Hitting the Nail on the Head—Addressing Costs Associated with Residential Fire Sprinklers

As advocates, we have a long list of reasons why all new homes should come equipped with fire sprinklers: 

–life safety of residents, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children and disabled persons

–fire fighter safety

–protection of the environment by reducing the amount of pollution generated by fires

–savings on community insurance rates prompted by inclusion of fire sprinkler requirements in local building codes

–and even safety for pets, who are unlikely able to escape a fire when the homeowner is away despite a blaring fire alarm

But at the many city council and state building code council hearings that I’ve attended, the home building industry consistently stays on message with one issue: cost. This refrain has more resonance these days with Northwest policy-makers, who are grappling with increasing homeless populations. Although many experts point out that the root cause of homelessness lies in the twin curses of addiction and mental illness, it is hard to ignore the affordability aspect. And we must listen to these concerns.

That’s why I find the work being done by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) on addressing cost issues so exciting. Peg Paul and her colleagues are helping local building and fire officials take a different approach to improve community risk reduction. The HFSC scoured the building codes to find incentives (what we used to call “trade-ups”) that in many cases, make fire sprinkler installation cost-neutral or even cost-positive. The idea is to educate developers and local building and fire officials so that these options can be fully explored.

Washingtonians viewing some of the education materials for this initiative will see a familiar face—Randy Miller, fire marshal from Camas. Randy has worked with developers for years to understand and implement fire sprinkler incentives, and the information learned in Camas was instrumental in developing the HFSC education campaign.

The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition is focusing its efforts on a community in Washington state—more information will be rolled out this fall.

As one of my friends likes to say, there is a big difference between “hafta” and “wanna.” Wouldn’t it be a huge step forward if homebuilders wanna build homes with life-saving fire sprinklers?