Residential Sprinklers Become a Hot Issue in Louisville

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Real Estate Agent

fire, firefighterThe thought of having a fire in your home is unthinkable, yet every year in Louisville, property and lives are lost in residential fires.  Nationwide, over half of all home fires occur in December, January, and February.  Stirred by the case of two young boys who died in a Christmas Day fire at their grandparents' home in Glenview in 2009, Rep. Jim Wayne is proposing a state law that would authorize Kentucky cities and counties to pass legislation requiring sprinkler systems in new homes throughout the state.  This bill promoting residential sprinklers has become a hot issue in the Louisville area..

Though the home where the fire occurred had smoke detectors and an alarm system, the boys were trapped in a second floor bedroom and were unable to either exit the home or be rescued.  The boys' grandfather, Irv Bailey, is anguished by his inability to rescue his grandsons.  As he states, "If we'd had a sprinkler, it could have been a different outcome."  He has recently made a video for National Fire Protection Association "Faces of Fire" campaign to promote the installation of sprinkler systems in new homes.

According to Bruce Bouch, director of public education for the state fire marshal in Maryland, home sprinklers react immediately when the temperature exceeds a certain level.  As he notes in a recent article in the Louisville Courier Journal, fires usually spread from room to room within three minutes. "That's long before the fire department arrives. The sprinkler acts instantly ...putting water onto the fire before it's too large." In Maryland, where 12 of 23 counties require the sprinklers, side-by-side demonstrations have shown how sprinklers can reduce damage.

If Wayne's law passes, it would make Kentucky one of a growing number of states that allow municipalities to require residential sprinklers.  California and Pennsylvania both mandate sprinkler installation in new homes; a similar regulation will take effect in 2014 in South Carolina will do.  Over 30 states have regulations in place in part of the state.

Currently there is no state law in Kentucky that permits such regulations in local communities.  The City of Indian Hills enacted a law requiring sprinklers in new construction in 2008, but has been unable to enforce the law since the Kentucky Office of Housing, Buildings and Construction maintains that local codes cannot exceed what is authorized by the state code.  Wayne's law would end the dispute between Indian Hills and the state.

The National Fire Protection Association, as well as local firefighters throughout the state, sees sprinkler requirements as a no brainer that would add only about $2,400, or $1.61 per square foot for a 1,500 square foot home.  In addition to the increased safety offered by the sprinklers, homeowners would qualify for homeowners' insurance discounts, which would offset the cost of installation over the years.. 

However, the measure faces opposition from the Home Builders Association of Kentucky.  The group maintains that it would add a minimum of $5,000 to the cost of new construction - a negative in a era where their industry had been pummeled by the recession.  The high costs are due not only to the cost of the sprinklers themselves, but due to the need for a different water meter and a water pump. This group wants sprinklers to be optional.  Some critics oppose the measure as more government intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens, while others lament that the measure would only affect new homes which are often safer and not existing structures.

Do you want to weigh in on this hot issue?  You can voice your opinion to Rep. Wayne's office or vote online at Louisville History & Issues. You can also find out more information about the pro's and con's of residential sprinkler systems at the NFPA's website and by subscribing to their RSS feed for the latest news on the subject.

Regardless of how you feel about the new law, there are homes for sale in Louisville right now that offer sprinklers.  If you want a home with this important safety feature, contact Mollie Younger,  of Younger Real Estate to view homes you will like in great Louisville neighborhoods. The Younger Group = We Know Louisville!

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