Renton home designer: fire sprinklers not always cost effective
June 20, 2008 · Updated 11:34 AM
As a residential designer in Renton, I feel compelled to respond to a recent letter to the editor. My goal as a designer is to produce the best home solution for my client. This may or may not include fire sprinklers but does consider their “bottom line” and safety. Fire sprinkler systems are good to have but should not always be required.
The writer’s obvious bias against the Master Builder’s Association (MBA) seems to have affected his math abilities. If a fire sprinkler system costs one-half percent of a new home’s price, that would average $2,000 in a $400,000 home. The actual installed cost averages over $8,000. Spread it over a 30-year loan and it doubles to $16,000. The savings one can expect from homeowners insurance on a $400,000 home would be about $100 per year. $16,000/$100 equals a 160-year payoff. This alone is “economic grounds” to avoid sprinklers.
Keep in mind that residential fire-sprinkler systems are not fire-suppression systems. While they may put out a small fire directly in their path, they are specifically designed to increase the escape time occupants have before the fire gets beyond its control. This effectively negates fire and water damages as a cost variable. Fire marshals can and do require fire sprinklers wherever the fire department cannot respond to or gain complete access to, regardless of a city’s codes.
New homes within four to six minutes of a fire department (most of us), with all of today’s required life-safety technology, are not unsafe. To expect that a builder must “eat” the cost of a sprinkler system shows ignorance in construction and basic economics. The additional cost, with the contractor’s typical markup, will be added onto the house’s cost, guaranteeing higher-cost homes. Water departments will have to redesign their systems to provide increased availability, adding costs to everyone with or without sprinkler systems. It is an enhancement and will be marketed that way, forcing up the basic cost of any new home.
Forced requirement of sprinklers in every new home is an additional and unnecessary intrusion of government into our daily lives that is not yet economically irrelevant as the writer attempted to promote. Have an escape plan; test your smoke detectors monthly and keep them working; learn to use extinquishers;if you can afford it, put in sprinklers, and use common scense to avoid fire hazards.