New homes being built in Rock Island, elsewhere may require sprinklers

Originally Posted Online: Dec. 01, 2012, 11:02 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 02, 2012, 2:21 pm
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By Eric Timmons

New homes in the City of Rock Island, rural Rock Island County and Milan will have to be built with a sprinkler system beginning Jan. 1, unless officials dump a new regulation developers say adds thousands to the cost of building homes.

Bettendorf is expected to delay introduction of the same rule until next August, although the city council may end up dropping the requirement after push back from home builders, who say the requirement would make new homes less affordable.

Rock Island's chief building official, Tom Ayers, said he was "very confident" the city council would vote to drop or delay the residential sprinkler requirement before Jan. 1.

A residential sprinkler mandate for one and two-family homes also would put the Illinois Quad Cities at a further competitive disadvantage in attracting new development, opponents of the regulation have warned.

New home starts in Rock Island County have lagged far behind Scott County for years.

However, a coalition that includes the International Association of Fire Chiefs has been pushing for residential sprinkler mandates for single family homes as a way to reduce deaths from fires.

A growing number of communities, including 84 in Illinois, already have residential sprinkler requirements, as do some states.

Sprinklers are already required in most buildings, saidJeff Shapiro, the executive director of the International Residential Code Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and it makes sense they should also be required in new homes.

"Statistically, homes are the most dangerous for fire of any place you'll go," he said.

Sprinklers extinguish fires in 90 percent of cases, Mr. Shapiro said, and could reduce deaths from fire for residents and make firefighter's jobs safer.

Most cities adopt building regulations written by the Washington, D.C., based International Code Council, which updates residential codes every few years.

In states like Iowa and Illinois that don't have statewide mandates, cities can choose to keep older codes on their books or leave out or amend residential sprinkler requirements in the new codes.

The 2009 International Residential Code was the first to include a residential sprinkler requirement for single family homes. The 2012 code also includes the sprinkler requirement, and they were adopted by Milan this year.

Rock Island, Bettendorf and Rock Island County have adopted the 2009 code. Moline, East Moline and Davenport have earlier codes on their books that don't include residential sprinkler requirements.

"We are aware of the residential sprinkler requirements and that is not something we want to adopt at this time," East Moline Administrator Cole O'Donnell said. "For residential properties I think the city believes the cost outweighs the benefits."

The City of Rock Island and Rock Island County, the latter of which regulates building in unincorporated parts of the county, both delayed the introduction of the residential sprinkler mandate from Jan. 1 of last year to Jan. 1, 2013.

The Quad Cities Home Builders Associationis opposed to the residential sprinkler requirements.

Kerry Condon, the group's president, said home builders haveno problem installing sprinklers if asked to do so by a customer. But they don't want to be forced into putting sprinklers into every house they build.

"We really don't want this to be mandatory," Mr. Condon said."Illinois is already behind the eight-ball. This would not help the situation."

The home builders association recently asked a local company submit a bid to install sprinklers in a new 2,200 square foot home, Mr. Condon said.The bid came back at $11,000 and with extras the total cost to a developer would come to around $14,0000, Mr. Condon said, a number that would add a big burden to new home construction.

However, a study by the National Fire Protection Association put the average price to install sprinklers at $1.61 per square foot, or $3,452 for a 2,200 square foot home.

The study looked at prices around the country and found prices were lower in areas that already have residential sprinkler mandates like California, where the average price was $0.38 per square foot, because of competition in the market.

David Falk, director of new construction with Ruhl & Ruhl, said the new home market on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities was already so slow that sprinkler requirements would likely not make much difference to the market.

The perception that schools, infrastructure and the economy in general are stronger in Iowa has translated into more demand for new homes in Scott County than across the river, he said.

Cities that have not adopted the newer building codes that include residential sprinkler requirements are likely to come under increasing pressure to do so, said Mr. Shapiro.

He also said that home builders could be exposed to legal claims in the case of a fire in a home that does not have sprinklers if that begins to become the norm across the country.

In Bettendorf,Community Development director Bill Connors said the city was following guidelines from the State of Iowa, which has adopted residential sprinkler requirement starting Jan. 1.

As a home rule municipality, Bettendorf is not mandated to follow the state and following talks with home builders the city recommended to delay imposing a residential sprinkler requirement until next August.

The city council unanimously backed the proposal in an initial vote with a final reading of the ordinance change due to take place later this month.

Ald. James Steward, 5th Ward, said people should have the choice to have a sprinkler system installed and not be forced to do so. He'd support Bettendorf dropping residential sprinkler requirements altogether but is concerned the state could introduce a mandate.

New home starts, Illinois and Iowa Quad-Cities

New home starts 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 (year to date)
Scott County 479  351 304 345 353
Rock Island County 120 85 72 51 N/A*
*Numbers for 2012 were not available for Rock island County
Source:  Rock Island County, Davenport and Scott County assessors

Jurisdictions with residential sprinkler requirements
Rock Island from Jan. 1, 2013.
Bettendorf from Aug. 1, 2013
Rock Island County from Jan. 1, 2013
Milan from Jan. 1, 2013


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