Debate continues over sprinkler systems in homes

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - The ongoing debate about installing sprinklers in homes heated up Tuesday night — literally!

The Chesterfield Fire Department made its case with a demonstration on how much damage is caused with and without the safety system.

They say in two emergencies last month, sprinkler systems saved property and possibly lives.

Both were the most common call firefighters get — cooking related kitchen fires. In both cases, sprinklers doused the flames before fire trucks arrived.

After observing the demonstration for less than two minutes, the room with no sprinkler system is engulfed in flames, the structure nearly demolished.

At the same time, however, the almost identical room with a sprinkler system only has a small amount of water and smoke damage, with water vapor — not black smoke — pouring out of the space. That's because the sprinklers doused the small blaze after it had only been burning for about thirty seconds.

Chief Loy Senter calls it a ringing endorsement for a system he says is like having a personal firefighter on duty 24 hours a day.

"As homeowners, when we purchase a new home, we go to great lengths to sprinkler our lawns, yet we fail to sprinkler the most important assets — our families and homes," said Chief Senter.

Fire officials say, in the long run, the system pays for itself. Installation costs would be offset by the lower insurance rates you could now get.

"It's a nice sentiment unless it's your money," said Steve Berg of Steve Berg Building And Design.

That's backlash from the building community, with contractors saying the increased costs get passed onto homeowners at a time when every penny counts.

"Bringing in a cost that would be bringing an average house up 2-to-3 percent or in additions probably more like 5-to-10 percent is a big pill to swallow," said Berg.

For firefighters, who think of the expense over the life of a mortgage, it's about the bigger picture.

Right now, there is no requirement to install sprinklers in homes in Virginia — but a state board could decide at some point to mandate the systems.

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