Proposal Pushes Fire Sprinkler Mandate

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Making sprinklers a mandate in new homes is a move the state fire marshal says will save lives, but the state Home Builders Association says it should not be required.

Opponents say making sprinklers mandatory is just too expensive. They say adding the requirement now could hinder any progress the housing market has already made.

But supporters say it should be no different than the smoke and carbon monoxide mandate.

"I've actually been on fires where we actually had to help carry people out who didn't make it where sprinkler systems could have made a difference," Springfield Fire Marshal and Division Fire Chief Rick Weber said. "There was a time when people argued about smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors."

And this, he says, should be no different. The proposal from the state fire marshal would make sprinkler systems in new homes and duplexes a must.

"It's [the sprinkler system] tied in with the water supply of your home," Weber said. "It's designed to--so let's say you have a fire in your living room. Only the sprinkler systems and the sprinkler heads in that living room are going to go off."

And they are designed to go off when a fire is small, either squelching it completely or containing it to one area during the precious seconds before crews can arrive.

"I believe insurance companies will also give you a break if you have a sprinkler system," Weber said. "So it could be something that pays for itself down the road."

But what will it cost you initially? Fire officials say less than $2 per square foot. But home builders have a different sum.

"Our estimates are around $5 to $6 a square foot and those are homes in the city limits," State Home Builders Association President Dean Graven said.

Officials say it is hard to pinpoint an exact average on the cost of a sprinkler system because it really depends on your home. If you live in a rural area where you use well water, for instance, it could cost you more.

"And that doesn't account for any of the maintenance," Graven said. "Somebody has to monitor that. And if I was building a home like this out in the country, I'd have to have a generator, a back up water tank."

These are extras fire officials admit add up the price. But some say that is still no excuse.

"I've seen more money than that put into countertops," Weber said. "And the sprinkler systems themselves is a life-saving feature."

California and Maryland are the only states with a statewide sprinkler mandate.

Our neighboring state, Missouri, has what is called a "mandatory option." That means a builder is required to draft two contracts: One including the cost the of a sprinkler system and one without. The home buyer can then decide which one they want.

The Home Builders Association says they have until August 12 to draft their opposition.

The proposal is being considered by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. That is a group made up of six state senators and six state representatives. If the proposal is approved, it would not become law until next year.

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