Bill Could Mandate Fire Sprinklers in New Homes

By Dari Kotzker

People in the market for a newly-constructed home in New Jersey may have an added cost soon. A controversial bill would mandate fire sprinklers to be installed in all new single and two-family houses in the state, excluding those hooked up to a well system or trailers. Fire safety officials support the bill.

“Anything that’s going to help mitigate a fire, so that residents can get out, it’s good for us,” said Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey President Dominick Marino.

But opponents say this will cost potential buyers more money — upwards of $8,000 to $10,000 per house. Thomas Troy has been a developer in New Jersey for over 30 years.

“Coming out of the downturn, we’re finally starting to see daylight. Adding that burden on new construction only puts us at one step further from affordability. If they have to pay $10,000 more because the cost of the house includes a sprinkler system, it’s $10,000 less that they can spend on other things that they really may want,” Troy said.

“The cost is about $2 per square foot, it’s your granite counter top, it’s carpet upgrade. With insurance, it will pay for itself over the course of the loan. Really it’s common sense legislation and we’re just trying to save lives,” said New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board Executive Director David Kurasz.

Similar legislation enacted for buildings like college dorms have been successful.

“We like to harken back to the Seton Hall fire where we lost three students in the fire at Seton Hall. After that the New Jersey legislature reacted and put fire sprinklers in every dorm in New Jersey and we have yet to lose a life in New Jersey and we’ve had over 10 to 15 dorm fires,” Kurasz said.

Toll Brothers Group President Chris Gaffney said, “The company has built approximately 15,000 luxury homes in New Jersey since 1982 and we have not seen any great demand for sprinkler systems in single family homes during that time.”

Both Gaffney and Troy say that they support making sprinkler systems an option for home buyers but not a requirement. And Troy said that there are sufficient safety features alreday in place.
Troy says he’d support making sprinkler systems an option for home buyers — but not a requirement. He also says there are sufficient safety features already in place.

“Interlink smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, better containment techniques, if you look at way systems are used today and new construction, there are so many area where new construction provides safety that we see this as one step beyond where it’s most applicable,” Troy said.

“Smoke detectors are great to have but they don’t put a fire out. The sprinkler system will hold that fire from getting larger so you have time to get out, and the fire department once they do arrive is able to get into the home where fire started and put it out quickly, maybe containing to one room instead of the entire home,” Marino said.

The bill known as the New Home Fire’s Safety Act was approved by the full Assembly and the full Senate. The next step is the governor’s desk.