Court Rejects Minnesota Fire Sprinkler Mandate

A Minnesota code requirement that all new single-family homes larger than 4,500 square feet be constructed with automatic fire sprinkler systems was declared invalid on Wednesday by the state Court of Appeals.

The Builders Association of the Twin Cities had filed a lawsuit after the compromise decision by the state’s department of labor and industry to require the sprinklers only in larger homes. The lawsuit was supported with briefs from the Builders Association of Minnesota and the National Association of Home Builders.

“After making a careful and searching inquiry of the record, we conclude that the 4,500-square-foot threshold for one-family dwellings is arbitrary and not supported by substantial evidence in the record,” the court said.

In its decision, the court cited the testimony of the state fire marshal, who said he supported mandating sprinklers in all homes — and the lack of evidence that “phasing in” sprinkler system requirements from larger homes to smaller ones was an effective balance of safety and cost.

The state did not “provide support for the implicit determination that a one-family dwelling over 4,500 square feet is the tipping point at which the life-safety benefits of sprinkler systems outweigh the costs. Why is it not 4,000 square feet or 3,000 or 5,000? Respondent has not provided us with an answer to that question,” the court said.

California and Maryland are now the only states that require fire sprinkler systems to be installed in all one- and two-family homes and townhouses. Since the mandate first became part of the model international residential code, more than 40 states have either modified the code to make them optional or passed legislation rejecting mandates.

The National Association of Home Builders continues to work with affiliated local and state Home Builders Associations that promote the continued use of smoke alarms: Ensuring every home in in the United States had at least one working smoke alarm would save about 890 lives each year, benefitting low-income families living in older housing stock and not just those who can afford a new home with fire sprinklers.

Download fact sheets, studies and other tools on on fire sprinklers by clicking here.

Value of Membership: $6,316 per home

We continue our series about how your HBA and its affiliate, NAHB, have logged significant victories advocating for members in the legal, legislative and regulatory arenas during 2012. 
Our advocacy efforts have saved the typical home builder about $7,250 per housing start in 2012, including both single-family and multifamily.

Fire sprinkler victories will save $6,316 per home in areas where the victories have been achieved. Since a requirement for residential fire sprinklers was adopted in the 2009 and 2012 IRC, NAHB’s Construction, Codes and Standards staff has worked with state and local associations to defeat mandatory sprinkler requirements in many states. The Construction Codes and Standards staff maintains an online record of states where sprinkler mandates have been defeated. In these areas, builders will save an average of $6,316 per home, based on the average in the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s “Home Fire Cost Assessment Study” (which includes costs of design, permits, additional equipment needed, and increased tap and water fees; but not a builder’s overhead, profit margin, or possible increases in financing costs or broker fees).

Survey of Building Officials Find a Majority Oppose Mandatory Fire Sprinklers in New Single-Family Homes

In a recent survey conducted by the Building Officials Association of South Carolina, 53 percent of those answering the survey oppose mandating the installation of automatic fire sprinklers in new single-family homes. However, 67 percent support mandatory fire sprinklers in town houses. The survey also found that 70 percent of those surveyed support requiring home builders to give the home buyer the option to install fire sprinklers in their new home.

The Top 12 actions on behalf of Home Builders, Number 6: making fire sprinklers optional

Builder Review Daily is reviewing the Top 12 actions on behalf of Home Builders so far this year.

Number 6, keeping automatic fire sprinklers optional:

NAHB remains committed to the effort to maintain fire sprinklers as voluntary elements in new homes nationwide.

With the help of NAHB staff and resources available within the NAHB Fire Sprinkler Action Kit, our state and local HBAs have so far been successful in keeping mandatory sprinklers out of more than 36 states. NAHB is also diligently keeping track of efforts by the fire sprinkler advocates and providing our members with the necessary resources to effectively counter unfounded NFPA claims. 
In Columbia, the S.C. Building Codes Council again included a fire sprinkler mandate in the IRC 2012 proposed for adoption in the state.  However, they lacked the votes to approve the building code with the sprinkler mandate.  Your HBA of South Carolina continues to work diligently to keep sprinklers optional in South Carolina.  Unfortunately, if the sprinkler advocates continue to push for a sprinkler mandate, South Carolina may continue to use the 2006 building code for many years to come.
For more information about residential fire sprinklers or the NAHB code adoption action kits, contact Steve Orlowski (800-368-5242 x8303) or Mark Nix (803-771-7408).

By the Numbers, NAHB’s Priced Out Analysis: 431

Three years ago NAHB released an analysis that helps assess the impact of any action that increases the price of a new home.  This Spring NAHB updated that analysis, call the “Priced Out Effect,” including an analysis by metro area.

Nationally, a $1,000 increase in the price of a home prices out 232,447 families from homeownership.  In Greenville, 431 families are priced out of homeownership by that same $1,000 price increase.
What can increase the price of a new home?  Many things including government regulation, increases in prices for materials and labor, and even crime.  One recent example is the efforts by the fire sprinkler industry to mandate automatic fire sprinklers in new homes.  Assuming a $6,000 increase in the price of a typical new home, the fire sprinkler mandate will price out 2,586 families from owning a new home in the greater Greenville area.