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Fire Sprinklers in Single Family, Two-Family Homes and Townhomes

For the next State Building Code that will become effective October 1, 2018, the state Codes & Standards Committee proposed including a mandate to install fire sprinklers in all new townhomes built under the IRC.  Recognizing that common sense sometimes does succeed, the committee did remove (again) the sprinkler mandate for 1&2 family homes, but Codes & Standards Committee in an attempt to give the fire sprinkler coalition “something” defaulted to requiring this new cost in townhome construction.  Townhomes can be built under the same building code (International Residential Code, or IRC, as amended by CT) as 1&2 family homes.

However, in a major victory for common sense and housing affordability, the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee on May 22, 2018, unanimously rejected the townhome sprinkler mandate, stating that Codes & Standards does not have the legislative authority for such a requirement.  The proposed Codes will be amended to remove the townhome sprinkler provision and make other unrelated technical changes and be sent back to Regs Review for final approval.

The arguments against this costly townhome mandate are the same as those made against the 1&2 family mandate.  See our testimony before Codes & Standards on Jan 24, 2018.  See also supplemental testimony we provided to Codes & Standards on Feb. 7, 2018, offering a better solution to residential fire issues (albeit not a code solution).

Principally, the cost is vastly too great for almost no life safety protection.  Proponents cringe at this suggestion, but the fact is that the evidence does not support their claim that this requirement will save lives.  Except for cases of arson or suspicious fires still under investigation, we cannot find, and the proponents have not offered, any credible statistics that people have died from fires in new townhomes (“new” meaning units constructed in the past 30+ years).  The vast majority, if not all, fire deaths in 1&2 family and townhomes (again with the exception of arson or other suspicious causes) occur in much older construction that this mandate on new construction does not address. 

To highlight how “off the rails” the sprinkler coalition’s passion for this mandate has made them, their representative at the final codes public hearing, in attempting to refute the HBRA’s opposition to sprinklers, stated that home remodelers want fires to occur so we can get more remodeling work.  

Some history of the proposed mandate and our reasons for opposing a mandate are noted below:

The Legislature’s Public Safety Committee once again in 2016 (7th time over the past fifteen or more years) entertained a mandate to install fire sprinklers in 1&2 family homes.  And, once again the HBRA defeated this highly expensive requirement.  In 2016, a couple of twists on the mandate were tried by proponents.  HB 5278 would require fire sprinklers in all new 2-family homes, while SB 238 would allow municipalities to vary our statewide uniform building code and adopt a local ordinance to require sprinklers in all new 1&2 family homes. 

The Public Safety Committee leadership, Rep. Steve Dargan (D) and Sen. Tim Larson (D), proposed substitute language on SB 238, to require sprinklers in all new 2-family homes.  They brought this revised bill forward for a vote, and even with their support, it was defeated on a 7-18 vote in committee (see vote tally here).  This strong vote against a sprinkler mandate – in the Public Safety Committee no less – should send a strong signal to proponents that CT’s place – standing with 47 other states that have rejected the fire sprinkler mandate – is the correct choice for CT’s citizens.

Home Builders would be happy to construct and install a fire sprinkler system in a new home if requested to do so by their customer. However, the HBRA of CT opposes a mandatory requirement (sought by fire officials, sprinkler manufacturers and sprinkler installers) that all new homes include a fire sprinkler system. We greatly respect and honor the service that firefighters provide to protect our communities. But our opposition to a fire sprinkler mandate is about logic, reason and common sense.

Building Code History regarding sprinklers:  The CT Code Amendment Subcommittee (CAS) voted 11-2 on October 13, 2010, to exclude the mandatory fire sprinkler section from the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), which covers 1 & 2 family home construction.  For the saga on how the mandate got into the 2009 IRC model code in the first place, i.e., how the vote was rigged.  The 2009 IRC, as amended, is the current building code in CT up until Oct. 1, 2016.  The CAS has also exempted the sprinkler mandate in the 2012 IRC, which is expected to be adopted in CT as of Oct. 1, 2016.  These votes are an important common-sense victory for home builders and homeowners to keep fire sprinklers optional in new homes.  See the minutes of the 2010 CAS meeting.

The issues surrounding the debate have not changed.  Indeed, the decreasing fire deaths in homes over time and higher costs for sprinkler systems make our arguments against a mandate even more powerful.

For a 1 page summary of all the reasons to not support a mandate to install sprinklers, either by the building code or by legislation, see:

For a Point/Counterpoint that examines the sprinkler coalition’s points for a sprinkler mandate and the HBRA’s responses, see:

To examine the motivation of the three sets of advocates surrounding this issue (i.e., the fire community, sprinkler manufacturers and installers, and home builders and realtors), as well as the proper role of legislators, see:

And, additional documents supporting our opposition to a fire sprinkler mandate:


In September 2008, Final Action was taken on Proposals for the 2009 I-Codes, the model building codes that CT adopts with amendments. There were many proposed changes of concern to the members of NAHB, most important proposals to mandate fire sprinklers in all one- & two-family homes and townhouses.  Learn here why the ICC process and vote was a sham.

NAHB’s Appeal of ICC’s Process of Adopting Mandatory Fire Sprinklers in 1&2 Family Homes
2009 IRC: Hijacking the Code Development Process to Create the Best Code Money Can Buy
Note: NAHB’s Appeal was summarily denied in a 1 page statement by ICC’s Board of Appeals 

Fire code officials from across the country who are ICC voting members attended the ICC hearings where their votes decided the matter. To sway the vote against builders and homebuyers, sprinkler advocates recruited a large number of fire officials to attend, directing them to vote in favor of mandatory requirements regardless of any concern raised. In 2007’s concentrated effort, the sprinkler advocates were unable to meet the required two-thirds majority to overturn the committee’s action, but they achieved success in 2008 and a mandatory requirement to install fire sprinklers in all new homes, single-family included, is contained in the 2009 International Residential Code. The CT Codes & Standards Committee has twice removed the mandate from the IRC before adopting this “model” code in CT.  As of Jan, 2013 – 40 states have removed the mandate; only 2 (CA and MD) have approved it, and MD allows counties to remove it … and many have. 

While the ICC Hearings were a sham due to the sprinkler advocates (primarily sprinkler manufacturers who stand to make $3 billion on a nationwide mandate), the CT Codes & Standards Committee has the authority to adopt exemptions from the ICC Codes. We strongly urge them to continue to exempt out the mandatory sprinkler requirement.