Fire sprinklers could soon be required in all new homes in South Carolina under new regulations being considered by a state agency. The South Carolina Building Codes Council last week gave its blessing to a requirement that new single and double-family homes be outfitted with the systems.
The Council is meeting to take up the 2012 International Residential Code and any modifications South Carolina will make on a state level. One of the code’s provisions requires the new sprinklers. Members voted 6-3 last Wednesday to keep the section intact.
The move upset the Home Builders of South Carolina organization. The group’s Executive Director Mark Nix said it would be very expensive to add the system in new homes.
“We’re just asking that every consumer have the choice,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “When you mandate it, you’re adding a great deal of money to the price of the house.” Nix said the National Protection Association found that a person’s chance of surviving a fire is 99.45 percent if they have a smoke detector. He said a smoke detector is much cheaper than installing sprinklers into a home.
The group claims that the additional costs of adding sprinklers would be $4-$6 per square foot. However, that number was challenged by Joe Palmer, the South Carolina Firefighters Association’s executive director. He said those homes that installed the sprinklers found the actual cost is closer to $1.61 per square foot.
The Firefighters Association supports the change. Palmer said the sprinklers would save lives. “You don’t see fatalities in those commercial occupancies that have a sprinkler system,” the former Newberry fire chief said. “It’s almost nonexistent.”
While it voted to keep the section, the Council was not able to garner the two-thirds vote needed to approve the overall code. It could try again at its August 22 meeting. The Building Codes Council is a division of the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.
Chairman Greg Parsons said he does not vote unless there is a tie, but added the tradeoff between safety and cost was a difficult choice for the other members of the council. “It’s not easy. If it were, this wouldn’t be an argument,” he said, “Both the opponents and the proponents have good, cogent arguments.”
If the panel does approve the 2012 code, it would either head to the state Legislature for approval or become law by their inaction. But it appears unlikely lawmakers would approve a sprinkler mandate– they rejected a 2009 effort to require the systems and delayed any similar building code requirements from taking effect until at least 2014.
Nix says South Carolina is not alone. Only two states (California and Maryland) kept the requirement in their versions of the international building code. However, Palmer said most states also left the issue up to municipal governments, while South Carolina only uses a single statewide code.