Possible sprinkler code prompts hot debate


A standing-room only crowd heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit state building or fire codes from requiring the installation of fire sprinklers in new or existing single-family homes.

Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), the sponsor of HF460, told the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee that, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a homeowner has a 99.45 percent chance of surviving a fire if an up-to-date smoke detector is installed and a 99.85 percent chance if a sprinkler is installed.

“The cost of making this sprinkler mandatory in new dwellings didn’t line up very well with the additional safety benefits,” she said.

The committee approved the bill and sent it to the House floor. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) sponsors a companion, SF297, which awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Minnesota Builders Association President Todd Bjerstadt said his organization supports fire prevention efforts, but said there is little increased safety factor with a sprinkler requirement. He said 28 states have rejected a requirement , and 19 have pending prohibitions or do not have a requirement.

The additional cost of installing sprinklers could prevent some families from being able to afford a home, said Mark Brunner, president of the Minnesota Manufactured Modular Housing Association. Adding fire sprinklers to pre-fabricated homes would add $4,000 to the cost of a 1,200-square foot home and $7,000 to the cost of a 3,000-square foot home.

“Manufactured homes in Minnesota are the largest source of non-subsidized affordable housing,” he said.

However, State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl urged lawmakers to wait for the rulemaking process scheduled to start in April that is to include review of a possible fire sprinkler requirement, among other code modifications.

 Because of lightweight construction and combustibility of material used today, house fire “survivability” is just three minutes, compared with 17 minutes in 1975, Rosendahl said.