Fire Prevention Advocates Disappointed in N.C.

An article in the Charlotte Observer from Tuesday explains the “North Carolina State Building Code Council (NCSBCC) declined to consider a request that sprinkler systems be required in large or multi-story family homes.”

As an outsider, two things came to me glaringly while reading the article:

Number 1 is the notion by the NCSBCC Chairman that it’s an unworthy notion to consider a sprinkler requirement in homes that exceed predetermined square footages or heights. In the commercial realm square footage, frontage, and height allowances are based (not solely) but in a big part, on whether a building is sprinklered or not. I agree that all homes should be sprinklered. Having said that it’s not an absurd notion to say that the bigger (or taller) the house the harder it would be to evacuate in case of a fire.

Number 2 is a statement made at the very end of the article. I am going to quote the article word for word because the statement is so crazy I’m can’t believe that N.C. Home Builders would make such a claim;

In a statement, the North Carolina Home Builders Association praised the council’s decision, saying it, ‘supports the development of an effective public fire-safety education program.’ The association argued current building requirements adequately provide for fire safety and that the costs of sprinkler systems exceed the potential property losses they might prevent.

The author of the article quotes the home builders as saying it [the NC Home Builders], “supports the development of an effective public fire-safety education program.” Then paraphrased, if you will, the builders association’s stance that current building codes are sufficient for fire safety AND (here’s the punchline), “the costs of the sprinkler systems exceed the potential property losses they might prevent.”

In my “I’m BAaaak” post a few days ago I begged the question whether or not it would be possible to spend even a Million dollars (the loss estimate of the house fire I referred to) on a sprinkler system over the life of a home. I say no way (under the current dollar value mind you). But, physical property will be the least concern in a catastrophic house fire.

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5 thoughts on “Fire Prevention Advocates Disappointed in N.C.

  1. Clearly, the NCHB was referring to total cost of all sprinklers (including the vast majority of ones that never get used) vs total cost of property saved by them.

    Yes, saving a life is the bigger benefit. But in single family homes, with fire prevention and detection systems, low floors, and plentiful windows, the likelihood of all occupants exiting the house on their own with an affirmative headcount is extremely high. In a tall, big, multi family building, firefighters can not know everyone is out, and must risk their lives to go in as a matter of protocol.

    Hence, the difference in philosophy of sprinkler requirements for single family homes (paid for by the homeowner) vs that for larger (for-profit) buildings.

    For a real boost to home fire safety, why don’t towns pass ordinances banning in-home smoking, wood burning fireplaces, gas cooktops, and indoor clothes dryers???

  2. Clearly, the NCHB was referring to total cost of all sprinklers (including the vast majority of ones that never get used) vs total cost of property saved by them.

    Yes, saving a life is the bigger benefit. But in single family homes, with fire prevention and detection systems, low floors, and plentiful windows, the likelihood of all occupants exiting the house on their own with an affirmative headcount is extremely high. In a tall, big, multi family building, firefighters can not know everyone is out, and must risk their lives to go in as a matter of protocol.

    Hence, the difference in philosophy of sprinkler requirements for single family homes (paid for by the homeowner) vs that for larger (for-profit) buildings.

    For a real boost to home fire safety, why don’t towns pass ordinances banning in-home smoking, wood burning fireplaces, gas cooktops, and indoor clothes dryers???

    Personally, I’m actually for sprinklers in new construction, so I would put them in my new home. But I would not necessarily advocate requiring other homeowners to do the same. And for existing homes, it’s prohibitively expensive, so towns should be careful they are not shooting themselves in the foot by imposing a five figure cost that inhibits normal real estate improvements compared to other towns that allow homeowners to improve and update their homes along more reasonable norms.

  3. The hope is that sprinkler systems would never have to be used. Does that make them worthless or burdensome? No.

    Home height allowances are much greater without proper egress access than “for profit” multi-family buildings. So your argument is a little flawed.

    If residential sprinkler requirements are passed (which they have been for the 2011 IBC) it would place no burden on existing homes just as mandated sprinkler requirements in previous codes for new commercial facilities have not required existing facilities to do the same.

  4. was just saying that I read the NCHB’s statement:

    “the costs of the sprinkler systems exceed the potential property losses they might prevent”

    …as saying: the cost of the systems exceeds the *expected value* of property losses (the value of the property multiplied by the probability of a fire). The probability of a fire is of course extremely low, which makes such systems unwise purely from a property value standpoint. But from a life safety standpoint, you can’t compute the value of a life.

    My biggest worry with these residential systems is that they are yet unproven over time. How do I know that those plugs are going to hold the water under pressure after 5, 10, 15 years? My house could get severe damage because these things are not yet tested over long periods of time.

    • I’m not entirely sure how you would multiply the “probability of a fire” by the cost of the system to come up with whether a system is worth it’s value. Especially since 13D systems aren’t necessarily designed to protect the property . . . they are most importantly designed to protect the occupants. I think maybe I’m missing something with your point.

      As far as the the actual devices, sprinkler heads, holding back water after 5, 10, 15 years. Not all products are alike. Some heads are better than others. I can’t promise that they won’t corrode and drip water. A lot of this issue depends on the quality of the water supply. I’ve seen heads corrode and start leaking I would be lying if I said I didn’t. However, we replace heads that have been installed 30 plus (in industrial applications mind you) years without any defects, they’ve just become loaded with residue and wouldn’t activate properly. More often than not, it is the steal piping that gives before the heads. I see this point of hesitation no different than how indoor plumbing reacts to the affects of wear and tear over time.

      Thanks for your comments. I hope to be posting regularly again soon! Call it my New Years Resolution if you will.

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