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Fire & Life Safety: Getting Homebuilders on Board with Home Fire-Sprinklers

There's been a lot of media coverage about code battles won and lost since the ICC's 2009 International Building Code requirement for fire sprinklers in new single-family homes and townhouses. California and Maryland provided positive leadership and enacted the 2009 IRC statewide. But lawmakers in other states have introduced bills to block the sprinkler requirement from homes, frustrating fire and other officials.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has for several years led the powerful anti-sprinkler legislation charge. In fact, the group's online document Value of NAHB Membership lists its work to defeat mandatory sprinkler protection as one of the membership benefits.

To respond to that negativity, the IAFC, NFPA and other fire service organizations have focused on advocacy and on providing a wide range of resources that effectively support the fire service in its local code adoption and upgrade activities.

The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), in which the IAFC and NFPA participate, has been tackling the problem from another angle: education.

HFSC has reached out proactively to homebuilders from day one. As the organization grew, it began exhibiting at NAHB's International Builders Show (IBS), which is the best-attended conference for the homebuilding industry, drawing tens of thousands of professionals every year.

In those early years, HFSC's booth at IBS wasn't very popular, but the organization recognized that there's a big difference between the NAHB's national party line and individual homebuilders' perspectives. HFSC put together a comprehensive IBS exhibit, designed to draw in homebuilders with the information they wanted and needed, and developed educational materials that responded directly to homebuilder concerns and questions and refuted the erroneous information that was so rampant.

Over the years, the booth at IBS has garnered increasing interest; homebuilders seek advice, information and materials and interact with HFSC board members, staff and guests. Many builders recognize that sprinklers add value to the homes they build and to their businesses.

HFSC also offers an interactive, 3-D behind-the-walls educational online video, which shows how an NFPA 13D system is supplied and installed and how it operates in a house. The video was recently updated to include important new water supply and other graphics, as well as closed captioning.

The tide is turning as more homebuilders want to learn about home fire sprinklers and are starting to offer them regardless of their communities' codes. The evidence can increasingly be seen on their websites and in their social media outreach:

  • Express Modular, which builds homes across much of the U.S., recommends fire sprinklers to its customers and features educational material on its website. 
  • In Cape Coral, Fla., Island Harbor Construction provides fire sprinkler systems at no charge to new homebuyers.
  • In Canada, Greer Home Builders made sprinklers a key component of their line of homes beginning in 2012. 
  • Gold Seal Homes installs sprinklers in every new house they build.

To ensure that tomorrow's homebuilders get it, HFSC is launching a new fire department program to educate local vocational and shop students about the dangers of home fires and the need for fire-sprinkler systems. With funding through a 2011 Fire Prevention & Safety Grant, HFSC will be able to award 15 U.S. fire departments with $1,500 stipends to help them present an educational event for vocational students with live side-by-side flashover/sprinkler demonstrations.

If your department hasn't gotten involved with local home fire-sprinkler outreach yet, now's the time. Visit HFSC's website to learn how you can make fire sprinklers a focus of your home fire-safety program.

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