Sprinkler ordinance makes for strange bedfellows

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Monday, May 1, 2006

AVONDALE, Ariz.--Six months after being on opposing sides of a vote on mandatory residential sprinklers, the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona and sprinkler advocates here formed an alliance and created a new sprinkler ordinance that was adopted in March by the Avondale City Council.
The ordinance requires homebuilders to offer residential fire sprinklers as an option in any new home construction in this rapidly growing city of 60,000.
"We think we've got a good compromise. We'll see how it goes over the next year and if we have to tweak it, we can do that as well," said Paul Adams, Avondale fire chief. Adams worked with representatives from the HBACA to craft language acceptable to both parties.
Under the ordinance, new homebuyers must complete and submit a document to the fire department indicating they have received information about residential sprinklers, and whether they wish to have sprinklers installed in their new home. A building permit will not be issued until this document is submitted. In addition, all real estate agents must take an educational course on sprinklers.
Residential sprinklers are mandated in all model homes and in any home that exceeds 5,000 square feet.
Last September, HBACA spearheaded a successful effort to repeal an ordinance, adopted by the city council in the winter of 2005, that mandated the installation of sprinklers in new home construction.
The recently adopted ordinance is modeled after others around the country, with one difference: it has an educational component. "This component ties the execution of the [homebuyers'] form to an educational process. I'm not aware of any place in the valley or in the state that does this," Adams said.
"We don't want to make the process cumbersome for homeowners, but we want to do everything we can to make sure they make an informed choice."
Don Dews, owner of Dews Fire Protection of Scotsdale, agrees. He has experience working in communities where homebuilders have to notify homebuyers about the availability of sprinklers with poster displays. The posters often end up in a back room, he said. "I know what doesn't work: The displays don't work."
Dews, who grew up in the Avondale area and was active in the fall campaign to retain the mandatory sprinkler ordinance, thinks the compromise will increase public awareness about sprinklers.
"I know I install sprinklers for a living, but I'm very aware that the sprinklers work," Dews added.
Mike Durst, regional manager of the National Fire Sprinkler Association said anytime you can get the homebuilders and fire officials to sit down together, it's a good thing. In addition, "it's a great idea to educate the realtors," he said.
Adams said he and other sprinkler advocates learned from the September vote. "The voters said that they don't want sprinklers to be mandatory," he said. Likewise, homebuilders associations have always said they support sprinklers, he noted, they just don't want them to be mandatory. With this compromise, "we can hold them to that," Adams said.
Rachel Aja, spokeswoman for HBACA, did not return requests for comment before press time.
"We want to build a positive relationship with the homebuilders. They can make our lives miserable and we can do the same, but that doesn't benefit the homebuyer in any way," Adams observed.