Cecil County Must Require Fire Sprinklers in New Single-family Homes; Hot Button Issue Returns

June 23, 2015

A local hot-button issue—mandatory fire sprinklers in newly built single-family homes—is back before the Cecil County Council, but this time the county will be unable to opt-out of sprinkler regulations that the old Board of Commissioners reversed over three years ago.

As a result, there could be a rush to obtain building permits for new construction before the projected effective date of 8/18/15 for the new regulations, county officials agreed. That could mean a boost of at least proposed new single-family home construction, after a lackluster, minimal 2014 pace of new single-family home construction in the county.

Pat Conway, director of permits and inspections for the county, told the County Council on Tuesday that a new building code must be adopted this year under state regulations and that the new county code must comply with changes made in the statewide code since the county last adopted its own regulations. “It’s state law,” that all newly constructed single family homes must be equipped with fire-suppression sprinkler systems, Conway said.

Currently, the county only requires townhouses and multi-family apartments to have sprinklers—after the previous board of County Commissioners reversed a previous board’s decision in 2010 to require sprinklers for single-family homes.

It was an initiative in early 2011 by then-Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) to impose an initial moratorium and then reverse action by the previous board, which had voted in 2010 to require sprinklers in single-family homes effective 1/1/2011. The initial sprinklers requirement was spearheaded by then-commissioner Wayne Tome, Sr., a battalion chief with the Baltimore County fire services and longtime leader at the Water Witch volunteer fire company in Port Deposit.

When Hodge, joined by then-commissioners Tari Moore and Michael Dunn, voted to reverse the sprinkler action, Tome—by then no longer a county commissioner– and representatives of local fire companies crowded county meetings and even held a “controlled burn” demonstration on land near the county administration building to demonstrate how sprinklers could extinguish a fire quickly and save lives and property. But those arguments did not prevail over the majority’s concerns about the potential add-on costs for homebuyers.

But now the county has no choice. Hodge, now the County Council president, conceded on Tuesday that it was a done deal. “The firemen’s lobby in Annapolis has been so strong that they’ve convinced the legislature,” he said. “We can’t opt out.”

Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) worried about false positives by malfunctioning equipment, that might trigger sprinklers to spew water into a home when there was no real fire, and the costs such systems could add to the price of new homes in the county.

“Sprinklers are very effective—but at what cost,” she asked.

Conway said that his department was conducting outreach to homebuilders in the county to advise them that the new regulations are coming. He also said that people building a new home on their own should be aware that there is a wide range of prices offered by sprinkler installers and they should obtain multiple bids before settling on an installer.

“We could discuss it…all day long,” Hodge said. “But it wouldn’t matter,” because the state law prevails. He did concede that firefighters had a point in their advocacy, since sprinklers would help suppress a fire before emergency responders arrived on scene and sprinklers would enhance the safety of the firefighters.

There was some discussion about when the new regulations would take effect, with a usual 60-day grace period initially proposed in the legislation. But Jason Allison, the county attorney, said that due to the state mandates, the effective date should be the expected County Council adoption date of 8/18/15. A public hearing will be held before formal Council action.

Hodge said that a key concern in Cecil County was the potential impact and costs for homes in rural areas with a water well system. Those properties would have to have a battery-backup, in case electricity serving their well pumps failed, he said. He noted that legislative efforts in Annapolis to exempt wellwater-reliant homes from the sprinkler regulations had failed.

For existing homes, the new regulations will not mandate installation of a fire sprinkler system if additions or modifications are made and building permits sought for such changes.

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12 Responses to Cecil County Must Require Fire Sprinklers in New Single-family Homes; Hot Button Issue Returns

  1. C Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich on June 23, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    I am glad Cecil County Council does not have to debate or waste time discussing this potential life or death issue. It is a State Law–just need to comply with it.

  2. Almost Heaven on June 24, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Another reason to avoid buying a house, and moving to the once Free State of Maryland. So much for these clowns having the courage to tell the state to go to hell.

    Why do we even have a County Council, we should just get a nice copy machine, and rubber stamp what ever the state or federal bosses tell us to do.

    I hope I live long enough to see one of these hypocrites at an Independence Day Fireworks display. Beyond disgusted.

    Hello, anybody out there?

  3. Ron Lobos on June 25, 2015 at 4:21 am

    90% of all fire related deaths are cause by smoke inhalation. This has been addressed through the use of smoke detectors. Smoke detectors kick in before sprinkler systems go off. I’d like to see statistics on how many lives were saved and how many lives could have been saved last year in Cecil County through the use of sprinkler systems.

    • Chuck Finley on August 23, 2015 at 11:26 am

      Here you go: Home fire deaths are reduced by 82% when sprinklers and working smoke alarms are both present. Sprinklers reduce property loss by 95.2%.

      • Harold McCanick on August 26, 2015 at 9:16 am

        Statistics can be spun to make them sound any way you want them to,let me show you:what percentage of all homes are damaged by fire,probably one-tenthousanths of one percent.SO you have to contrive regulations that will cost home-owners a bazillion dollars that only a fraction of one percent of homes are affected by?How about this Chuck,if you want a sprinkler system for your home then get one,In the mean time stay out of mine.

  4. Dawn George on July 10, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    I am truly amazed at the number of laws that this county has not enacted even though they are state law. Bowlsbeys comment about malfunctioning fire sprinklers tells me how much she knows about fire suppression systems for the home. Good grief.

  5. Nicole Deschler on August 6, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Cost is always an issue, but it shouldn’t be the top priority. The top priority, of course, should be saving lives. We know how effective sprinkler systems are, and making them mandatory would ensure that many more lives would be saved in the event of a fire.

    • Harold McCanick on August 10, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      DO”We KNOW how effective sprinkler systems are”?Statistics indicate their effectiveness is way over stated.They have been an option for decades.What was wrong with if you like your sprinkler system you can keep your sprinkler system(sorry I couldn’t resist).This is more government intrusion into of all places OUR homes.

      • Chuck Finley on August 23, 2015 at 11:23 am

        Seeing as nobody, including Commissioner Hodge, doesn’t want to take the time to figure out the “expensive costs” of installing a residential sprinkler system, allow me to outline them:

        Cost to install a residential sprinkler system – $1.35 sq ft
        Average square feet of a home in this geographic area – 2600 sq ft
        Cost to install sprinklers a 2600 square foot home – $3510

        Average sale price of a home in Cecil County for the last 10 years – $245,000 (Monthly 30 year mortgage cost – $1158)

        Add the cost of a sprinkler system to that $245,000 home – $248,510 (Monthly 30 year mortgage cost now – $1175)

        Difference of – $17 a month or $204 a year to install a sprinkler system in new construction. Wow, apparently $204 a year is pricing people out of homes in this county! But I guess price isn’t a concern when we are installing granite counter-tops, soaking tubs, or Brazilian hardwood floors?

        Fact of the matter is sprinklers save lives. Home fire deaths are reduced by 82% when sprinklers and working smoke alarms are both present. Sprinklers reduce property loss by 95.2%. 90% of fires are contained by the operation of just one sprinkler. Sprinklers use a fraction of the water used by fire department hoses. Sprinklers can save homeowners between 5% – 15% on their insurance. In new homes under construction sprinklers cost less than 1 – 1.5% of the total building cost. These are just some of the FACTS about residential fire sprinklers. Educate yourself!

        • David W on August 24, 2015 at 6:50 pm

          Chuck, if you’re on a well, how does that affect cost? What about ongoing maintenance costs associated with a sprinkler system?

        • Harold McCanick on August 24, 2015 at 8:04 pm

          Apparently $17 per month is insignificant to you.There are plenty of homeowners living month to month the would love $17in assistance.perhaps you can help them out.What the heck,if a car hits your living room while you’re in it you could die.Should we make all houses automobile proof too.We could break it down to the month,week,day even to the minute and make it sound affordable.

  6. Mary Ann W on August 11, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Would be interested to know how many of these advocates for sprinkler systems in the home actually have one in their own home?

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