Residential Sprinkler Debate Rages

UPDATE; Turns out that “CEPro” has removed the article from their website. I thought maybe they just moved the link. Nope. Gone! A search on their website for “Julie Jacobson” revealed nothing written from her since April 25, 2007. I’m going to keep my post in the books, but there are no links anymore as there is nothing to link to. I’ll leave the link to CEPro.com because I think it’s my obligation as a competent blogger but I don’t suggest you click on it.

This is going to be a lengthy post. I try to stay away from posts this long but I think this article needs to be evaluated and scrutinized. You can click to the article if you want but I’ve pretty much broken it down here for you. My responses are in bold. [CEpro.com] article written by Julie Jacobson.

The IRC is a product of the International Code Council, an association that develops building-safety standards. According the ICC’s Web site, “Most U.S. cities, counties and states that adopt codes choose the International Codes developed by the International Code Council.”

We start labeling the “most widely adopted code” a “product” rather than a code (essentially law) and standard for sound building practices we’re in huge trouble. The word product conjures up too many visions of big business and self interest rather than 100’s of years of trial and error, research and development.

Thank goodness for the NAHB and other opponents who fought the proposal. The last thing we need is a bunch of code-happy bureaucrats, no doubt driven by the sprinkler vendors in the National Fire Protection Association, to make us spend an extra $10k-$15k, even in the most affordable of houses. (There goes the home theater budget!)

There are so many things wrong with this paragraph I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with, “the NAHB and other opponents.” This isn’t the only time the author mentions “the NAHB and other opponents.” Give me some other names and organizations. Let’s face it the NAHB is THE residential sprinkler opponent. There might be others but the NAHB holds the money.

Second, where is she coming up with her values for sprinkler systems? “10k-15k(?), even in the most affordable houses.” From all estimates I’ve seen “10k” (on the high side at a buck fifty a square foot) would buy you a sprinkler system in a house over six and a half thousand square feet. A house that size couldn’t be considered in the category of “the most affordable housing” could it?

Finally, the “home theater budget” comment really torques me the wrong way. How can you argue affordable housing and throw that in there? Especially, before you quote the president and CEO of Habitat for humanity.

One more thing; I don’t think the author should start to tangle with the NFPA. Fire sprinklers are a fraction of what is under their charge. I’m just saying.

‘By raising the cost of the home and setting forth another barrier in the way of those in the greatest need to afford a home, this requirement would harm our mission of increasing the capacity to building simple, decent homes in Michigan,” said Habitat for Humanity of Michigan president and CEO Kenneth W. Bensen in a letter to code officials.

I’m not sure how to respond to this one. You all know about the “home theater” comment, now the author wants to bring Habitat for Humanity in here? What’s up with that? Those seeking affordable housing don’t have the luxury of “home theater systems.”

Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t “Habitat” get much of the building materials and labor donated? Why would it be any different for fire sprinklers? Here’s an article that describes how fire sprinklers were donated in “Habitat” housing and did their job. [Town of Chapel Hill]

Nation’s Building News, published by the NAHB, reports that the home building industry is continuing to emphasize the effectiveness of safety measures being incorporated into today’s homes and the importance of working smoke alarms and fire safety education to prevent fires.

By safety measures do they mean the use of cheaper materials like composite wood joists that weaken much more quickly under fire conditions and present safety hazards to fire fighters entering a Structure? I rumaged through some of my favorite articles and found this one on the dangers that composite wood construction is presenting to fire fighters [IAFC.org]

In California, “more than 95% of fire fatalities were in homes built 20 years ago. That’s a tragedy,” said Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, during final hearings in Rochester, N.Y. last week. “But the fact is, the code changes we have made over the past 20 years are working,” making homes safer than ever, he said.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know that much about specific fire statistics. But new homes are burning and creating different hazards when they do. I posted a while back regarding research funded by UL and the Fire Protection Research Foundation that identifies some of those new hazards. They found that the newer/”safer” products are more toxic when they burn. But the kicker of the whole article for me is that we have much less time to escape a fire than we did 20 years ago.

Having installed fire sprinklers in a 17-home development, Don Pratt, a Michigan builder and code official, said that “fire suppression systems are not ready to be installed in single-family dwellings” because of the lack of appropriate technology. “I plead with you; we need more time to figure out the best system.”

First, I didn’t know it’s even possible to be a builder AND a code official. Seems like a conflict of interest to me. Would anyone who knows more on this please explain in the comments box. It would be much appreciated.

Second, “lack of the appropriate technology?” Granted sprinkler systems are being made better every day. But to this point they have proven themselves useful and effective with the current technology.

Finally, it sounds like Mr. Pratt had a bad experience with the sprinkler systems that were installed in his 17 home development. That’s usually a reflection of the installer not the technology.

My question goes to Derek Flickinger, our friend and CE Pro contributor who recently lost his house to a fire (no one was injured). Would you install fire sprinklers now? I doubt it. Think of all those Media Center PCs you could buy with that money.

I’m sure the insurance company would love to hear that.

I realize the flow of this post is kind of weird. It’s just the way the quotes are set up on this template. I guess wordpress assumes that you will always “set up” a quote rather than comment on the contents of a quote.

My comments box, as always, is open.

Mis-information

This article describes how, “smoke from a washer activated a sprinkler.” The sprinkler may have gone off but I will put my blog on the fact that it was not caused by “smoke.” Smoke will never, ever, cause a sprinkler to activate. Sprinklers are heat activated. So if you’re worried about putting sprinklers in your home or office because you don’t want them going off the next time you cook bacon, rest assured it won’t happen. Unless the smoke is a result of a grease fire. [signonsandiego.com]

Three Myths About Fire Sprinklers

There are several myths that surround fire sprinklers. I’m going to start with three. I’ll post more on the subject as time goes on.

1. All sprinklers in a building go off at once – False. Sprinklers are individually activated according to their temperature rating. When the heat from fire in a room near a sprinkler reaches a predetermined temperature the sprinkler will activate and spray water. Only sprinklers that are near a fire will activate.

2. Sprinklers are known for activating for no reason – False. While I can’t say there have never been accidental activations they’re the exception rather than the rule. I’ve read about sprinklers activating as a result of placing unexpected heat sources too close to them. Others have accidentally gone off for other reasons. Usually human error is involved somehow such as bumping them or hanging objects from them. For the most part, sprinklers are very reliable and accidental activation can almost always be blamed on human error.

3. Sprinklers spray huge amounts of water and cause severe water damage – False. Sprinklers discharge a fraction of the amount of water a fire department would use in a typical fire. A typical sprinkler will discharge 15 to 25 gallons per minute depending on the coverage area. Just one hose line from the fire department will discharge 250 gallons per minute.

Look for more myths in the future. If you have any questions or comments drop a note in the comments.

UPDATE: Here’s an example of an accidental activation. [theledger.com]