State board to make decision on fire sprinkler debate

By Melissa Correa - bio | email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - In less than two weeks a heated statewide debate will come to a head: will over-head sprinklers be required in all new home construction?

We first told you about the sprinkler debate earlier this year when it was up for discussion at the Virginia Board of Housing a Community Development. Since then homebuilders have shared with us statistics they say make smoke alarms more than adequate.

In February the line was drawn between firefighters and homebuilders who say working smoke alarms are safe enough.

Chesterfield's fire marshal went on the record.  He wants sprinkler systems to be required in all new home construction throughout the Commonwealth.

"They've been in apartments since the early 90s and we've seen how effective they are," said Robbie Dawson.

Warren Wakeland with the Richmond Homebuilders Association says sprinklers aren't necessary.  He says look at the footage. New homes aren't the ones under fire-older houses are.

"The main reason the sprinkler coalition wants them so that you can protect newer homes," said Warren Wakeland with the Richmond Homebuilding Association.  "Well the codes are doing a great job of doing that already."

There are now higher standards for homebuilders, stiffer electrical codes and better materials. Back in February we were told the national average for a sprinkler system installation is $1.61 per square foot.

"I just talked the other day to several major builders in the Richmond area. They told me know, the cost for that, to install, has gone now to almost $5 per square foot."

Wakeland says with the economy still in a slump most people wouldn't be able to afford the added expense. But an experiment shows how effective sprinklers are at putting out flames.

"But the statistics show 99.45 percent of people who have working smoke alarms get out of homes alive."

Wakeland also says fire deaths in Virginia have gone down by nearly 50 percent in the past three years.

"If we see statistics that show that sprinklers do more than smoke alarms can do to save lives, then I think we would look at it."

On Monday, July 26, a state board is scheduled to vote on whether sprinklers should be mandatory.

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