Frostburg officials must decide on home sprinkler systems

March 17, 2012
Frostburg officials must decide on home sprinkler systems

Like Cumberland, city has thus far opted out of state requirement

Kristin Harty Barkley Cumberland Times-News
FROSTBURG — City officials are expected to decide next month whether to require residential sprinkler systems in new family homes and duplexes as part of amended building code.

Frostburg, like Cumberland, has opted out of the state requirement in previous years because of concerns that higher building costs might drive away developers. How to enforce the code has also been an issue here and elsewhere in the state.

Maryland adopted the International Residential Code in 2009 and is one of three states that mandate sprinkler systems. California and South Carolina are the other two states, according to the National Fire Prevention Association.

“This was always optional up until 2009,” director of community development Richard Harris told Frostburg Council at Thursday night’s meeting.

“The reception around the state at that time was fairly mixed. Some decided to keep it the way it was, leaving the option to builders whether to include the sprinkler system. At this point in time, I would say it’s slowly making progress toward acceptance, however there are still parts of the state that prefer to see this optional. Western Maryland is one of those sections,” he said.

In February, representatives from the State Fire Marshal’s Office encouraged Frostburg’s mayor and council to approve the sprinkler code, saying it saves lives. The city’s 3/4-inch residential water service would have sufficient pressure to operate the systems, chief fire protection engineer Larry Iseminger said.

The cost of installing sprinkler systems can range from $2,500 to $10,000, estimates show.

The average cost is $1.14 per square foot (for properties on public water), and the national average cost is $1.61 per square foot, according to NFPA's Fire Protection Research Foundation.

Council is expected to vote on the matter next month, after public receiving public comment. A new code would be effective July 1, Harris said.

In other business at Thursday night’s meeting, council:

• Announced the appointment of a new director of community development to replace Harris, who is leaving the post after seven years.

Elizabeth Stahlman, who has served as the GIS manager for Allegany County government, is scheduled to start her new job on Monday. She was selected from among 12 applicants by a committee that included Harris, commissioners Brian Alderton and Walter Mackay, and city administrator John Kirby.

Harris is to be honored by the mayor and council during their April 19 meeting.

• Approved 4-0 an resolution to appoint S. Kristan Carter to the Frostburg Historic District Commission for a three-year term. Commissioner Don Carter was absent.

• Approved 4-0 a resolution to waive the open container ordinance for the Spring 2012 Arts Walk on Saturday, April 28 from 5 to 8 p.m., so that participating businesses can offer receptions including alcohol. The resolution allows participants to possess and consume alcoholic beverages on Main, Broadway, and Water streets during event, though glass containers may not be carried on the streets or sidewalks.

Main Street Manager Maureen Brewer said that the ordinance was waived for both Frostburg Arts Walks last year, and the “public and business response was very positive.” No major public safety issues were reported, she said.

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at
Original Post
Oh please, I know there are cost differences between California and Maryland, but ??? $1.14-$1.61 per SF??? I almost choked. In the paragraph above it says $2500-10,000 for a system. If $10,000, and $1.14/SF, that would mean the house is 8,772SF. I just completed a system in a 2700SF house, and with NO design/engineering costs, leaving out processing and permitting, inspections, etc. the hard cost of installation was $4/SF, and that is only because I didn't have to upgrade the water service. With design/engineering, etc. the total costs of compliance were more like $5/SF. That does not account for any accommodations needed in other components for size/space, routing, openings, sealants, adjustment in surfaces v. heads, time impacts, and other factors. Whoever provided these numbers is dreaming.

As for the two classic arguments in favor of sprinklers:

Modern structures, which have inherently improved fire-resistive capabilities and fire/smoke detection systems in place, do not enjoy a significant advantage due to sprinklers in terms of the primary objective - getting occupants out as soon after the beginning of a fire event as possible.

Reduced insurance premiums are negligible when compared to the capital costs of system installation. If a sprinkler system leaks it can do significant latent (concealed) damage to the structure and finishes before the flow is stemmed. Separately, if a head goes off, the water damage to building contents, which can be irreplaceable, can be disastrous. Because of this eventuality, owners are prompted to increase their property damage coverages, which increases their premiums more than any reduction enjoyed due to the presence of the sprinklers.

Some communities where the codes have been adopted are taking second looks at this. The new requirements were pushed by fire fighters, but huge pressure was added in the code writing process by the manufacturers and installers of the systems, who are the biggest beneficiaries. Follow the money.

don't forget the cities and counties that use the requirement for sprinkler systems to justify not having to increase fire fighting resources, to keep up with new construction. they are passing on those costs on to new construction.

these $/sf numbers have been historically low, when arguing for the requirement. it is frustrating to explain this to owners, when they see the real cost.
materials and details/techniques currently used in residential work for the most part already equal components for one-hour structures, so are inherently safer than their predecessors a generation back... the only 'changes' needed for making most new homes into one-hour buildings would be attention to penetrations, etc. to prevent passage of smoke/gasses... however, when you look at the layout and features of common residence, you can see that there is a spatial flow that does not readily lend itself to one hour detailing and compartmentalization (except for the garage/house separation, which is currently treated as a lesser-rated wall)

studies have shown that the materials and techniques used in contemporary home projects, including addition of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, etc. have largely achieved primary safety goals and reduced loss of life, and that there would be little additional incremental improvement resulting from the 'new' addition of sprinklers (especially considering the capital cost outlay, increased maintenance, and impact on the marketplace affordability of homes in general)...

the primary 'improvements' resulting from addition of sprinklers are to the employment outlook for those who manufacture, install and service the systems... in addition to paying for the initial installation, every homeowner with a sprinkler system will be locked into a lifetime of costs for inspections and maintenance... sort of like having a swimming pool you can look at but never use, even though you have to keep it looking good and operating properly...


Add Reply

Likes (0)