Another unfunded state mandate. Adding fire sprinklers in home additions

fire sprinkler

fire sprinkler

The irony is that this post is about fire prevention while we continue to be deluged by record rainfall.

In the December 6th Mission Viejo city council meeting, Agenda item #25 called for adoption of a Resolution adopting the 2010 California Building Code and Fire Code.

Background. Effective January 1, 2011 all “new” construction California residences “must” contain fire sprinklers. Basically every living area and major rooms of the house will require a sprinkler head.

This proposed unfunded mandate relates to remodel or room additions on existing homes where the addition is either 33 percent and 1,000 square feet or greater.

While public safety is priority one for all government agencies, do we really need another mandate in overregulated California?

Reeling from the effects of the recession, many grandparents and adult children are moving back home as they struggle to survive the drawn out financial storm.

The last thing their parents and children in the case of senior citizens, need is to find themselves burdened with unplanned costs relating to home additions to accommodate housing of  their family members.

At the December 6th Mission Viejo meeting Dennis Grubb, OCFA Assistant Fire Marshall, addressed the council on this revision and offered to show the council an 8 minute video on this topic entitled Marble Mountain. The council chose not to view as it was already past midnight. You can view that video at

In discussing this pending Building and Fire Code revision with Fire Marshall Grubb this afternoon he pointed out that all homes in the 22 cities served by OCFA have an existing Code requirement that homes 5,500 square feet or greater require sprinklers.

This January 1, 2011 Code Amendment mandates that all home additions of 33 percent and 1,000 square feet will require fire sprinklers. If you add 500 square feet today and add another 500 square feet within two years you will need to comply with this revision.

In my file of this topic is a letter from Bryan M. Starr, Deputy Executive Officer, representing the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Orange County, opposing this Mandated Retrofit. Following is part of his letter to David Khorram, PE, ICCOEB President.

“Our industry’s primary issues of concern relate to the dramatic costs associated with sprinkler installation. Unlike new construction, the challenges associated with sprinkler installation in an existing residential structure can be very complicated. There are a number of potential complications, including but not limited to, adequate space for installation, adequate water pressure, aesthetic issues related to exposed plumbing, prohibitive cost, and potential insurance issues due to the risk of water damage and moisture intrusion.

The risks listed above are risks that will be assessed by individual home owners as they consider remodeling or retrofitting their homes. Our concern is that the risks will dominate homeowners’ cost/benefit analysis and prevent them form moving forward on remodeling projects. The obvious fallout for our remodeler members is a further decline in work.

No sector of our industry can afford further loss of work. Increased regulatory pressures that have the potential to exacerbate the continued devastation being felt by the construction industry is unacceptable. It is for this reason that the BIA/OC is opposed to the OCFA’s proposal to require mandatory installation of fire sprinklers for existing residential structures in the case of retrofit or remodel above and beyond a city’s current standards.”

There is more that can be said regarding sprinklers. According to Mr. Grubb, as stated above, the 22 cities served by OCFA already have Ordinances that mandate sprinklers for all existing homes greater than 5,500 square feet. What is to prevent city councils from lowering the cap to 3,000 or 4,000 square foot homes in the future  in which the countywide pyramid effect becomes much larger?

Note: In our discussion Fire Marshall Grubb quoted the national average cost for a retrofit at $1.66 per square foot. I’ve been informed that that figure may be below the true cost but have not taken the time to research that allegation.

Let me urge readers to do your homework and if you have questions or concerns attend your city council meetings as this issue is near the top of every OC agenda.

About Larry Gilbert