Recent residential fire sprinkler column sparks large response.

A Venezuelan favela. Photo credit: Julius Ballanco


Every so often, you write an article that generates a lot of response in the form of letters, emails and phone calls. My column in January on residential sprinklers did just that. The comments were both pro and con. There was passion on both sides of the issue.

Approximately 90 percent of the comments were extremely positive. There were requests to circulate the column, which was fine because it was done with a link to the Plumbing & Mechanical website.

 The opposing 10 percent called me everything short of a communist. The accusations and statements were interesting to read. My beautiful wife, Judie, kept telling me to stop reading those nasty comments or asked if she could “delete that vile voice message.”

Actually, I find it very interesting to read or listen to the opposing viewpoints. I want to know if I missed something or if there is a valid point to the other side of the issue. In this case, I found there wasn’t one valid point or argument presented. However, I thought I would share some of the comments with you.

Many responders said residential fire sprinklers will raise the cost of housing in this country when people already can’t afford a new home. Well, that is a crock. If anyone really believes a builder prices a house based on what it costs to build that house, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

Builders have always priced a house based on what the market will bear. All you have to do is visit locales that have been requiring residential sprinklers for years. The cost of housing is not higher in those jurisdictions. Hence, this is a phony statement used as a scare tactic. You don’t scare me or others who know how new homes are really priced.

The view of the builder

One of the driving themes of many of the negative comments was that requiring sprinklers will hurt the home-building recovery. No, it will not. The code always changes, and builders have to keep up with the new code requirements. The new energy requirements cost more than adding sprinklers to a home. Why the big fuss about sprinklers? Residential sprinklers would actually help the recovery effort.

Nine out of every 10 homes purchased are existing homes. That means only 10 percent of the homes are new. Who is the biggest competition to the builder? It isn’t the builder down the street. It is the existing homes other homeowners are trying to sell.

Smart builders will quickly figure out they can sell residential sprinklers in a new home as a life-saving benefit. If you were going to buy a house and had a choice between an older home that could burn and kill your family vs. one that is safe and protects your family from fire, what would you choose? Me, I’d go for the life-saving aspect of a new home. Without it, the new home is just like the one down the street.

Another reoccurring theme was, “I don’t want the government telling me how I can build my house.” What! The government has always told you how you can build your house. It is called the “code.” There are also zoning requirements, etc.

I found a picture of a favela I took while visiting Venezuela. Favelas are the shanty buildings constructed without benefit of a code, permit or inspection - an excellent example of a society without a code for residential buildings. So, they lose a few people a year to fire, building collapse, electrocution, etc. Who cares? At least the government isn’t telling them how to build their homes.

That is not the society I choose. I like an orderly society with building codes.

I’ll use another real-life example. Have you noticed windows in shower enclosures require safety glazing? I have heard: “The nerve of the government to tell me what type of glass I can use. Safety glazing costs a lot more. I don’t care if a few idiots crash through the glass and get bloody.”

You have probably heard similar comments about other code requirements. This is the same mentality used to oppose residential sprinklers.

One voice mail that went on and on was from a sprinkler contractor saying he didn’t believe in residential sprinklers. He thinks people should be free to choose if they want sprinklers in their homes. He chooses not to have sprinklers.

New homes are safer and to obtain that additional safety, the experts in the profession have voted overwhelmingly to require residential sprinklers for all residential buildings.

It is interesting to note no one wanted to do away with the sprinkler requirements in high-rise residential buildings, two-story apartment buildings or even townhouses. Why shouldn’t people living in single-family dwellings be afforded the same level of protection?

Sprinklers and politics

One of the best emails I received was a statement: “I just don’t get it.” The reader went on to say I didn’t understand the results of the elections in November nor the impact of the Tea Party. He also cursed out any elected official who took his rights away by mandating sprinklers.

While I am not a member of any party, I do pay attention to the elections. The Tea Party proclaimed to be strict constitutionalist. I responded to him that the Constitution granted elected officials the right to enact legislation. Furthermore, Article X gave states the right to enact legislation not delegated to the United States. Hence, the Constitution, in fact, allows states to adopt codes that require all residential buildings to be sprinklered.

The Tea Party also supported a strong defense. Many of the leaders claimed that a strong defense is the primary role of the government. Shouldn’t part of our defense be against fire? We lose 3,000 innocent lives each year because we don’t defend against fire.

No matter which party you supported in November, they all support the protection of innocent lives. Thus, they should all be supporting residential sprinklers.

You would think that if elected officials followed their party’s position, the adoption of the 2009 ICC International Residential Code would be unanimous. As it turns out, the builders’ lobbyists are winning the battle in many states. Sprinkler mandates are being rejected. It just goes to show you that money talks over saving innocent lives.

Keep your cards and letters coming. I really do appreciate it.

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