Education, First Line of Attack in N.C. Home Sprinkler Debate

February 25, 2008

Education of the masses emerged as an agreed-upon strategy regarding proposed mandatory installation of sprinkler systems in certain new residential structures in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Building Code Council’s residential standing committee hosted an information-gathering forum on Feb. 12 as a follow-up to a meeting the BCC held in January, and as a precursor to another official meeting scheduled for March 10-11.

A diverse group of attendees including fire marshals, building industry experts, sprinkler installers, sprinkler system manufacturers and concerned citizens convened in Raleigh to discuss the merits and drawbacks of a state-wide sprinkler system mandate for new three-story and higher residences larger than 3,600 square feet.

Kristin Milam, assistant director of public information for the North Carolina Department of Insurance said for three hours, committee members listened to experts explain the technical process of sprinkler installation in new construction, related costs and various concerns from both sides of the issue.

Milam said attendees cleared up “some of the misconceptions” surrounding sprinkler system operation and installation and how a mandate would affect each involved party, should a state building code amendment be approved.

According to committee member, Alan W. Perdue, the committee decided to promote awareness through education of all parties involved in the process prior to considering a mandate to the current state building code.

Perdue said he has personally been involved in grass-roots educational initiatives around the state. He said the expense of a sprinkler system is a concern for some, but when weighing the life safety aspect against the cost, installment is a good investment.

Perdue said the informational session was a positive exchange between all interested parties and that the discussion related to all aspects of the safety issue – not merely from a licensing perspective.

In addition, firefighting industry experts in attendance at the Feb. 12 forum continued to advocate the inclusion of Appendix P of the North Carolina building code, which basically states that local jurisdictions would have the authority to mandate sprinkler system installation at the county or city level, independent of the state code.

While the Building Code Council is grouped as an entity under the Department of Insurance, it is a governor-appointed Board and is technically autonomous in regard to code enforcement issues.

Milam said some of the BCC members had expressed interest in allowing a provision that would do away with Appendix P by 2009. The issue will be further discussed during the meeting in March.

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