Minnesota’s New Residential Fire Sprinkler Mandate: Minnesota Home Talk, January 10, 2015



“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

-PJ O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1989

What better way to start off the New Year AND kick off the new blog site than by highlighting one of the gems recently put into law by the good folks at the Minnesota Capitol in 2014.  My January 10 Legal Minute outlines a controversial new mandate in Minnesota’s version of the 2015 International Residential Building Code that requires fire sprinklers to be included in certain new homes constructed in Minnesota.

Effective January 24, 2015, Minnesota’s version of the 2015 International Residential Building Code requires all single-family homes consisting of over 4500 square feet (including any unfinished basement but not including attics, crawlspaces, garages and/or covered porches) to be constructed with indoor fire sprinklers.

If you are planning an addition to a home that is less than 4500 square feet and was constructed prior to January 24, 2015, you are not required to install sprinklers in your home as you are “grandfathered” in under the prior residential code.

For more information on Minnesota’s new sprinkler mandate for residential construction, click here, or contact the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry at 651-284-5012.

A coalition of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, the Builders Association of Minnesota and the Minnesota Association of Realtors have set out their arguments against the sprinkler mandate on the website “No Home Indoor Sprinkler Mandate”.

Here’s a summary of their position, as taken verbatim from their website  – which, as you may have gathered, I support:

• A home indoor sprinkler system mandate would increase the costs of a new four bedroom, three bathroom home by at least $9,000. If the home uses private well water, as many communities in the Twin Cities still do, the costs can rise to $13,000 or more once water pump and well improvements are considered.  This cost does not include annual maintenance, higher property taxes, or the cost if the home indoor sprinkler system were to malfunction.

• Newly built homes are safe.  Substantial, independent data supports the fact that new homes are more fire safe than older homes.

• Newly built homes require interconnected smoke alarms on every level and in every bedroom.

• New homes are built with technological innovations including advanced heating and electrical systems as well as insulation and thermal barriers which provide fewer ignition sources and slow down a fire if one does start

• Fire fatalities overwhelmingly occur in homes without smoke alarms or with alarms that don’t operate. ALL New homes in Minnesota require interconnected smoke alarms on every level, which sound quickly and don’t require homeowner battery replacement.

• New homes have emergency escape and rescue windows in every bedroom and basement, allowing residents to exit rapidly.  With residents out of the home, firefighters no longer have to perform a search and rescue mission.

• The overall residential fire death rate has dropped by more than half (58 percent) since the 1980s, according to the Centers for Disease Control data.

• The cost-benefit analysis of fire sprinklers in single family homes doesn’t support a mandate.

• Experts have weighed in on the matter. The 1309 Residential Code Advisory Committee met nine times from October 2011 through February 2012 and voted twice against requiring fire sprinklers in single-family homes. On December 14, 2011 the advisory committee vote was 10-2 and February 14, 2012 the vote was 8-4 against requiring fire sprinklers in single-family homes. Additionally, The legislature directly addressed this issue in the 2011, 2012, and 2013 legislative sessions. In all three sessions a bi-partisan, super-majority of legislators supported legislation which would prohibit DLI from including any fire sprinkler system mandate in the building code. In 2011 the votes against the sprinkler mandate were 97-36 in the House and 50-15 in the Senate. In 2012 the votes against the sprinkler mandate were 84-40 in the House and 48-17 in the Senate. Yet again in 2013, the Minnesota Senate voted 47-17 against a home sprinkler mandate.

• Rejected in most other states. 41 states have considered including a home indoor sprinkler system mandate, and only 1 state has adopted it as a statewide requirement (California). All of Minnesota’s neighboring states have rejected a home indoor sprinkler system mandate.

• The long-term costs add up. In addition to the up-front installation costs, homeowners can expect increases in maintenance and inspections annually (NOTE – it’s my understanding that a homeowner who has a fire sprinkler system in their home will be forced to have periodic inspections by the State Fire Marshall or other appropriate authorities).

•The recovery of the housing market will be one of the most important factors in economic growth for Minnesota. A healthy housing market is important for all Minnesotans. Economists make it pretty clear: if the housing market doesn’t recover, neither will our economy.

Source: www.nosprinklermandate.com

I spoke with one of my home builder clients who informed me that (a) old homes  – which aren’t subject to this new sprinkler mandate – pose a greater fire risk than new construction homes (NOT that I’m advocating to make this insane new mandate retroactive; I’m simply stating the uselessness of the mandate as it applies to new homes); and (b)  the greatest sources of home fires in a new home are garage fires and kitchen grease fires, and water on gasoline or a grease fire does nothing.  That client also informed me that there is product on the marketplace that can be installed in your exhaust system and in the event of a grease fire, this product – which is the size of a hockey puck – discharges a proper fire suppressant to extinguish the fire and prevent it from spreading.

So why, do you ask, did Governor Dayton insist on the inclusion of the sprinkler mandate in the new residential building code so you can ruin all of your worldly possessions when you accidentally burn that pizza in your oven?  The same reason for most of his policy pronouncements and proposals; namely, because a labor union (in this case, the firefighters) wanted it.

In my opinion, I think the jury is out on the efficacy of requiring fire sprinklers in residential homes and this new mandate should be taken off the books.  I have not seen or heard of any empirical evidence to support that the presence of the sprinklers reduces the number of house fires, nor have I seen any evidence to allay my fears that the sprinklers won’t be triggered by simply setting off the smoke detector (and we all know some of the slightest things that can set off a detector, anything from a burned pizza or piece of toast to a fire hydrant flushing – yes, I’ve heard of it happening).  I don’t want to increase the risk to my personal property of  water damage in order to reduce the risk to my home of fire damage.

Time will tell as to whether the sprinkler mandate survives.  It takes effect on January 24 and the spring construction season  is only months away.  As  Abraham Lincoln once said, “the best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”

Archived segments of the Legal Minute are available here, and be sure to tune in to the show live every Saturday at 7AM Central Time, on 1500ESPN AM, or catch the podcast.