In 2007, home structure fires caused 2,865 civilian deaths, 13,600 civilian injuries, and $7.4 billion in direct damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The fact is, approximately 84 percent of civilian fire deaths occurred in homes.
Dying in a home structure fire, currently a major national tragedy, is not necessary and should no longer be happening! The American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) is in the forefront of a campaign to encourage the installation of fire sprinklers in residential dwellings. According to NFPA, fire deaths are reduced by 87 percent in one- and two-family dwellings when sprinklers are installed and activate.
“A low-cost residential sprinkler system has proven to be effective in protecting occupants during a fire,” says Julius Ballanco, PE, president of ASPE. “The sprinkler system will suppress a fire and maintainability in the room of fire origin. While it is easy for an individual to sleep through the beep of a smoke detector, with a residential sprinkler system installed, they still can survive even if in the room of fire’s origin.”
As part of this effort, ASPE joined numerous organizations and other advocates such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), and the NFPA to champion an International Code Council (ICC) code proposal that would require sprinklers in new homes. An article published in ASPE’s magazine, Plumbing Systems & Design, was used as a crucial tool to educate code officials on the design and installation of residential fire sprinkler systems.
“We are firm believers that residential sprinklers should be mandated,” Ballanco says. “It is an engineer’s responsibility to first serve the public. We are serving the public by bringing a technology forward that will save thousands of lives.”
In response to ASPE’s efforts, last September the ICC approved Proposal RB64, which requires fire sprinklers in all new homes beginning January 1, 2011. Proposal RB66, requiring fire sprinklers in townhouses, also was approved. The new mandates are found in the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), which comes out this month.
Unfortunately, several trade organizations—including the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), which has a stated goal to protect the public’s safety, health, and welfare—are opposed to the new mandate. They claim that the fire sprinkler requirement would put an undue financial burden on new home developers, consequently driving up the cost of new homes or even halting new construction altogether. Another argument in opposition is that fire sprinkler pipes would be susceptible to bursting and flooding in areas subject to freezing conditions.
However, installing fire sprinklers in a residential structure adds very little expense to the overall price of a home. In a 2007 code application in the State of Oregon, the application states: “Residential sprinkler systems in Scottsdale [Arizonia] were recently quoted as costing $0.55 to $0.75 per square foot, and there are now well over 40,000 sprinkled homes in the city.” This same Oregon code application states: “Recent surveys of sprinkler costs for affordable homes in the 1,000- to 1,200-square-foot range showed that the added cost of materials related to sprinkler protection was in the $0.25 to $0.30 per square foot range, and the sprinkler installation required less than eight hours of additional labor. “
Furthermore, in a survey of more than 1,000 adults by Harris Interactive, 45 percent of homeowners said that a sprinklered home is more desirable than an unsprinklered home, and 69 percent of homeowners said that having a fire sprinkler system increases the value of a home.
ASPE believes that the proper engineering, design, installation, and inspection of sprinklers will prove the fears for bursting and flooding to be unfounded. “ASPE will be educating state officials, the construction industry, designers, and the public on the benefits of residential sprinklers,” Ballanco says. “Many of our members are already in the forefront showing homebuilders how to design and install low-cost systems. We will provide the tools necessary to design and install low-cost residential sprinkler systems that protect the public.”
“There are approximately 3,000 fire deaths a year in residential buildings and three times the number of people severely burned or disfigured from residential fires,” Ballanco says. “In my opinion, this is unacceptable, especially since we, as plumbing engineers, have the technology to prevent these fire deaths and burn victims.”