Homebuilders oppose Arundel sprinkler measure

The Baltimore Sun

For many, a residential sprinkler system seems to be a simple and effective way to prevent deadly household fires.

But homebuilders say an Anne Arundel County bill that would require sprinklers in newly built single-family homes would place an unnecessary strain on an industry that is struggling.

The bill, which the Anne Arundel County Council passed in a 6-1 vote this week, and which has the support of County Executive John R. Leopold, would require that all "new one- or two-family dwellings, town homes and first-occupancy manufactured homes," be equipped with sprinklers. About 30 members of the county's fire service attended Monday's County Council meeting to support the bill, including Fire Chief John Robert Ray. Many applauded after the council approved the bill.

"You have the power to literally save lives," Ray told the council.

"People have the attitude that, 'It can't happen to me.' ... Sprinklers serve to save those who cannot save themselves."

But opponents say it is not that simple.

"You add on things like single-family home sprinklers, and that could make the difference of whether a person qualifies for a home or not," said Susan Stroud, director of government affairs for the Home Builders' Association of Maryland.

C. Edward Middlebrooks, who represents the 2nd District, voted against the bill, which was sponsored by 5th District Councilwoman Cathleen Vitale.

Anne Arundel would be one of nine Maryland counties that require sprinklers in newly built single-family homes, according to the state fire marshal's office. Exceptions to Anne Arundel's bill include extended or altered buildings, nonhabitable buildings, new homes built on lots where the water and sewer plans received approval from the county before Jan. 1 and homes served by private wells for which the building permit applications were received before July 2.

Adding sprinklers to new homes can run about $1.50 to $2 per square foot, according to the National Fire Sprinkler Association. But Stroud said that the costs can exceed $15,000 if the property uses well water because the home would require a holding tank, generator and perhaps larger-than-average water meter. Supporters contend that safety is the most important factor to consider, not cost.

"Clearly the highest priority must be placed on saving human lives, and for the few extra dollars a month it costs, that's a price well paid if the result is saving the lives of individual citizens," said Leopold.

The bill would become effective 45 days after Leopold signs it.

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