About 18 months ago, the modular home manufacturer Excel Homes and F.E. Moran, a Chicago-based fire-protection firm, started talking about forming an alliance whose purpose would be to integrate residential sprinkler systems into the homes that Excel produces.

The two firms finalized an agreement in January and then devised their approach for including the sprinklers in the homes. They jointly design systems that are mostly installed at Excel’s factory, with Moran providing the finishing touches to the system and ensuring it’s installed and working properly once Excel’s modules are positioned on the jobsite.

Steve Saffell, Excel’s director of architectural design and innovation, tells BUILDER that the partnership’s biggest challenge was resolving the “tug of war” over how much installation would be done at the manufacturing stage and how much builders would handle in the field.

The first home in which sprinklers were included under this partnership is also one of the more complicated with which Excel has been involved: an 11,120-square-foot house that the TV program "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" built in Baltimore this summer on behalf of the charity Boys Hope Girls Hope. (BUILDER will report more extensively on that project in the September edition of the magazine.)

Excel is now offering the sprinkler option to builders and their buyers in all of its markets. Joshua Jones, F.E. Moran’s residential division manager, candidly acknowledges that this partnership “gives us access to markets we otherwise would not be able to go after.”

F.E. Moran and Excel jointly set the price for the sprinkler installation, which is typically around the national average cost of $1.61 per square foot for new construction. “What we’re doing takes away the guesswork for the builder because it’s being done in a more controlled setting,” explains Jones.

F.E. Moran is among the dozen or so sprinkler contractors that are part of a network that Tyco Fire Suppression & Building Products established several years ago. Darren Palmieri, Tyco’s business development manager, noted that those contractors are clustered in four states—Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, and Illinois—where buyer demand and sprinkler regulations are strongest.

Next January, new residential building codes go into effect that include mandatory installation of sprinklers in all new residential construction. A number of states have already passed laws that require builders to inform buyers about the availability of sprinklers, but don’t force builders and buyers to install systems unilaterally.

Both Saffell and Jones concede that contractors still don’t understand sprinkler systems and are therefore reluctant to offer the products. But the beauty of the partnership’s program, they say, is that “there’s no additional cost to the builder” and the installation itself is simplified because much of the plumbing is already done in the factory.

At this point, Excel is one of the few modular manufacturers actually promoting sprinklers, according to Moran. The Pennsylvania-based company has developed marketing materials that include information about the sprinklers, which it is distributing to builders and consumers.

Saffell says he’s already seeing the number of builders that offer and install sprinklers growing. “And we expect that to ramp up, he says. Palmieri agrees, predicting “a kind of timely adoption [of the new codes], over several years.”

John Caulfield is a senior editor at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Baltimore, MD.