Carroll County has become the first Baltimore metropolitan jurisdiction to enact an ordinance requiring sprinklers in all new residential construction.
The county commissioners unanimously approved the measure, which builders contend could add as much as $10,000 to the cost of a single-family home.
The law, which had overwhelming support from Carroll's volunteer firefighters, will immediately become part of the county's building code but will not affect building permits applied for before Jan. 1, 2006, said County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender.
The ordinance, which was approved Tuesday, does not apply to the county's eight incorporated towns, although many municipalities have supported the measure and Mount Airy has passed a sprinkler ordinance that provided a model for the county law.
"I honestly feel that what the commissioners did today saved future lives and could save the life of a firefighter in the future," said Scott R. Campbell, the county administrator of public safety support services and a fire-protection engineer.
Prince George's and Montgomery counties have sprinkler requirements for new one- and two-family houses, said John Dennis Gentzel, a fire-protection engineer for the Maryland state fire marshal.
Has had inquiries
He said he has had inquiries about such an ordinance from Talbot and Frederick counties and some municipalities.
Last year, Howard County required that homebuilders offer sprinklers as an option in new single-family homes, said Howard Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Simmons.
A proposal similar to Carroll's is "still on the table," but Simmons said it will not be considered until after an evaluation of the optional sprinkler law is completed.
Ellen Kobler, a Baltimore County spokeswoman, said her county is exploring the issue of sprinklers.
Gentzel provided estimates from eight companies that sprinklers would add an estimated $1.24 per square foot to the cost of homes with public water and $1.85 per square foot where there is a private water supply.
Tom Ballentine, director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, estimated that the requirement could add $10,000 to the cost of a new home. He said that figure might be conservative and depends upon the availability of public water. Homes on private well systems might need underground holding tanks.
"We share the opinion reflected in the national building code that it's not a necessary or cost-effective measure," Ballentine said. "But that being said, the commissioners are within their right to amend their building code."
In 1992, Gentzel said, Maryland became the first state to require sprinklers in new townhouse developments. Since 1990, the state has required sprinklers in apartments, hotels, dormitories, hospitals and nursing homes.
"We see it as a life-safety system, but it not only saves lives, it saves property," Gentzel said.
Michael Maring, chief of Carroll's bureau of permits and inspections, said he does not expect a rush for building permits. The county has six months to issue a permit after an application, and the applicant then has two years to use the permit, he said.
"I have not seen any influx of people coming in," Maring said. "It will be probably more than usual, but people don't really apply for building permits to beat something like this.
"With impact fees and things like that, people don't normally apply unless they're going to build."
His office issued 61 permits last month, compared with 44 in May 2004, 106 in May 2003, 146 in May 2002 and 108 in May 2001, Maring said. "I would say it's about normal," he said.