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Council to vote Monday on fire sprinkler ordinance for new homes

By Staff | Apr 6, 2013

The Cape Coral City Council will decide whether to require fire sprinkler systems in newly constructed and extensively remodeled homes Monday.

A proposed ordinance is calling for the installation of “automatic fire sprinkler systems” in new single-family and duplex dwellings, along with a refund of a portion of the fire and rescue impact fees when installed.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz is sponsoring the ordinance.

“It’s just smart growth,” he said Friday. “Cities across the country that have acted in prudent planning have adopted similar ordinances.”

Chulakes-Leetz cited Scottsdale, Ariz., as one example.

“They’re had zero fatalities over the past 20 years in sprinklered structures – where they’ve had many lives lost in unsprinklered structures,” he said.

It reportedly saw a 90 percent drop in dollar loss from fires in sprinklered structures, and now more than half of the city’s homes have sprinklers.

“The cold hard fact is a fire sprinkler puts out a fire from its inception before 911 is even notified, therefore you have an immediate resolution to the incident rather than a reactionary resolution,” Chulakes-Leetz said.

The ordinance was crafted to address the National Fire Protection Association’s standard for automatic fire sprinkler systems in homes.

“It is designed to cover the 95 percent of home fires that start in the kitchen, the bathroom or the living room,” he said, adding that the NFPA’s standard is “primarily designed to save lives and reduce property loss.”

Installing a sprinkler system is estimated to cost about $1.78 per square foot. Chulakes-Leetz said cities with an ordinance reported lower costs.

“When there is more volume, costs are driven down,” he said.

Chulakes-Leetz added that the ordinance removes profits and fees to the government by putting the burden on the homeowner, but that homeowners would recover the cost of installing sprinklers in about six or seven years.

“Their insurance benefits will recover the expense of the system,” he said, maintaining that cities reported a 5 percent to 15 percent decrease in home insurance premiums annually with the installation of fire sprinkler systems.

Members of the building industry, including the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, have voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance. One critic is Gary Aubuchon, president of the Aubuchon Team of Companies.

“This is being driven primarily by the fire sprinkler industry,” he said, adding there has been no public demand.

Aubuchon argued that the figures being presented are inaccurate.

“The costs are greater than what the council members are being led to believe,” he said, adding that the square footage cost is only installation.

The costs and fees for extra labor and contracting are not included.

“They don’t get that number by taking in all the factors,” Aubuchon said of the $1.78 cited. “They didn’t get that number by talking to the builders.”

Smaller-sized homes were also used in the calculations.

“We recently here in Cape Coral had the CCCIA Showcase of Homes. The average home that builders had on display was 2,432 square feet,” he said.

The presented figures are based on an average 1,984 square feet.

“They’re showing homes much larger than what the city used in their study,” Aubuchon said.

The National Homebuilders Association conducted a study in which it surveyed builders who had installed sprinkler systems in 1,000 or more homes. It found the total cost ranged between $5,000 and $10,000.

At Monday’s meeting, the CCCIA plans to present a poll of local insurance companies on the estimated savings of installing a fire sprinkler system.

“The savings is so small that the consumer would never save enough to cover the cost of the system,” Aubuchon said, pointing out that a system will need yearly inspections and maintenance, similar to commercial ones.

“The savings will be offset by the annual costs,” he said.

Aubuchon said current building codes do not prohibit Cape homeowners from installing a fire sprinkler system if they choose to. He called the ordinance an unfunded mandate on some people, but not all.

“We’re still going to require the same number of firefighters and fire stations and fire hydrants,” Aubuchon said of requiring the fire sprinkler systems in only newly constructed and extensively remodeled homes.

“And, we may actually require more firefighters because there will be mandated fire sprinkler inspections,” he said.

City staff noted in its study that a home’s water meter and the line connected to the water main would have to be upsized from a five-eighth- inch to a 1-inch, in order to accommodate for a fire sprinkler system.

Increased costs are projected with the upgrades, including:

* $5,685 meter impact fee for a single-family home, up from $2,274

* $11,190 sewer connection impact fee for single-family, up from $4,476

* Additional $304.80 per year for an increased base rate for water

* Additional $370.56 per year for an increased base rate for sewer

Upsizing the water meter would cost about $42, staff noted.

The proposed ordinance calls for a waiving of the charges tied into the upgrades, keeping pricing at five-eighth-inch. It also provides for a refund of a part of the fire and rescue impact fees when sprinklers are installed.

The Cape Coral City Council will meet at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the council chambers, located at City Hall. City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.