Branson Tri-Lakes News: Mixed reaction to code changes

By Mindy Honey
Society Editor, Branson Tri-Lakes News
Originally published March 10, 2010

Matt Morrow, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield, said making sprinklers mandatory in new residential homes would be a mistake in Branson.

“The greatest impact will be on those who can least afford it,” Morrow said Monday.

Last week, the city held a public meeting to discuss the proposed changes that would occur if the city was to adopt the 2009 International Building Codes. If the city adopts the 2009 codes as is, sprinkler systems would be required in all new built homes after Dec. 31, 2011.

Morrow said Branson’s biggest housing issue is affordable housing for its work force and believes that sprinkler systems in new homes would price many buyers out of the new home market.

Morrow said residential sprinkler systems can cost between $3,000-$15,000.

The best thing that can be done is replace older housing stock with new homes, Morrow said, adding that new homes follow modern building codes, require hard-wired smoke detectors and are typically much safer than older homes.

But, Branson Fire and Rescue Division Chief Ted Martin believes sprinkler systems are an excellent idea, so much that he retro-fitted his own home with a system.

“It truly is about life safety and property conservation,” Martin said.

He said sprinkler systems cost about $1.61 per square foot, often less than a cabinet, appliance and lighting upgrade or many other options in new home construction.

“A good rule of thumb is one to one-and-a-half percent of new housing,” Martin said.

He said the international codes do a very good job protecting commercial property and multi-family housing, but not single family residences “where most people feel safest.”

“Eighty percent of fires occur in residential homes,” Martin said.

Every 79 seconds a single-family residence burns, he said.

There are many myths about sprinkler systems, Martin said during the meeting. He said people often believe that residential fire sprinkler heads activate accidentally, all sprinklers go off at once and sprinkler heads leak.

Martin said the fact is, there is only a one in 16 million chance of accidental activation. Fire sprinklers react to heat and only sprinklers exposed to heat activate. He also said sprinkler systems operate at the same pressure as household plumbing.

Jim Lawson, Branson’s director of planning and development, said in a month or so, the board of aldermen will be looking to adopt the 2009 codes.

In 2008, the International Code Council voted to require residential fire sprinklers in every one and two family dwellings built under the 2009 International Residential Code, according to Martin.

Missouri House Bill 103 reached a compromise between the Home Builders Association and Missouri Fire Service Alliance requiring home builders to offer residential fire sprinklers to every homebuyer as an option, but on Dec. 31, 2011, house bill 103 will sunset.

After this date, all residential fire sprinkler adoption will be at the local level. If the Branson Board of Aldermen does not make an amendment to the sprinkler requirement, starting in 2012, all new built homes in the city limits would be required to have sprinklers installed.

The city operates under 2003 international codes. The city is looking to move forward with more current codes, in order to maintain its Insurance Services Office, commonly known as ISO, rating. ISO ratings affect homeowners’ insurance rates.