Vote to require sprinklers in homes is an initiative 15 years in the making

Monday, August 1, 2005

QUINCY, Mass.--Members of the National Fire Protection Association voted to adopt the 2006 edition of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code in June at the organization's annual conference in Las Vegas--the first model code in the country to require automatic sprinkler detection in new one- and two-family homes.
The sprinkler provision was added to the code due to a rising number of recorded residential fire fatalities and the current cost-effectiveness of residential sprinklers.
"I think the number of fire fatalities in residential occupancies is unacceptable and it has been unacceptable for some time," said Ken Isman, assistant vice president of engineering at the National Fire Sprinkler Association.
The vote serves as a recommendation to the NFPA's Standards Council--the governing body that will ultimately issue the code. The council will consider the 2006 edition of the Life Safety Code at its meeting at the end of July, after press time for Security Systems News.
The members' acceptance of the addition to the code was a process nearly 15 years in the making, according to Robert Solomon, assistant vice president for building and life safety codes for the NFPA.
In the past, the measure received the majority vote when voted upon, but not the two-thirds majority the association requires any code changes to have.
"The whole idea of putting sprinklers in residential occupancies has been gaining support steadily," Isman said. "It had to reach critical mass for a large majority of people within the fire protection industry to feel it was the right time to get it passed."
Solomon attributed the acceptance partly to the fact that the cost of residential sprinkler systems has decreased over time.
"When we started this process 15 years ago, the cost was higher," Solomon said. "Today, it is $1 to $1.50 per square foot instead of $4 per square foot. This is a technology that has actually evolved for 25 years."
Isman agreed, stating that the number of companies installing the systems has grown, which also brings costs down.
According to Isman, there is a large amount of business opportunities for installers of residential fire sprinklers.
"Nationwide there are approximately two million new homes built each year," Isman said. "There is a huge potential market out there."
Solomon said the time to pass the addition may stem from the fact that residential sprinklers may not seem as much of a necessity since fires in commercial properties, such as high-rise buildings and public places, tend to garner more attention.
"A fire in a high-rise is pretty exciting footage for the news," he said. "Even though those fires occur less frequently, when they do they are large events and more severe. A single-family dwelling fire is a daily occurrence, but there are not always fatalities and if there are, it is usually only one or two people."