IF THE QUINCY, MASS.–BASED National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has its way, newly constructed one- and two-family residential dwellings will be required to have fire sprinklers.

Although the NFPA's proposal is merely a recommendation for builders, local jurisdictions may adopt the standards into their building codes and make them law.

The NAHB opposes the standards on the grounds that residential sprinkler systems are not a cost-effective means of occupant safety or property protection. “Putting in sprinklers in every house is not going to solve the problem,” says Larry Brown, construction, codes, and standards specialist at the NAHB.

The NFPA, which periodically develops new voluntary fire standards, believes that sprinklers are even more reliable than previously thought and recently released a report saying that the technology remains underused, especially in the home, where the risk of fire death is greatest. In a statement, NFPA president James M. Shannon said the new sprinkler provision is a “significant” step toward reducing the rate of fire deaths in the home.

Brown, however, says sprinklers would prove costly, adding $3,000 to $30,000 per house depending on the location, size, and style of the home. Robert Sullivan, the NFPA's vice president for builder and life safety codes, says the additional cost is more like ½ percent to 1 percent, which translates to $30,000 for a $3 million house. “That's a small price to pay for fire safety,” he says.

Nevertheless, the NAHB will file an appeal with the NFPA's board of directors on procedural grounds, alleging that the group did not follow the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rules in proposing the standards. If unsuccessful, the association will appeal directly to ANSI.

The standards, published in the NFPA's 2006 editions of “101 Life Safety Code” and “5000 Building Code,” are optional, but if history is any guide, local officials will likely adopt the standards into local building codes, Sullivan says.

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