I recently attended a local gathering of concerned residents following a fire in a neighboring townhome. Members of the community were so concerned about their own future safety given the fact the hydrant outside the townhome had failed and the townhome was not protected with a fire sprinkler system. The adjoining townhomes where only impacted by smoke given the fact that the units are separated by fire separation walls which were extremely effective in holding back the flames. This opened my eyes to the ongoing debate of residential sprinkler systems for single family homes as well as townhomes. As of today the International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition Section R313 Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems has been deleted for townhouse as well as one- and two-family dwellings. It is my understanding that the New Jersey Builders Association has been very persuasive through their lobbying to keep New Jersey from adopting this section of the IRC. Legislation in New Jersey was passed to accept the use of sprinklers however the governor vetoed it. Twenty three other states have adopted some form of a residential sprinkler system.
Why does the Builders Association not want a life safety item in their homes? It seems to me it is all about money. So what is the cost of a system? If you look online I have seen prices as low as $1.35/square foot or some figures quote around $4,000, however I have found this to not be the case. I have gotten figures from local installers ranging from $10,000 to $25,000. Of course that figure varies on the size of a home and several factors. One company quoted a budget figure of $2.50/square foot. Why such discrepancy, well it depends on each individual home. Let’s say you want to use your new home’s attic for storage well you have to provide sprinklers up there and guess what, the attic is typically not insulated so this requires a special system driving up the cost. If the local fire official or the utility authority wants you to install a dedicated service line just for your system (even though the system is not even required) you need to conform to their request which will drive the cost up more.
Are there savings on my homeowner’s insurance if I install a system? That depends on your insurer. My insurance company said no discount, however State Farm Insurance gave me a quote on a fictitious 4,000 s.f. home valued at over $900,000 and informed me I would save a whopping $47/year (that is quite a period of time on your payback).
But really the issue is not money it is about life safety! The evidence is clear that a sprinkler system is going to save lives in the event of a fire. The 13D system has sprinkler heads in each room of your home. Depending on the size of a room will determine how many heads are required. Each head provides coverage of approximately 12 feet x 12 feet. Each individual head has a glass tube with mercury in it and when the temperature reaches 150 degrees in that location the glass will shatter and open the valve and water will come rushing out onto the fire. Only the head in the location of the fire will be activated. According to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition a head can put a fire out in 1 ½ minutes, I do not think the firemen are getting there that fast! I believe the time it takes them to arrive is approximately 10 minutes from the time a smoke detector goes off.
Homes today are being constructed with lighter materials, which in terms of strength are fabulous but in terms of combustibility are even better! But you might say I have smoke detectors, isn’t that good enough? Studies have shown that most children can sleep right through the alarm, (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/4/1623?download=true), I wish I could sleep that well! So I guess the answer to that question is no!
Sprinkler systems have also been found to be better for the environment according to FM Global’s research there is a reduction in pollutants, they reduce greenhouse gases from fires by 98% and water consumption up to 90%. Wow that’s a lot of good stuff for the earth!
The following is a link to the benefits of a home sprinkler system:
Since an architect’s job is to look out for health, welfare and safety of their clients, it seems that this is one of those times it makes sense if it is economically feasible to recommend a home sprinkler system over the deleted Section R313!