Tahoe/Truckee fire agencies, Realtors discuss impending mandatory CA sprinkler law
November 15, 2010
TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; Increased state fire sprinkler regulations planned for the new year are spurting concerns from local fire officials who say added new construction costs, enforcement and freezing pipes are big issues to resolve.
The Truckee Fire Protection District Board of Directors and#8212; which recently adopted a resolution to align the district with the stateand#8217;s soon-to-be-enacted law and#8212; said benefits include more fire protection coverage and the need for less manpower during fires. However, a major concern are new construction costs to current homes, as they could spike building costs.
The law will require all new homes built in California, regardless of elevation, must have fire sprinklers installed.
and#8220;It seems like it might be cost prohibitive,and#8221; said board member Gary Waters.
Interim Fire Chief Bob Bena said the estimated price for a sprinkler system retrofit is between $5 and $6 per square foot.
He said he is concerned about enforcement under the districtand#8217;s current staffing limitations.
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and#8220;It would be virtually impossible for us to (inspect sprinklers) on all residential buildings,and#8221; Bena said. and#8220;Itand#8217;s a law that would be nearly impossible to enforce.and#8221;
However, the board said one possibility for enforcement could be handled through insurance company incentives for homes with certified sprinkler systems.
While empathizing with building developers who are likely to see a rise in material and labor costs and#8212; and with new home buyers potentially to see indirectly higher prices and#8212; North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw said the potential cost in human lives would be catastrophic if the state did not endorse the policy.
and#8220;It is not cheap to put residential sprinklers into a home,and#8221; Whitelaw said. and#8220;Yet, fire sprinklers save lives, and we continue to hold to that premise.and#8221;
Whitelaw said for many fire districts across the state the new law will change nothing, since they have already adopted the requirement into individual department codes.
Homes in high elevations are also a concern, officials said, because chilly temperatures might require some sprinkler systems to use antifreeze solutions to keep pipes from freezing.
Thatand#8217;s a problem, they said, considering antifreeze solutions have recently come under scrutiny by many fire officials for having potential to ignite when discharged through automatic sprinklers heads.
The National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit fire prevention research and code recommendation organization, banned the use of antifreeze until more research has been conducted after the fatal explosion last August at Henness Flats in Truckee.
The explosion, which, according to the California State Fire Marshaland#8217;s Office, was caused by a grease fire and compounded by antifreeze in the fire sprinkler system, killed Isela Minutti, 27, and severely injured Wuliber Martinez (who was 30 at the time) on Aug. 18, 2009.
The ban came in an August 2010 press release in which NFPA stated antifreeze solutions with concentrations of propylene glycol exceeding 40 percent and concentrations of glycerin exceeding 50 percent can ignite when discharged through automatic sprinklers.
Greater insulation is the only non-antifreeze NFPA remedy suggested for keeping pipes from freezing.
Whitelaw said he is not fearful of antifreeze problems because new antifreeze solutions, if premixed, will never lose their solution compositions over time and#8212; a concern for past antifreeze sprinkler solutions.
and#8220;I think itand#8217;s important to remember that antifreeze systems have been used in cold climate for a long time,and#8221; Whitelaw said. and#8220;But so long as the concentrations are correct, the pressure in the pipes are correct and the orifices in the sprinkler head are operational, antifreeze solutions are totally safe.and#8221;
Other potential solutions, Whitelaw said, include:
and#8226; installing a dry pipe system to keep pipes filled with air until activated by high temperatures; or
and#8226; a multipurpose system, a newer design that connects sprinklers with the home plumbing water supply.
and#8220;Our position is that as long as the sprinkler objectives are met, itand#8217;s pretty wide open for developers to figure out how to meet the requirement,and#8221; Whitelaw said.