPA 13D standard specifies home sprinkler systems design and installation that avoids the type of problem you describe. I hope that you will seek a properly certified home fire sprinkler contractor/fitter in your area to repair your home to meet the standard and avoid future problems. You may be able to find contractors in your area by visiting these two sites: afsa.org and nfsa.org

Thank you for all the info. I'm retired and my wife and I were looking too build a new "retirement home" here in western Pennsylvania. Now I'm convinced, our retirement home will not be in PA. This is absolutely ridiculous. With the new home market in the tank, this is sure to help the home builders - at least until January 2011.

Mr. Wood:
If you intend to build a new home for you and your wife to "age in place" I wish that you would reconsider you position. Older adults are at highest risk of dying in a home fire. Age related impairments (mobility, hearing) delay response and escape from fire. Older adults, like you and your wife, will need the additional escape time provided by home fire sprinklers. If you have a fire in your home your chances of survival are increased by 84% when sprinklers are present. If often costs more to pay for upgrades, such as; granite countertops, upgraded flooring, whirlpool baths, a lawn sprinkler, etc., than it does to install a home fire sprinkler. NFPA's report on fire and aging may be accessed here: http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/OS.SocFactors.pdf

I too am struggling to build a new home by 2011 so I can avoid this ridiculous new code. Something not mentioned here is the discount you will receive from your home owners insurance. I checked into it and received figures of 5 to 10%. That's all. I feel it should be a greater reduction and as a matter of opinion I think this is geared toward the insurance companies. You reduce the property damage significantly with a sprinkler system in the event of a fire but your monthly premium is barely effected. Good news for the insurance companies but bad news for you trying to somehow recoup the money for a expensive an unwanted system. My property is 325 feet away from the township firehall, but I have seen no exemptions for this.
Once again our govt. is forcing requirements and policies that the MAJORITY of voters and taxpayers don't want.

We are living in an age when the government thinks we want them to do everything for us. Sure, we'd all like to not burn up in a fire. By the same token, I would like to not have to support free healthcare for people who choose to smoke and drink and use drugs or not wear helmets when riding motorcycles. There has to be some freedom or choice or we might as well all move to Iran or China. At least there the government does not try to hide the fact that they want to run every aspect of our life.

So a ranch home with windows everywhere has to have a sprinkler system - why??? I can see apartment buildings but a 1-family ranch home. INSANE!!!!

I have a house with a sprinkler system, it is an unreliable expensive albatross. Heads regularly leak and anti freeze stains the floor and carpet. I keep the system drained, but have to keep it intact for resale. Had to remove all the heads and drain the risers to stop the leaking. Repairs are exptremely expensive, the local gov restricts the number of contractors to keep prices high. Its time to stop the madness on this.

Is this going to be a requirement in all of the new homes in Pennsylvania or just in certain parts of the state? What other states are requiring new homes to install sprinkler systems?

Ms. Coley:
The requirement will apply to all new homes in PA. Three other states have adopted the 2009 IRC with the home fire sprinkler requirement; CA, MD, SC (with delayed implementation until 2014)
Maria Figueroa

Why are home owners being required to meat NFPA standards, when many if not all fire departments in the state DO NOT! Perhaps when 100% of the fire departments in the state meet NFPA standards for manpower, equipment, training, etc. people would be more receptive to sprinklers. We can afford this!!!!!!

Im at a complete loss to understand why people think that fire safety is some kind of joke or unnecessary! There are a pletora of resources available that show the devastating effects of home fires in this country. Why is it that people seem to be gravitating toward the rhetoric that the HBA is providing? It doesn't take much research to show that their information is flawed at best, intentionally misleading at worst! You talk about being able to "afford" sprinklers? You seem to be able to "afford" upgraded carpetry or counter tops, bath and kitchen upgrades which cost more than 3 to 4 times the cost of a typical sprinkler system (in some cases 10 to 15 times more!)and yet NONE of these could save your life. Lets just repeal all of these pesky, expensive laws... we'll start with seat belts, drunk driving laws, smoking laws and car insurance requirements (most people who drive don't get into accidents so why should I be "forced" to pay for insurance I'll never use?) Then we can all sit around drinking ourselves silly, drive home without our seatbelts and when we get there, we can all light up, fall asleep and burn up in our homes!!

How sensitive are these sprinkler and fire suppression systems? And can they be easily fitted to all buildings including old ones? Surely this is legislation that should be aimed at all new builds?

All things considered, including current economic conditions, the residential fire sprinkler system should be an option, at least for single-family homes served by private wells. Houses served by pressurized public water systems would be less challenging to construct then the well pump and storage tank upgrades required for private-well serviced homes. The cost implications of this law will continue to bury a near-dead housing market in the short-term, especially for rural, vacation, and other private-well houses, but will also establish on-going maintenance costs that will continue to challenge the financial constraints of homeowners. This requirement should be an option - the homeowner should have the final say in whether or not sprinklers are desirable, and let the market dictate their value, again, at least for residences with private wells. The life-safety issues are obvious, but a code-compliant house built without sprinklers is still a very safe house. This would represent a good balance between onerous regulations and challenging short-term and long-term costs of home ownership in Pennsylvania.

I too believe this to be an invasion of the government on our private lives. I would like to know what legislation this was tied to. I have waited many years to build a new home and I do not want a sprinkler system in my home. If a problem arises in an adjacent unit, when there is a common wall as with so many new villas today will it set off my system? It speaks to the importance of this when we are the only state that has implemented this new law. It will probably just about put an end to new construction. I am now looking for an older home where I can upgrade and design to my liking with no sprinkler system. I agree with another person in that this is probably much to the insurance industry's liking, but with little benefit to the consumer. It seems it is too late for Pennsylvania and becoming much too expensive to live here as well. I can move a few miles and live in Ohio.
Julia Moore 12/08/2010

I was going to build a new home in PA but we were unable to get all the permits in time to beat the sprinklers. My builder is telling me that because we have a private well we will also need a pressure storage tank to hold the water and the total cost will be about $10k. No thanks. I guess we’ll have to stay and build in New Jersey. That’s also where all my income tax and spending will stay. Thanks for nothing Pennsylvania.

When NFPA 13D systems are incorporated into the well system of a home at the start of the home building process, these systems can be set up to effectively address this application.

Water sits in three areas in a well-fed system: water sits in the well above the pump, water refills into the well as it is used, and water sits in the holding tank in the home. NFPA 13D states that the refill rate can be counted on to help supply part of the demand, and therefore, the duration demand of 7 or 10 minutes can be met by the sum of these three sources. The refill rate can be determined by the person that drills the well.

Wells are set up at the inception of the home building process and a larger well pump is usually installed along with larger expansion tanks. Homes on well water most likely will need a pump to serve the domestic water supply. The cost associated with providing additional pressure to run the fire sprinkler system may simply be the difference between the regular pump the homeowner must install to obtain the necessary pressure for domestic use, and a higher flow pump, or a booster pump and tank.

The $10k price you received is highly inflated. I appears that your builder is attempting to profit handsomely from this feature in your new home.

I wish that you would reconsider and equip your new home, wherever it may be, with fire sprinklers. Fire sprinklers save lives!

The writer must be profiting from the sale of sprinklers. Let me tell you all I see is older homes on fire everyday on the news. what is this mandate going to do for those homeowners? Nothing. I would bet my firefighters pension that the new house I live in now is safer and and better built than that home built in the 1920's that just burned up killing two dogs and an elderly woman. Oh yeah the cause of death, SMOKE. Not fire. If the smoke alarm was installed perhaps the lady and her dogs would be alive today. The option should be for the homeowner. Landlords of multi unit dwellings should invest in sprinklers only to protect their tenants.

I assure you that, other than drawing a salary for performing my job at NFPA, I will, in no way, profit from the sale of sprinklers.
My passion for protecting lives from fire in the home comes from spending 25 years of my life, prior to being employed at NFPA as a career firefighter. I still remember my first fatal fire as if it was yesterday everytime I drive by the structure. I cannot forget a five year old boy who set a fire and hid behind a couch and who we could not find until it was too late. I am truly surprised that, if it is really true you are a brother firefighter, you feel the way you do.
Sprinklers will control or extinguish a fire very early on, reducing toxic gases and the killer smoke that is responsible for most fire deaths.
Smoke alarms do a good job providing early warning but do nothing to control or extinguish the fire like sprinklers; which provide the additional time that older adults, young children, and the disabled may need in order to get out alive. Sprinklers will keep the atmosphere tenable so that firefighters will be able to rescue those who have not been able to escape, and will also protect the lives of the firefighters.

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