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Should We Promote Sprinkling Habitat Homes?

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?

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Bill Miller May 19, 2009, 11:25 am

    Austin, TX has had 80 Habitat homes sprinklered.

  • Steve Butsko May 19, 2009, 12:21 pm

    We should promote the sprinkling of every new home that is built ,no matter where or who it is built for. We have a great opportunity here to band together and do what is right for the safety of the communities we serve, thats what they pay us to do. With help from a FEMA grant, we received a firesafety/sprinkler house and we are taking our message on the road to teach our comminuty and neighboring communities the benefits and safety of residential sprinklers. The time is now for residential sprinklers.

  • FM William Burns May 19, 2009, 3:08 pm

    Sorry for some of the grammer errors, I believe the author requested editing. I agree with the promotion of RFS in all dwellings but historically there have been issues with Habitat dwellings accepting the concept. I applaud Austin, that’s excellent!

  • Paul Dove May 19, 2009, 7:39 pm

    Yes, we should promote campaign and educate legislators, officials, firefighters and the public on the benefits of Residential Sprinklers for all dwellings. In some areas of the country the organization this article relates to have historically opposed their inclusion and with a little ambition they can realize the benefits also. For those communities who have successfully sprinkled Habitat homes, that’s great and keep up the great work since these homes are typically developed for at risk populations. This is not to say that all populations are not at risk but some are greater than others and I applaud Habitat for Humanity for allowing us to assist.

  • Mike May 20, 2009, 6:55 pm

    Here is a recent link to some activity in SW Michigan. Gotta love the Grand Rapids home builders, you can’t make this up


  • Mike Lewis June 5, 2009, 9:26 am

    130 year old rowhouses are the type of HFH structures that I am familiar with. Sprinklers in these renovated homes are definitely needed as the adjacent structure may still be a shell of a building full of fire load debris.

  • Mike June 27, 2009, 7:57 pm

    Michigan Habitat wants sprinklers out of the 09 code, check out this story http://www.habitatmichigan.org/event/residential-fire-sprinkler-code-change-hearing-july-22-9-am

  • Robert A. Long September 3, 2009, 7:57 pm

    I wish I could address these issues as quick as I hear about them. The ECO Group Inc, and inventor Robert A. Long have developed and demonstrated a U.L. Listed 13D dry pipe valve assembly. This device was specifically designed around simplicity. Air to close, fail open actuated ball valves are the heart of the system. The whole idea was to be able to provide superior fire suppression at a low cost (approx. 1.66 per sq. ft.) sra., low maintenance cost, web based offsite monitoring and simple installation in new or retrofit applications.

    I would like the opportunity to demonstrate this brand new technology to ANY opposition to fire suppression for ANY reason especially cost or complexity.

    Robert A. Long
    President/ Founder The ECO Group Inc.

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