Time is running out for legislation that would forbid local governments from requiring the installation of fire sprinklers in new, single family homes. Iowa homebuilders are lobbying for the bill, saying fire sprinklers drive up the cost of construction.
And Lance Henning, executive director of the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, says fewer Habitat homes will be built next year if his organization is required to add sprinklers.
“We are about moving families from substandard, older housing to new homes — safe, decent, affordable housing,” Henning says. “Being able to do that is something that’s important and we feel this would impact the number of units we’d be able to create.” Henning estimates a sprinkler system will add $5,000 to the cost of a modest, three-bedroom home.
Other homebuilders say their struggling industry doesn’t need the additional financial hit. But Ross Loder of the Iowa Department of Public Safety cites the case of a county in Maryland where fire sprinkler installation in new homes became mandatory 15 years ago, and the price of installation there has dropped to two dollars a square foot.
“The research is very clear that sprinklers are incredibly effective in saving lives,” Loder says. According to Loder, there has never been a multiple-fatality fire in a U.S. home or business that had a working sprinkler system. Loder says his agency is concerned that the number of fire-related deaths and injuries in Iowa is on the upswing.
“Generally speaking, violent crime is down. Traffic deaths are down, significantly down so we feel like we’re moving in the right direction in terms of a public safety standpoint,” Loder says. “The one glaring exception is fire safety and this particular proposal is one of many ways that we could look at trying to improve the status of fire safety in Iowa over the span of many, many years.”
A few Iowa cities already require that fire sprinklers be installed in large homes with over 6000 feet of living space. The bill that would ban such requirements in all Iowa cities and counties must be approved by a legislative committee by Friday, or it is no longer eligible for consideration in the 2010 legislative session.