Des Plaines wants to amend sprinkler law

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Monday, March 1, 2004

DES PLAINES, Ill. - Aldermen in this Chicago suburb are considering a law that would require automatic sprinklers in all new houses and duplexes.

Des Plaines currently requires sprinklers for all buildings over 50,000 square feet and when there is substantial renovation. Sprinklers are also required for newly constructed buildings that are at least 10,000 square feet, four stories or 55 feet tall.

However, both new and existing homes are exempted from the regulation because they fail to reach the threshold of requirement. Fire Chief Tom Farinella would like to see that changed.

According to Farinella, many of the homes that have been lost to fire might have been saved by a sprinkler system. He also said fires in the home account for 80 percent of the fire deaths in the United States.

Farinella said that a number of surrounding towns have passed similar laws recently. He said his department will speak with those other towns to determine how the laws have worked.

For the most part, Farinella said, opposition to the laws in other towns has come mainly from developers and advocates for affordable housing, who have said the requirements drive up the price of homes. But Farinella said technology has brought those costs down considerably in recent years.

For example, he said, sprinkler systems cost $2 to $3 per square foot, bringing the total cost for a 3,000-square-foot home to between $6,000 and $9,000.

Des Plaines’ building code committee is also looking into ways to require sprinklers in public gathering places, such as auditoriums and theaters, that at present meet the threshold for requirement. The committee is studying the potential law and has not set a date for discussion.