Side-by-side demonstration of home fire sprinklers
There should be no debate.
If sprinkler systems were installed as a part of new home construction — as standard as doorbells and kitchen sinks — lives would be saved.
About 2,570 people die every year in house fires. That’s about seven lives lost every single day in America. An additional 13,000-plus people are injured in these fires annually.
Apparently, those tallies are not enough loss of life, not enough preventable grief to overcome the two most common rationales for opposing mandatory installation of sprinkler systems in new home construction in the U.S.
Dissected, both arguments against such a requirement are flimsy.
First, of course, is cost. Sprinkler systems would raise the price of home construction, the oft-repeated script says.
Yes, they would. But not by the astronomical sums some opponents, such as the National Association of Home Builders, suggest. Prices vary, depending on square footage. One 2013 study put the price tag at about $1.35 for every square foot.
That’s a few thousand dollars for most homes. And that price could be cut down, even halved, if installation becomes routine. So it is unlikely that someone would be priced out of a home purchase by adding a sprinkler system. Also, lower insurance rates would help offset the initial outlay, further negating the cost argument.
The second reason often cited for rejecting these life-saving measures is simply an opposition to anything that could be labeled as a government mandate.
Meddlesome government regulations with no clear purpose understandably draw disdain. But are we really going to quibble about a relatively simple design change that is guaranteed to save lives?
The answer for years has been a resounding “yes.”
Both Missouri and Kansas prohibit cities from imposing their own sprinkler regulations that could protect both residents and firefighters. Unfortunately, this puts our two states in line with much of America. It’s a sorry state of affairs that says more about the power of lobbyists than common sense.
These concerns were underscored by recent high-profile fires that terrified local families. A Kansas City Star story outlined the diligent efforts of groups such as the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition, which has long pressed for sprinkler systems in new homes.
In 2009, the International Residential Code approved a standard saying that one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses ought to be constructed with sprinklers. The pushback began soon after. States exempted themselves.
Critics need to move beyond the idea that sprinklers are a high-end extra for new residences, like an upgraded countertop of marble or a cedar closet instead of the standard finish.
A fire is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a family’s home or business. A fire fatality that was highly preventable only deepens the grief.