2015 Edition of the
International Residential Code Retains Fire Sprinklers as Standard Feature in New Homes
The 2015 International Residential Code
(IRC) is now the third edition of the IRC to require that fire sprinklers be
included a standard feature in all new homes. That requirement was
initially added to the IRC in the 2009 edition, and International Code
Council's (ICC) members have soundly rejected all subsequent efforts to
repeal the requirement. ICC's membership has spoken clearly and
consistently on the issue of residential fire sprinklers, implementing requirements using a gradual and measured approach over a period of more than 20 years.
ICC's legacy organizations began requiring fire sprinklers in multifamily occupancies in the 1980s. Those requirements were extended to single family homes in 2006 via an optional IRC appendix, and in 2008, ICC members approved fire sprinklers as a
required feature to be included in all new homes. That action was upheld on appeal and was then reaffirmed at a 2009 public hearing before the ICC Residential Building Code Committee (RBCC), which oversees the IRC. When the 2009 RBCC vote was taken, EVERY member of the committee, other than the four who were appointed by the National Association of Home Builders, voted in favor of
keeping the home fire sprinkler requirement. The RBCC vote was then ratified by more than 1,000 ICC members in attendance at the hearing.
When the ICC final action hearing was held in Dallas, Texas to finish the 2012 edition's development cycle in May 2010, there were no public comments opposing the IRC sprinkler requirement. As a result, the requirement
was included in the 2012 edition of the IRC and has since been retained in
the 2015 edition.
States Adopting IRC
Fire Sprinkler Requirements
The IRC requirement
to provide fire sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings has been adopted
in California, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The IRC
requirement to provide fire sprinklers in townhouses up to three stories in
height has been adopted in California, the District of Columbia, Maine,
Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, West Virginia
and Wisconsin (townhouses exceeding three stories in height are governed by
the IBC, not the IRC, and the IBC townhouse sprinkler requirement is rarely
amended). Other states and local jurisdictions may consider adoption
of the IRC fire sprinkler requirements when they update their codes.
Home builder associations (HBAs) in many states
tried to block adoption of the IRC sprinkler provisions by lobbying state
legislatures to pass anti-sprinkler laws. They were successful in some
states. However, one notable exception is the State of California, where the
California Building Industry Association actually supported adoption of the IRC with the residential sprinkler requirement included.
One issue that may ultimately shift the perspective of builders towards residential fire sprinklers is legal liability. Regardless of whether a state or locality chooses to amend fire
sprinkler requirements out of the IRC, courts may well hold that due
diligence requires a responsible builder to follow recognized and established standards of care for fire safety when they construct a new home,
not just minimum code requirements. With EVERY national code now requiring EVERY new residential property to be equipped with fire sprinklers,
the standard of care to provide fire sprinklers is clearly established and is now well known to the industry, especially given the high profile of HBA opposition to sprinklers. Accordingly, whenever a fire involving a post-2010 home is litigated, perhaps by a grieving family,
the family of an injured firefighter or an insurance company seeking to recoup a payout for fire damage,
a decision by a builder to omit sprinklers from a new home could be characterized as negligent, with a deliberate indifference towards life and property that
resulted in a defective home.
NFPA Responds to Flawed Information Offered by Home Builders Opposing Sprinklers
The National Fire Protection Association has analyzed substantiation statements by anti-sprinkler interests in their proposals to diminish or delete the IRC's fire sprinkler requirements. The NFPA's response is truly planted "right on the chin!" You've got to read this.