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March 8, 2011 | By | Posted in Legislature

House Approves Repeal Of Sprinkler Mandate For Pennsylvania Homes

Senate will address bill in April

By Eric Boehm   PA Independent
 
A costly mandate requiring sprinkler systems to be installed in all new residential homes in Pennsylvania was repealed Monday by the state House of Representatives.
 
The chamber voted 154-39 in favor of repealing the sprinkler mandate. The mandate will remain on the books until the state Senate and Gov. Tom Corbett also approve the repeal.
 
As of Jan. 1, Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code (UCC) requires all new single- and double-family homes to have sprinkler systems installed. Those in favor of the new mandate say sprinkler systems save lives while the Pennsylvania Builders Association claims the mandate increases costs by up to $15,000 per new home, hurting the state’s struggling construction industry.
 
State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee, said the sprinkler mandate was a major concern for builders in the state.
 
“It’s too much of a drag on our economy,” said Miller. “The amount of safety factor improvements doesn’t merit the extra cost and the systems themselves are fraught with problems. We can’t do anything to harm the economic recovery.”
 
The state Senate Labor and Industry Committee plans to move on the sprinkler mandate repeal in April. Mr. Corbett is also expected to approve the repeal of the mandate.
 
Firefighters’ associations led the movement in support of the sprinkler requirement, arguing sprinklers greatly improve the safety of first responders. 
 
In response to those concerns, the bill was amended last week to include a requirement for additional fireproofing material on the underside of floorboards in homes where sprinklers are not installed. Another amendment requires home builders to offer potential buyers the option of having sprinklers installed and to inform them of the safety benefits from the sprinklers.
 
State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, said the average cost of installing a sprinkler system in a new home is about $4,000, considerably less than the Builders’ Association estimate. He said the cost was worth the safety provided by the systems.
 
“More than 3,000 lives are still lost each year in home fires,” said Santarsiero. “While smoke alarms are good for alerting occupants, fire sprinklers provide the minimum time to allow people to escape including the elderly, young, impaired and disabled.”
 
For state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, the issue was about government regulation rather than the cost of the new construction.
 
“The sprinkler mandate is over-regulating jobs,” said Mr. Reed said. “It is equivalent to tying an anchor around the foot of the housing market while it's still struggling to keep its head above water.”
 
The state established the UCC in 2004 when the General Assembly directed the Department of Labor and Industry to establish a statewide building code. The department adopted the International Code Council’s triennial building code.
 
When the ICC updated the code to include the sprinkler mandate, Pennsylvania adopted the new rule without any legislative action.
 
Supporters of the mandate maintain it is important to keep the building code independent from legislative action, which can turn matters of safety into political issues.
 
Miller, however, said the Legislature already has altered the building code on five occasions since it was adopted in 2004.
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