OP-ED: RESIDENTIAL FIRE SPRINKLERS -- DISCUSSING THE IMPACTS OF H.4663
There’s been a lot of discussion about H.4663 regarding the new construction requirements for residential fire sprinkler systems. Some say it’s turning South Carolina in to a “Nanny State,” while others tout sprinklers’ safety benefits.
In the interest of full disclosure, I represent two Upstate fire districts. While that gives me a certain insight in to the fire protection implications for the bill, I also have information about the legislation’s financial implications. Since that seems to be what the legislation's opposition is focusing on, that's what I'll focus on, too.
In short, there's a lot more to 4663 than the homebuilders are saying.
To be clear, 4663 doesn't mandate sprinklers. It allows South Carolina to make the newly adopted residential sprinkler section of the international building code unenforceable. So it's an opt-out, not a legislative idea to install sprinklers in newly constructed single family residential projects.
The homebuilders’ association cites cost as the reason it opposes the new sprinkler requirements. Having listened to many of its these industry leaders during Sen. Thomas' hearings, their testimony simply didn’t ring true. There is misinformation being perpetuated as fact.
Retrofitting isn't a requirement, so for all of the people who would be "shut out of homeownership" due to the cost of residential sprinklers in new construction, there are other homeownership options that do not and will not require sprinklers.
You haven't built every house you've moved in, have you? No, and those homes would not fall under the code requirements. The Realtors would be happy to sell the state’s existing inventory of homes on the market.
If you're already a homeowner, you aren't subject to the new construction requirement, either.
We also have to look at what residential sprinkler requirement means for insurance premiums. In short, they'll go up.
If the state opts out of enforcing the building codes, the groups that help set insurance premiums will note what is now accepted as higher risk of death and property damage/destruction. As those ISO ratings drop, the insurance companies will raise premiums for SC's policy holders (that's across-the-board single-family residential, multi-family residential, commercial, and industrial) due to the added risk. Current estimates are that as many as 44% of fire protection jurisdictions across the state will be negatively impacted through ratings reductions.
Even former Senator and current Department of Insurance director Scott Richardson noted this during his testimony to Senator Thomas.
I understand the opposition by those who are in the business of building new homes. They don't make money unless they build them and then sell them, and they're afraid that an additional $1500 - $3000 may make their jobs more difficult.
As the HBA opposes the new building codes, they talk about the added cost on the front end to install the systems as the homes are built. What their lobby neglects to talk about is the costs to the homeowner on the back end which will add up over time with increased premiums. Why don't they talk about that? Because when the house is sold, those new costs don't matter. That becomes the homeowner's problem. The profit has been made.
The debate over this issue in SC is fairly new, but the legislation to ignore the requirements is moving through the General Assembly with lightning speed. Slowing down this legislative train until we can sort through the cost implications for the short and long-term isn’t unreasonable.
The new code doesn’t take effect until next year, so even if 4663 dies this year and we take the summer and fall to go through all of the information to get to the actual cost of the matter outside of the gloom-and-doom perpetuated by the homebuilders, the General Assembly would still have ample time when they return in January to create a legislative remedy if necessary.
Let's slow down and get to the truth before we make a mistake we can't undo.
Taft Matney, is the president of TM Public Relations & Governmental Affairs and represents the Boiling Springs Fire District and the Wade Hampton Fire and Sewer Districts in areas of public policy. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
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