By Paul Dove,
This is an interesting question that I asked myself before the addition of the sprinkler requirements in the last remaining model code to accept them for one and two family homes and townhouses.
During the period in time where the International Building Code and International Residential Code (IBC/IRC) committee’s were reviewing code change proposals for this addition and subsequently during the committee’s refusal to accept numerous proposals to include them; I was approached by one of our fire suppression personnel who learned that a new Habitat Home was being planned in our jurisdiction.
The firefighter informed me of the project and presented me with information on a physical limitation one of the family’s children had. He asked if I thought we could get sprinklers donated. This is what started the research process into the feasibility of the project.
The greatest road block to my surprise was the historic stance the National organization had was to not recommend Residential Fire Sprinklers (RFS) for their projects but they would leave it up to regional groups and local affiliates to decide. They question that kept coming up was why?
It seemed that the greatest concern was a perceived lack in ability for homeowners to maintain such a complex system like sprinklers, the potentials for water damage and the potential liability for a non-maintained system and failure to operate.
Seizing this as an opportunity to provide public education, the local affiliate here in our county was contacted to discuss and address some of the concerns that may exist about RFS. I met with the affiliate’s General Contractor and we had a great discussion about the common myths associated to (RFS). He suggested that the local Board of Directors for Habitat be contacted and present them with the information we had discussed during our meeting and possibly provide them with materials to explain (RFS).
Naturally, as things work out the meeting was scheduled during the ICC Final Action Hearing where the vote for (RFS) was going to take place. Our Building Official was willing to take the roll on and to discuss this with the Habitat Board and show them a presentation. The meeting was a success and the local affiliate was receptive and voted unanimously to having a system donated for this project.
The work now began to find contractors and resources where we could get the materials and installation donated. Various fire protection firms were contacted and we discussed the proposal and details about the Habitat project with them. I received commitments from three companies who all agreed to donate the entire design, materials, installation and labor for the home.
I was now faced with multiple companies who wanted to get involved and would the project need one contractor or multiple? After contacting each of them back and graciously thanking each of them for their willingness to assist I notified them that I decided to go with a single source for our ease and needs in consistency for plan review, inspection and final testing.
The first company to commit was chosen and in an effort to not alienate the other two companies; I asked each of them if they would be interested in getting involved in the future for other Habitat projects if the affiliate wanted to do more since this would be their first sprinkled home in our region and they both agreed.
The affiliate’s General Contractor was notified of the company and they began the preparation work for the sprinkler company’s needs to design the system and establish work schedules for their needs in installation. The sprinkler company and the Habitat general contractor began to discuss the schedule and other details and we stayed involved to help with the various processes.
This personal touch also assured and reinforced the Habitat Board’s desire that we would be assuring full code compliance in the process. The Water Department was contacted and we sought some relief from the tapping and metering fees associated to residential construction and they agreed to assist, which made the entire process work much smoother. We were also able to get an exterior and interior alarm donated that went above the minimal standard requirement in NFPA 13D.
Once the plan review, installation rough-in and final acceptance testing was completed and the system was approved and there was a service held to give the home to the family. The fire department was asked to attend and during the ceremony, I was asked by the affiliate Habitat Board to explain the sprinkler system donation to the guests in attendance. I seized this platform to provide some additional public education to those dignitaries in attendance and afterwards I privately asked the family if I could stay after the ceremony to provide some additional training and operational procedures on the sprinkler system to them. Some of the dignitaries wanted to learn more also so I figured the more the merrier.
The entire process worked out so well that I honestly believe the additional personal touches, willingness to educate and the development of partnerships allowed us to successfully get the sprinkler system installed. The regional affiliate organization has since agreed to install (RFS) in all their future home projects.
Habitat Homes are donated to socioeconomic populations that are directly related to our mission in public education related to fire prevention.
So, should we promote the sprinkling of Habitat Homes?