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November 14, 2012
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Home fire sprinklers debated in Rifle

Whether to require new homes in Rifle to have fire sprinkler systems as of next year will be taken up by the City Council on Monday.

The issue was discussed by council, developers and a fire official at a Nov. 7 workshop.

The 2009 International Residential Code Rifle adopted a few years ago calls for the sprinkler system requirement to take effect in 2013.

Assistant City Manager Matt Sturgeon said every municipality in Garfield County, except Rifle, has opted out of the fire sprinkler requirement. An ordinance on the Nov. 19 agenda would remove the requirement for fire sprinklers for single- and two-family (duplex) residential units in Rifle. The council is meeting Monday, Nov. 19, since its regular Wednesday meeting is the day before Thanksgiving.

Realtor Glenn Ault said if the city requires sprinklers, new home prices will go up $10,000 to $15,000.

"We, as developers, would never break even," he added. "Right now, I can sell a 5-year-old home for less than what I can get for a new home. There's no incentive to build."

Real estate agent Jack Pretti of Rifle said while the life safety issues associated with sprinkler systems "are not taken lightly," with no demand, there's no need to require the systems.

"This should be a consumer choice, not a government mandate," Pretti added.

Sally Brands with JBS Construction said her insurance agent told her she would see a 10 percent reduction in an $800 insurance premium on a house with a system.

"So you see it would take a very long time before you'd have enough savings to pay off the system," she said. "I don't think there's any real cost benefit to requiring them."

"Back in the 1980s, when the code was being changed to require smoke detectors in new homes, these same arguments were made," said Colorado River Fire Rescue Fire Marshal Kevin Whelan. "I don't think there's any doubt smoke detectors have had a significant impact on saving lives."

Whelan showed City Council photos of recent home fires in the Rifle area and noted if any of them had had fire sprinklers, the damage would have been much less.

In the Rifle Fire Protection District last year, fires caused around $900,000 in damage. While 18 pets lost their lives, no people died, Whelan said.

Brands added new construction materials and methods make new homes very fire safe, even without a sprinkler system.

Whelan argued that modern buildings often catch fire easier.

"You've got a lot of things held in place with glue, particle boards are more common and those all burn fast," he said. "The average new home will catch on fire in six minutes. That's often faster than we can get to a fire."

Homes that are built to be energy efficient hold in heat, too, Whelan said, so when they catch fire, they burn more rapidly.

Brands also said most of the home fires in Rifle over the last 30 years occurred in old, substandard mobile homes.

"I'd point out that every time you raise the price of a new home, that means someone who can't afford a new home has to live in substandard housing," Brands added.

The local housing market does not make it attractive to build new homes, Brands said, "So if you require sprinklers, that will just make it that much longer before someone can qualify for a loan on a starter home."

After consulting six local contractors, Whelan said he was given cost estimates ranging from $1.50 to $3.30 a square foot, or between $4,000 to $5,000 for a sprinkler system in an average sized single family home.

"That may be a deal breaker for some people, but I think if it is, maybe they shouldn't be in that home anyway," Whelan said.

While Whelan agreed insurance premiums would not be reduced to any great degree in a home with a system, streets in subdivisions do not have to be as wide to handle two fire trucks side by side.

"There's more green space, building setbacks are smaller and fire access points can be negotiated" due to sprinkler systems aiding in fire prevention and control, Whelan said.

Other mitigation can include rebates and lower or no building permit fees, he added. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 99 percent in a home that catches fire but has a system, Whelan said.

Sprinkler systems also help cut water used to fight a house fire by 50 percent, while water damage, a leading factor in determining monetary loss in a fire, is reduced to only 3 percent, Whelan said.

Brands said if Rifle were to consider some of the mitigation steps Whelan listed, "I might be willing to listen. We could save on sidewalks, curbs and gutters. If the city wants to get really serious about changing some of their requirements, we could all save real money."

City Councilman Rich Carter said the main purpose of the city code is to protect public health and safety.

"I think we already do a lot for that," he said. "I know it can get to the point where people feel they're over-regulated. I have no doubt a sprinkler system makes a home safer, but I also think a home owner has to bear some responsibility to make sure their smoke detectors work."


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 14, 2012 07:35PM Published Nov 14, 2012 07:35PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.