USAFP News

Data shows codes, sprinklers protect homes from fire destruction

USAFP News
June 12, 2012 - More and more communities in the Chicago area and across the country are implementing stricter fire safety standards for residential structures, and with good reason: New data shows that residential fire sprinkler systems save lives and minimize the devastating effects fires can have on residents and their property.

Residential fire codes and regulations are evolving constantly to accommodate the latest technologies and safety needs.

The growth of residential fire codes in the Chicago area started in 1988, says Bill Winzentsen, vice president of the residential division at United States Alliance Fire Protection. That's the year northwest suburban Long Grove became the first community in the Chicago area to adopt the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 13D ordinance, which is the code standard for one-and two-family dwellings. Communities that implement a 13D ordinance sometimes go above and beyond the 13D baseline national building code standards by adding extra fire safety requirements, such as sprinklers in garages, bathrooms or closets, and outside local alarms.

"During the following 12 years, another six communities added a 13D ordinance, illustrating a heightened awareness of the benefits of residential fire sprinkler systems," he says. "From 2000 through today, a total of 77 communities in the Chicago area have a residential ordinance."

NFPA updates its codes every three to four years. The International Code Council (ICC) also produces national mandatory codes. In ICC's 2009 edition, the council introduced a code requiring sprinklers in single-family homes. Sprinkler requirements only apply to new construction, however, and do not require retrofitting of older homes.

Local and national fire sprinkler system code requirements aim to protect homeowners and their property, and new data from a 15-year study underscores the effectiveness of these systems. Scottsdale, Ariz., implemented a sprinkler ordinance in 1986. Ten years after passing the ordinance, Scottsdale's Rural/Metro Fire Department published the Scottsdale Report, which was updated recently to include five additional years of data.

The area experienced 598 home fires in the 15 years since the ordinance passed, according to the report. Of those fires, 49 were in single-family homes with fire sprinkler systems. There were no deaths in sprinklered homes, while 13 people died in the homes without sprinklers.

The study also showed there was far less damage to sprinklered homes. The average fire loss per sprinklered incident was $2,166, while the average fire loss per unsprinklered incident was $45,019.

"Residential fire sprinkler systems protect residents," Winzentsen says. "While commercial systems focus on property protection, residential systems protect the occupants and facilitate easy departure from their homes in case of a fire."

Winzentsen says today's systems are highly effective and a good option for any homeowner.

"I'm quick to tell people you can always dry something, but you can't make it unburned," he says.

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