Minnesota families should be comforted by the fact that a new single-family home in Minnesota is a national model for fire protection. State building codes have all but eliminated the risk of electrical or mechanical errors that could lead to fires, and Minnesota’s smoke-alarm law means that people are getting out of their houses quickly and safely if a fire starts. Smart regulations have saved countless lives in Minnesota already. Fatalities in residential fires have dropped by nearly 70 percent, with new homes leading the way.
In an April 14 commentary (“Why we need sprinklers in new homes”), Bill Mund, president of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, uses the same old, attention-grabbing scare tactics that the sprinkler manufacturing industry has been using for years. No one would disagree that a house fire is a tragic event, and that’s why Minnesota builders have consistently supported common-sense regulations that prevent fires and alert residents in case of fires.
A home indoor sprinkler mandate is not a common-sense regulation. This mandate has been studied carefully by the Department of Labor and Industry’s code advisory committee and the Legislature. Consistently, both have opposed the indoor home sprinkler system mandate, calling it unnecessary, expensive and burdensome.
However, pro-mandate forces have continued to push ahead. Today, the decision on whether Minnesota will be just the second state to adopt a home indoor sprinkler mandate is in the hands of Gov. Mark Dayton. As the governor considers his decision, here are a few facts that we hope he keeps in mind:
• New homes are the safest homes. Since Minnesota required interconnected smoke detectors in all new homes, there have been zero deaths from fire in new single-family homes. Unfortunately, the majority of our existing housing stock doesn’t have the safety features of a newly built home. The proposed home sprinkler mandate supported by the sprinkler manufacturers and Minnesota’s fire organizations does not address safety issues in the homes where deaths occur — homes built before the widespread adoption of these safety features.
• Minnesotans oppose the mandate. A 2011 statewide poll revealed that 87 percent of Minnesotans oppose a home indoor sprinkler system mandate. Minnesotans also believe that the impact on home buyers is a more important issue than making expensive safety investments in already-safe houses.
• Most states have rejected the mandate. Forty states have rejected the home indoor sprinkler mandate, with only California adopting this expensive law. All of Minnesota’s border states have rejected the mandate and left this decision in the hands of individual homeowners.
• The mandate is a large tax on new homes. A quality indoor sprinkler system costs around $2 per square foot, or at least $9,000. If the home is in an area with private wells — as many growing communities in the Twin Cities are — the cost can be $15,000 or higher. While a homebuilder can buy a cheaper system, no family should face the hardship of the damage caused by a faulty home indoor sprinkler system soaking their dream house.
• This won’t be the end of these mandates. Those who are lobbying for this new government mandate have stated that their goal is to require home indoor sprinklers in all new Minnesota homes — not just homes that are 4,500 square feet or larger.
For people who want a home sprinkler system, Minnesota’s homebuilders stand ready to provide one. But why require expensive home indoor sprinkler systems when smoke alarms and building standards have already made new Minnesota homes the model of safety?
The debate on this issue will continue. We will continue to urge Dayton and our legislators to look at the facts, the sterling safety record of newly built homes and to keep sprinklers a decision for homeowners to make. Learn more at nosprinklermandatemn.com.
Shawn Nelson is 2014 president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. Rod Helm is 2014 president of the Minnesota Association of Realtors.