Pa. to require fire sprinklers in new homes

December 30, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH |

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Starting Saturday, all new homes built in Pennsylvania will be required to have sprinkler systems that could cost thousands of dollars.

Single and two-family homes with building permits obtained before Jan. 1 can be constructed without the systems designed to prevent fires. Otherwise, they must have one sprinkler head in each room.

Mike Cermak from Accredited Services Inc. said requests for building permits were exceptionally high last week. The Waynesboro-based company provides building inspections for several municipalities.

“I’m sure the sprinkler requirement has some effect,” Cermak said of the additional requests.

Multi-family units, including townhouse buildings, were required to have sprinkler systems starting in 2010. Now, single-family house and duplexes are added to the list of required properties starting in 2011.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association opposed the changes, but lost challenges to the law. The provisions fall under the Uniform Construction Code.

“The builders think it should be a mandatory option (asked of homebuyers), but not a requirement,” said Tom Hanks, executive director of the Franklin County (Pa.) Builders Association.

Pumps and other logistical steps to provide the proper water pressure to sprinklers can escalate the cost of the system, Hanks said.

“It raises the price of a home,” Hanks said, saying some estimates put a system at $15,000 for a two-story house with a garage and basement.

Increased home prices affect people’s ability to borrow, make down payments and pay transfer taxes, Hanks said.

“With an industry that’s hurting as badly as the construction industry, that’s the last thing anyone needs. ... There aren’t that many new homes being constructed anyway,” he said.

Acknowledging the law isn’t changing, the Franklin County Builders Association disseminated information about the requirements to its 250 members. Hanks said the systems can be installed by specialized businesses or some plumbers.

Cermak said he’s heard mixed reviews about the requirements. He said contractors and real estate agents are concerned about the financial implications, while firefighters and other first responders praise the systems.

There are some misconceptions about residential sprinkler systems, Cermak said.

“Only the heads affected by the heat go off,” he said, saying they continue to flow until the water is turned off.

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