There is a heated debate in a Chicago suburb over a proposal that would require fire sprinklers in all new homes. The Hickory Hills City Council this week will consider whether to approve the new ordinance, which has stirred protest from Realtor and home builder groups.
More than 20 Illinois communities, as well as cities in other states, too, have considered fire sprinkler mandates for new homes, and the proposed laws often pit real estate interests against city officials.
Tom Joseph, government affairs director for the West/South Suburban Chicagoland Realtor Association, said the association is not opposed to the option of fire sprinklers in new homes – but it is opposed to a mandate for the systems, which can push up the price of new homes and lead to additional maintenance costs for homeowners.
The association argues that a mandate for fire sprinkles can burden home buyers with additional costs, though the association supports those homeowners and builders who freely choose to purchase the systems.
“Realtors are advocates for property rights. They represent buyers and sellers on a host of issues when it comes to property rights,” he said. “If a buyer or builder sees merit in putting (fire sprinklers) in, that’s a different story. That’s the choice we all make. Our concern is mandating it.”
He added, “We do see this as stepping across that line when it comes to allowing the resident to make a choice. There is no cost for safety, but you can’t stop human behavior.”
Joseph said that the association sent a letter to Hickory Hills Mayor Michael Howley to express its views on the matter. Howley did not immediately respond to Inman News’ questions about the ordinance.
The ordinance, which will be considered during a Thursday city meeting, applies to all newly constructed structures in the city, as well as existing multi-family structures that are converted into condominiums.
Joann Jackson, Hickory Hills city clerk, said that an earlier version of the proposed ordinance also would have required automatic fire sprinkler systems in all structures undergoing substantial reconstruction or rehabilitation that costs 50 percent or more of the reproduction cost of the structure.
Jeff Metzger, a spokesman for the Attainable Housing Alliance, a group that represents about 800 home builders in Illinois, said city fire sprinkler mandates for new homes “is an issue they see before city councils time and time again.” Metzger said the group plans to issue a letter to Hickory Hills officials this week about its concerns with the proposal.
The group would prefer that the city pass an ordinance that requires home builders or remodelers to give the option of a home sprinkler system, and to offer educational information about sprinkler systems, Metzger said. “We’re not opposed to (sprinkler systems) in commercial buildings or multi-family homes.”
Joseph said that about 21 or 22 communities in Illinois have proposed fire sprinkler ordinances. The Countryside Fire Protection District in Illinois adopted an ordinance in July requiring fire sprinkler systems to be installed in all new homes, according to the Northern Illinois District of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, and the association has advocated for such ordinances, citing reduced fire damage and lower risk for injuries and deaths in homes with fire sprinklers.
Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1985 adopted a fire sprinkler ordinance mandating all new buildings to have sprinkler systems, and the association noted that the Scottsdale Fire Department credited the systems for potentially saving several lives. The cost of fire damage can be up to 75 percent less in homes with fire sprinklers, the association also noted.
City officials in Redlands, Calif., and Fontana, Calif., have passed laws mandating fire sprinklers in new homes, while officials in Banning, Calif., considered but rejected a similar proposal in November. City officials in Banning found that the cost for a sprinkler system, at $3,000 or more per home, was restrictive, and they did not favor a mandate.
The National Association of Home Builders has worked to support opposition to such ordinances. For example, the association supported the Building Industry Association of Clark County in opposing a mandate for fire sprinklers in new homes in Camas, Wash.
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