Not just a drop in the bucket …
TAHOE CITY ” It’s time to start summer renovations, but for some North Shore communities, developers and residents, a water supply ordinance instated by the North Tahoe Fire Protection District last year is cramping their pocketbooks.
In an effort to increase community fire suppression abilities, the fire district said all new construction ” new homes, remodels and additions ” must have a sprinkler system attached to the project.
Chief Duane Whitelaw said the sprinklers can be critical to suppressing a fire until firefighters arrive to combat a structure blaze. But he acknowledged the extra expense ” sometimes reaching into the tens of thousands ” can be a headache, but said the installation would prove itself.
“The sprinklers are an excellent mitigating factor to a home fire and are effective at mitigating property damage and keeping a fire contained to its point of origin,” Whitelaw said.
“It doesn’t make people happy when they are faced with that unforeseen expense, but when these sprinkler systems can both save lives and reduce property damage, they are worth it,” Whitelaw said.
Jim Morrison, of Jim Morrison Construction in Truckee, said he does work in the North Lake area and said on a $1-$2 million dollar new home, buyers are looking at somewhere in the $20,000 range for a sprinkler system.
“Most people aren’t aware of the regulation,” Morrison said. “For some of them it’s just a pain when they are looking at the expenses, but they’ll do it.”
John Brink of John Brink Construction in Tahoe City said he had one project in Incline Village, where some similar regulations are in place, where an owner decided not to go through with an addition due to the extra cost of a sprinkler system.
“You’ve got to get in there and open up the ceiling. It definitely impedes remodel work a little bit,” Brink said. But, Brink added, he thinks the ordinance is probably a good one.
Susan Kolak, who works at Bruce Olson Construction in Tahoe City, said the company has been adding sprinklers to all projects since at least 1991.
“It’s just smart and cost effective when you think about the cost of a house and the fact they could save it,” Kolak said.
Dave Kay, a Carnelian Bay resident, remodeled his home in 2004. He didn’t add a sprinkler system, but said he thinks the ordinance is a good idea.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to have to sit down and budget for when we remodel again,” Kay said, a project he hopes to start sometime in the next 2-3 years. “It may mean I push my project back a year or two to save a bit more for the sprinkler system, but I think it’s a smart insurance policy, especially if you’re talking about only one corner of one room burning instead of your whole house. I can see why people would be upset with the cost, it’s a little much, but it’s better than the alternative.”
Local government agencies are stepping up to combat a related problem, too.
Whitelaw said part of the need for a sprinkler system is because water pressure in the North Tahoe communities is very low, and cannot meet the 1,000 gallon per minute for two hours standards needed by the fire district.
“… many of the systems were put in with only domestic water use in mind,” Whitelaw said. “When it comes to adequate storage for fire protection, many of our communities are way behind.”
He said the fire district is at times forced to bring their own water in the from of a tender truck when they cannot receive adequate pressure from the hydrant system, losing valuable minutes en transit.
According to a May 12 press release, the North Tahoe Public Utility District will provide up to 100 lineal feet of water main to a property where new fire mitigation equipment is installed. The Board of Directors appropriated $80,000 for the project and will review the benefits after one year.
Leon Shegg, who works with the PUD’s public utilities, said the project is to help property owners receive the water flow they need to support the sprinkler systems. He said the funds came from the district’s general account.
Tahoe City is also getting some waterflow upgrades in a couple of neighborhoods ” Tahoe Highlands and Tahoe Tavern Heights.
In a decision Executive Director Cindy Gustafson called a “starting point,” the Tahoe City PUD is using federal funding to improve waterflow to those two areas, including a new booster pump station, new hydrants and fire extinguishers. The funds came this year in the amount of $500,000 to the PUD.
“I think customers need to understand we’re going to do our best because many of these systems were built many years ago, before these specifications, and it’s not a simple matter,” Gustafson said. “We’re going to do our best to address those areas which are most deficient first to bring them up to standard.”
Matt Homolka, the Tahoe City PUD engineer, said the projects will begin this fall and should wrap up by next summer.
“Our goal is to make fire protection as strong as we can within reason,” Homolka said.
Whitelaw praised both PUDs for their willingness to help in fire suppression.
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