Builders step up campaign against mandatory sprinklers

2013-04-29T03:45:00Z 2013-04-29T04:55:01Z Builders step up campaign against mandatory sprinklersAlma Gaul agaul@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times
April 29, 2013 3:45 am  • 

Members of a Quad-City builders coalition received $20,000 Thursday to step up its educational campaign opposing the mandatory installation of fire sprinklers in new single-family homes.

The coalition headed by the Quad-City Builders & Remodelers Association (formerly the Homebuilders) includes the Quad-City Area Realtor Association, the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity-Quad-Cities and the Student-Built Home Project.

The money from the Iowa Association of Realtors is in addition to about $9,000 recently received from the Illinois Association of Realtors to be used for the same purpose, said Julie Awkerman, the executive officer of the builders and remodelers.

The issue of fire sprinklers has been long-running in the Quad-Cities, and people attending the current Parade of Homes may have seen the "Your Home — Your Choice" page in the parade plan book sponsored by the coalition. The information emphasizes the effectiveness of the hard-wired, interconnected, battery-backup smoke detectors required in today's homes and the added cost of sprinklers.

How did fire sprinklers come up in the first place?

The requirement that they be installed in new single-family homes was included in the 2009 International Residential Code, a model building code used by most communities throughout the country. But for various reasons, the requirement has not been in force in the Quad-Cities. Either exemptions were passed by state and local governments,  or governments did not adopt the updated code.

Exemptions are expiring, though, so the Illowa Building Officials Association — a group of Quad-City building and code enforcement officials — has been working to come up with options it hopes will be acceptable to homebuilders who staunchly oppose the mandate on the basis of housing affordability, consumer choice and inherent property rights.

Local group comes up with options

Bob Buck, the president of the Illowa group, said the main reason for including fire sprinklers in the code is safety. It’s not to extinguish fires, but rather to extend the amount of time residents have to get out  — and that firefighters have to get in and out  — of a burning home.

Building materials are constantly changing, and testing agencies have found that the engineered lumber used in the floor I-joists of most new homes burns faster than the solid, sawed "legacy lumber" used in the past, Buck said.

Results of an Underwriters Laboratory test showed I-joists of floors collapsing in less than six minutes, he added. 

“If a fire started in a basement, by the time occupants were woke up by a smoke detector, there’s a chance that floor could already be collapsing in the basement,” he said. “And by the time the firefighters get there, they can’t safely go in.”

So, earlier this year, Illowa came up with four alternatives to sprinklers that it believes "still promote safe homes for residents and emergency responders," he said. They are:

  • The use of fire-resistant I-joists
  • The use of 2-by-10 or larger solid-sawed "legacy" lumber
  • The installation of sheetrock to the ceiling of the basement to cover the floor assembly. The sheetrock will delay the fire. The sheetrock does not have to cover the entire floor, but the uncovered areas must not exceed 80 square feet. Homes built with a finished basement already meet this exception, Buck said.
  • Finally, if a home is built over a crawl space with no basement, the requirement would not apply.

 

Affordabilty, choice, property rights at issue 

Builders appreciate the work the Illowa group went through to come up with these options, but their ultimate goal is to eliminate the mandate in favor of homeowner choice, Awkerman said.

"Where does it end?" she said of the code requirements. "What's next? It just doesn't stop."

Affordability is one concern, said Eugene Holst, the CEO of the Quad-City Area Realtor Association. While cost estimates for sprinkler systems vary widely, $2,000 is an often-quoted price. For each additional $1,000 added to the price of a home, a certain number of buyers are priced out of a home, Holst said.

And while it is true that many new homes are built with finished basements — and thus would not need sprinklers under the Illowa proposal — it also is true that many are not.

Buck, the president of the Illowa group, said that of the 19 homebuilders who have submitted plans to build houses in a 40-home LeClaire subdivision,  none have finished basements.

Builders also report that the fire-retardant I-joists are not available locally, Awkerman said.

Buck said the major companies that manufacture engineered I-joists are making them more available, but they are more expensive. "I can’t tell you how much more, but quite a bit," he said.

And as for using legacy lumber instead of engineered, that is not a good option for homebuilders because they can't get the spans preferred in today's floor plans with the legacy wood, Awkerman said.

The builders also stand on the principles of consumer choice and property rights.

 

The campaign

Since October, the remodelers and builders association has spent about $17,000 on a television advertising campaign to educate the public on its views, Awkerman said.

Holst said the new money from the state Realtor associations likely will be spent on polling Scott County residents, mailing postcards to them and meeting with government officials.

"Education is first and foremost, of the public and of elected officials," he said. "It goes back to choice. We're not against sprinklers, we're not against safety, we're against eliminating personal property rights."

Building officials and builders alike have been waiting for action affecting the mandate on the state level in both Iowa and Illinois, but nothing has been forthcoming. "A lot of people have been holding off to see what the states are going to do, but the states don't seem in a hurry. either," Buck said.

Copyright 2016 The Quad-City Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - May 14, 2013 4:36 pm
    Firebuddy- are you still the President of the National Sprinkler Association?
  2. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - April 30, 2013 6:21 pm
    It is obvious you know more about construction than FIREBUDDY and seem to be more level headed than the owner of the fire sprinkelr company. I am not a builder and I do not sell or supply to residential construciton builders.

    Having said that I have yet to meet a builder that does not want to build a safe home and the HBA is far more than a lobbying group. Locally it represents the opportunity for builders to learn, to educate and to represent quality construction in the housing industry.

    Federal, state and local regulations, if left unchecked, will consistantly over step its boundaries. Unfortuantely, the code writing bodies have shown themselves to be it's own politcal force and are literaly pricing homes out reach for the middlle and lower income tax payer. My own home as example at $120k 10 years ago would now be over $150,000 given the 'code changes' that have taken place in that same time frame and would be beyond my ability to purchase even at todays income.

    Given this, there are better avenues. One example is the Bloomngton/Normal markets where the builders are required to inform the potential home owner of sprinklers, their advantages and the corresponding costs. At that point the home owner must sign off on wether or not they want this. (Much like Missouri). Unfortuantely, and what frustrates the sprinkler guys is that no one ever opts to have them put in. Again using Missouri as an example.

    And to finish. I chuckle to read that you feel a few homes a year is 'big business'. I am unaware of any builders in this market that have more than themselves and their spouse running their 'big business'

    Enitre home gone in 12 minutes...really? Current 'code' stipulates interconnected battery back up smoke detectors. If one goes off they all go off. I think that is more than sufficient. It's the smoke that kills long before the fire ever reaches the individual. (even grandma)


    .
  3. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - April 30, 2013 3:35 pm
    Interesting reply/post from the Regional Manager of the National Fire Sprinkler Association who also sells sprinkler and security systems in New York. I see you are pushing hard for the financial benefit of you and your group.

    'can't fix stupid?" I believe the people of the Quad Cities are smart enough to know that they have a right not to be MANDATED to have sprinklers.


  4. IndependentGl
    Report Abuse
    IndependentGl - April 30, 2013 3:18 pm
    metro construction research - Thanks for the reply. I will admit I don't know Quad Cities like you probably do :) but it does look like there are almost as many people in the Quad Cities as there are in state of Wyoming. (362k? vs 500k) no small potatoes.
    I guess my reference to 'big business' didn't have as much to do with D.R. Horton, Lennar, Pulte... as it does with their lobbying group NAHB. The local/regional Home Builders Associations are funded by builders, not homeowners/consumers and their goal, in part, would be to increase profits for builders? I think we would all agree on that. For me any time a lobby comes out in favor or against something my ears perk up. It sounds like yours do too. Secondly, 'big business' is a homebuilder that builds more than a few homes a year. No he/she isn't Lennar but probably has more money than the great people buying their great homes. With money comes power, the power to contribute to a lobby or fund re-election campaigns. Small towns or our nations capitol. While I don't want to draw an argument to ethics/money/lobbying I want to call attention to motives. BUYERS: want a good quality home that is affordable. BUILDERS: want to make money and get referrals for building a good home. There is unity in the message above and differences. I believe that without any codes that the laws of supply and demand wouldn't protect the novice/inexperienced homebuyer from the likes of some builders - we would have to rely on lawsuits taking years in our overburdened courts to prove negligence. But negligence of what? As I mentioned before the builder contracts are completely one sided and don't represent the consumer much at all. The builder has the burden of finance and delivery true, but they also put in their contracts an enormous amount of time (if not endless) to build the home, the ability to cancel and refund some deposits if they don't build and numerous other escape clauses. Resale home contracts don't have as many loopholes. Builders are able to put things in homes because they lobbied to get them. 24" on center? 2x4" exterior walls? Panelized homes? OSB? Trusses? I can actually hear my grandfather rolling in his grave, God rest his soul. Why, how, when did these come about? Gradually over time someone made a pitch that these changes were ok, sound, safe,...better. For whom? Generally speaking they are better for the builder, and the builder has been able to 'sell' or demonstrate to the buyer/consumer that TJI's allow you to have a great room instead of smaller rooms, roof trusses can carry the same load as a stick built roof and allow you to have cathedral and vaulted ceilings with larger windows and more space. Consumers like it, its less expensive (either in actual cost or time savings) for the builder. So naturally we think win/win. The ICC (IRC, IFC, IEC, IPC) comprised of a bunch of engineers way smarter than I'll ever be run some tests do some homework and determine, whoaaaa, these materials burn wicked fast compared to their legacy materials. Another lobby comes in and says hey, there's a win/win going on (2006 code?) none of these materials are a problem if there is a fire sprinkler system installed. Hence R313, 2904, NFPA 13d/r? and now 6 years later the exemptions that were in the code (you can use this material or lessen this material if the occupancy is sprinklered) has disappeared. So whose side am I on? The consumer, the buyer. Buyer's don't want to pay anymore than they have to for a home. I don't like when Builders show their model home with 60% over base price in upgrades (Homes from the 120's and their model home is priced at $200 because they want to flagship sell everything). I don't particularly like "free slab granite kitchen" either but I think most consumers know the 'free' granite is included in the price. What about $10,000 toward options if you use our lender/title/closing atty? I wish the buyer had to know more about what was really going on. So this brings me to the bones of the home. What does the consumer know about the actual construction? slab on grade, spread footings, caissons, structural subfloor, 2x4 16" o.c. exterior and 24" interiors? Insulation ratings per code? not much. Do they know that the o.s.b. can be different thickness for corner bracing vs between? We have minimum codes that many builders build to the minimum and offer upgrades beyond that. You have some builders in the Quad Cities that build their standard home beyond code, and to them I tip my hat, thank you. It is those builders that probably also educate their sales team to educate the customer about those differences and why they're important. My guess is that some builders in the Quad Cities will take this fire sprinkler issue and use it as a tool to show their customers that life safety is an important feature and that they build beyond code because their customers are the most important. That their mother may be in the home and leave a candle burning and isn't as agile as she used to be, and because your home is 12 minutes from the closest fire department that the entire home could be gone before they get there. That the $3k to $8k more you will pay may save the life of your mom or the firefighter who has to go in to save her. Either that or build homes the way we did in the early 1900's. But that would cost way more. I guess if the builder wanted to put fire rated plywood or osb on the home, use hardi-plank or brick/rock, actual 2x12 joists and stick build the roofs with 50yr shingles and use type x sheet rock I would consider that a compromise.
  5. dgkasmauskas
    Report Abuse
    dgkasmauskas - April 30, 2013 10:55 am
    Regarding the overall subject of Codes...Remember the 3 "E"s. Education, Enforcement, and Engineering.
    We have learned in decades of fire prevention and Educating the public that we cant fix stupid. So the next step is Enforcement; can't have a Code Official standing on every property everyday looking over homeowner or building owners as they do stupid stuff.
    The last bastion is Engineering....which is what our building and residential codes are full of...Engineering! We Engineer ways that people can do stupid things (or not do stupid things) with minimal risk to themselves or others.
    Now...fire sprinklers are in the Residential Code and are no different than any other safety system in the code. Are they? Its been challenged and it will STILL be there in the 2015 IRC.
    I have no choice when my house was built with 2x10s in the roof, did I? Maybe I wanted to pay for only 2x6s! Why cant I? Its my choice if I want to take a chance and hope we never have more than 12 inches of snow!
    Why do I have to have electrical outlets every 6 or 8 feet? All my "stuff" has 10' and 12' cords on them! Plus, I know how to use extension cords!
    Do I have a choice about airbags AND seatbelts? No! I paid for them whether I wanted that $2,000 of equipment or not! Whether I use them or not. Just like Fires, "I'll never be in an accident, why should I use seatbelts"?
    My point is, the entire Code either IS or it ISN'T a Code. Pick one! The Code is our bible and we cant decide then that "Oh, I dont like that part about 'I shall not steal'", and choose to disregard that one section.
    The entire State of California has been fire sprinklering ALL new homes for near 3 years now. With all the negativity going around, you'd think that CA would have slid into the Pacific by now....News Flash! CA is still there and home building (with fire sprinklers in every one of them) is doing just fine.
    2,600 people are dying in fires in their own homes EACH year. Why should we hand this down to our future generations? We went through this hick-up with Smoke Alarms, lets not waste so much time fighting the inevitable. We need to start now and the proof is there with 30 years of home fire sprinklers in Scottsdale, AZ, Prince Georges County, MD and Montgomery County, MD where homebuilders are in business, carpenters are employed and the world hasn't come to an end.
  6. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - April 29, 2013 2:58 pm
    Nice spin... statistics smatistics...you are right they can be read and turned any way you feel they should be. Turn to the bottom of page 37 of The Fire Protection Research Foundation (funded by the NFPA) research paper done just last year and you read that the probability of EVEN HAVING A FIRE in a home is .35% (less than one half of one percent)

    Your last sentence has the same word twice and I whole heartedly agree "CHOOSE". I choose NOT to have it in my home, BECAUSE IT IS A CHOICE! Agree or dis-agree. You have that right. Because it is your choice.
  7. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - April 29, 2013 1:51 pm
    IndependentGI - Please continue. I wonder what builder in this community would consider themselves "Big Business". But you have hit a bullseye when you show that regulations and mandates are forever being pushed onto the home owners. New construction is continually being pressured to add this or change that; to the point that no one could afford a home to begin with. I would rather have a private, small builder that is passionate about his/her industry fight the good fight than to leave it in the hands of regulatory officials. I will take "choice" any day of the week.

  8. FireBuddy
    Report Abuse
    FireBuddy - April 29, 2013 1:50 pm
    Internet search of "Lightweight Construction Fire Safety" produces 1.4 million sites that dimension the problem in new homes - what don't you understand. A smoke detector gives you and opportunity to save your life but my 8 month old grand daughter is not able to open the door and family members are escape time restricted by the fast collapse and early flashover common in new homes with synthetic furnishings. There are no statistics showing smoke detectors save more lives than a fire sprinkler system - you know that as you spin smoke detector statistics. Your homebuilders argue NFPA reports a 99.4% chance of surviving a fire when smoke detectors are present but fail to report in the same sentence of the report it says "and a 98.87% chance of surviving a fire when no smoke detector is present" - not every fire is a fatal fire. Does this mean smoke detectors are only 0.53% or one half of one percent effective? No, that is a spin on statistics. You have no valid argument - are you giving the homebuyer information on early collapse because of the lightweight construction products or is that too an added fee consumer choice? Keep responding as I am sure the trial lawyers are taking notes just as they did when the homebuilders opposed smoke detectors, GFCIs and other safety features. The substantive issue is fire sprinklers is a life safety system, double-pane windows are not - one needs to carefully choose which code requirements they wish to ignore if they choose to build non-compliant homes.
  9. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - April 29, 2013 1:22 pm
    Interesting.... i google smoke detectors and i get 3.3 million hits. I am not sure of your premise there. but hey.... if its on the internet it has to be true. i am not asking anyone to overlook any part of the issue. However, i do believe that the National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA is not an impartial entitiy. I would be happy to spout statistics back and forth with you FIREBUDDY using the research paid for by the NFPA showing that sprinklers are less likely to save a life than smoke detectors, but that gets boring.

    simply stated: "If you want sprinklers by all means, put them in. it is your right to pay the extra few grand and install them." dont think for a minute though, that the people of the quad cities are going to sit idly by and allow yet again, another mandate to be placed upon them.

    ....and i believe the first salvo was on your part implying builders put profits before safely built homes. shameful simply shameful.
  10. IndependentGl
    Report Abuse
    IndependentGl - April 29, 2013 1:02 pm
    The ultimate decisions Americans face is Safety versus Freedom. Take any issue: tobacco warning labels - The tobacco industry knew their products were addictive added more addictive ingredients and knew their product would kill. Did they tell anyone? Nope, not until they got sued. Do you still have the right to smoke? You bet your tush you do.
    Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware. I don't want the government in my home anymore than the next guy, but I want big business in there even less.
    The beloved Home Builders Association - This is an organization that opposed: Double Pane windows, smoke detectors, arc-fault interrupters, ratings on roofing shingles, minimum standards of insulation, minimum CARPET standards and padding standards - the list goes on.
    The HBA also went to the jurisdictions back in the 70's and said that copper was too expensive and so we should wire homes with aluminium? This was the same lobbying association that also said copper plumbing was too expensive and we should use poly-butelene plumbing (multi-billion dollar lawsuit lost). This is the same lobbying association that says that builders shouldn't have to use type-x sheetrock (5/8" sheetrock/drywall in garages that has a fire delay vs 1/2")
    Shall we continue?
    Love the government? or Love builders? During the downturn builders took out things like medicine cabinets in bathrooms and toilet paper holders indicating they were a "buyer's choice" item and that buyer's could install them after they purchased their home. Why? So they could save a few bucks.
    Try and get a PE to inspect your new home while it's being built - Builder contract says "No Way" WHY?!? Why can't I as a consumer have the "Freedom" to make sure that what the Builder is building is being done according to code? Trust but verify? Only if you aren't working with a Builder. Most Builder contracts only allow that type of inspection - AFTER YOU BUY AND CLOSE ON THE HOME.

    Whose side are we on? There's no win for the public if we allow big business to determine what's best and there's no win for the government in having to create legislation (AKA Building Code) for builders who want to build to the minimum.

    I'll take one of my grandfather's (brick mason) homes thank you. Oh and there was no building code back in the day.
  11. FireBuddy
    Report Abuse
    FireBuddy - April 29, 2013 12:09 pm
    This response makes be remember the old adage, if you can't win on fact attack the opposition! Please do an Internet Search of "lightweight construction fire safety" and you will find over 1.4 million sites that clearly dimension the fire safety problem metro construction research wishes everyone will overlook. UL, FM, FM Global, NFPA, The U.S. Fire Administartion, and hundreds of other non-stakeholder organizations all recogize and contribute to the 1.4 million sites - are they all wrong? Surely had Metro Construction actually did Research they would know this and it is in fact ludicrous that they oppose the code required fire sprinklers and promote unsafe homes. He knows that the first fire I fought as a firefighter was a fatal fire yet debases my passion for life safety. And where there is smoke there is fire, stop the fire you stop the smoke.
  12. metro construction research
    Report Abuse
    metro construction research - April 29, 2013 10:15 am
    For those that read comments such as this, please be aware that FIREBUDDY is a paid blogger for the sprinkler association. You can find him posting from the Quad Cities to the state of New Jersey.

    What he fails to inform the public about is the fact that fire sprinklers have been an option to the home owner for decades. He also implies that the home builder group as a whole, sneaks around building the cheapest least safe home they can in order to make a profit. sad, very sad.

    I am not a builder, but a tax paying and voting advocate for the freedom of property rights. I also have an incling that FIREBUDDY is an advocate for the warning label on McDonalds coffee cups. Because without this warning it would be the publics fault for not knowing the coffee was hot.

    Study's continually show that it is smoke that kills in a residential fire and to implie that home builders KNOWINGLY build unsafe homes is simply ludicrous.

  13. FireBuddy
    Report Abuse
    FireBuddy - April 29, 2013 9:26 am
    Rarely a day goes by when I do not notice a safety warning; the visor of my car warns me about seatbelts and airbags, labels on the food I eat warn me I will get fat. The substantive question is where is the early collapse during fires warning that should be given to the homebuyer from the homebuilder and Realtor when they sell a house that is made of the new lightweight construction material? The homebuilder and Realtor knows or should know that new construction practices have created a less safe environment for the homebuyer – they should have an obligation to inform them of fire escape practices. The wood-products industry has known for decades that engineered wood fails quicker in fires – where is their notice to the public; why have they failed to respond to the repeated concerns of the fire service? There is an entire class of people who are in harm’s way and the people creating the hazard willfully and wantonly failed to provide for mitigation. And now when the homebuilder comes to an elected body such as a state legislature and persuades them to pass a law prohibiting local government from applying the national model safety codes does this not create a liability link when the new home fails during a fire and lives are lost?
    The homebuilders have to be able to say convincingly in a court of law where this issue will inevitably go that it did everything they possibly could to lower the risk of death, injury, and excessive property loss from fire. One cannot assume the homebuyer will accept 100% of the risk of death, injury, and excessive property loss from fire when the homebuilder knowingly uses construction products that have been proven, from very credible sources, to fail quickly in fires and they use these new construction products for the sole reason of reducing construction costs thereby maximizing profit margins. Add in the fact that the homebuilders actively lobby at the national and state level to ignore the fire safety problem and allow them to build in non-compliance with national construction and safety codes and standards then the future liability exposure for the homebuilder, the Realtor failing to inform the buyer, and the industry producing these new construction products absent consumer warnings appears to be very concerning.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick