NFPA members give home sprinklers the nod

The member-based proposal heads to NFPA's board for a vote in July
Monday, July 1, 2002

MINNEAPOLIS-The sprinkler industry took a potential giant leap forward, industry experts said, when members of the National Fire Protection Association voted to require the presence of sprinkler systems in new residential construction as part of NFPA's proposed Building Code.

NFPA members voted to include the provision, which would mandate sprinkler systems in all new residential single and two-family dwellings in the NFPA 5000 Building Code, which is the association's first proposed national building code. The code was approved in May at the NFPA's annual World Safety Conference & Exposition, which serves as the group's annual meeting.

"This is a huge statement with regard to the recognition of sprinklers as a future solution to America's fire problem by a respected fire organization," said Wayne Gey, chief executive officer of Wayne Automatic Fire Sprinklers in Orlando, Fla., and a vice president with the National Fire Sprinkler Association. "There is a lot of excitement in our industry over NFPA's decision to include it."

Although NFPA members gave their blessing to the Building Code with residential sprinklers, NFPA officials warn that the code has other hurdles, designed as technical safeguards, ahead of it yet.

"This isn't a done deal yet," said Gary Keith, vice president of the building code.

All votes taken by the membership must pass under the gavel of the NFPA Standards Council, which will approve the Building Code, and the sprinkler clause, at their meeting in July before it becomes official code. In this particular case, the sprinkler clause must also pass before another technical committee, who originally turned down the inclusion of residential sprinklers, only to have the issue resurrected on the meeting floor by NFPA members, Keith said.

"An action by members on the floor to reverse the committee action is just one step," he said. "We can't say at this point what the final outcome will be."

If the code, in its entirety, is approved at by the Standards Council in July, the Building Code will be available for adoption immediately, said Julie Reynolds, assistant vice president, corporate communications for NFPA. States or other municipalities will be able to endorse all or portions of the code as they see fit.

While the passage of the NFPA 5000 could prove a boon for sprinkler companies, the effects of the code could vary widely, with states and cities using their own discretion as which portions of the code to adopt.

"We could see very little impact for us," Gey said. "There maybe some states that initially will adopt the NFPA code without the single family initiative."

The uncertainty, however, of the effect the sprinkler clause will have on the industry, doesn't detract from the significance of the NFPA member's intent.

"It won't be too many years in the future that anyone who goes to buy a new home will at least be offered the (sprinkler) option, if not have it mandated, at the time they sign the agreement," Gey said. "It's the only remaining part of construction that sprinklers aren't currently required."

The cost of a sprinkler system installed during construction in a new home is between $1 and $1.25 per foot, about the same as carpet, he said.