Home sprinkler systems to remain optional

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Today, a debate came to a head...about what's "over" your head. At issue: whether indoor home sprinklers should be mandatory.

Firefighters have been pushing hard to make sprinklers mandatory in all new home construction. But in a unanimous vote, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development decided to keep them optional.

"The option will be, obviously, the customer's whether or not they want to put them in," said Warren Wakeland of the Homebuilding Association of Richmond.

The homebuilding industry argued mandatory sprinklers would drive up the cost of houses.

"When you're talking about between $4 and $5 a square foot, for sprinkler system installed in the average home, you take a 2,000 square foot home, you could be looking at an extra $10,000," Wakeland said.

But firefighters say you can't put a price on saving lives. Sprinklers, they say, protect people getting out of a burning house, and, those going in.

"In many cases they [sprinklers] will extinguish fires, and there will be very little left to do but clean up," said Ed Altizer, state fire marshal.

Both sides agree properly maintained smoke detectors are a less expensive alternative. The debate will continue, though, as sprinklers become more affordable.

"We still have quite a few questions on that, so as opposed to just killing the program, we've just moved it to the next code cycle," said DHCD Chairperson Brian Mullins.

The building code of Virginia is re-written every three years, so the next time this issue would come up again is 2012. The code just adopted is considered the 2009 edition.

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