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NJ Residents, Quick Facts About the New Home Fire Safety Act!

Avalon Edgewater NJ fire New Home Fire Safety Act The massive fire that consumed an apartment complex in Edgewater, NJ has reignited the debate to require a fire sprinkler system in new one and two family homes. The New Jersey Senate passed the New Home Fire Safety Act, S2316, on March 16, which mandates new one and two family homes to be equipped with a fire sprinkler system. Currently, the bill is waiting to be signed into law by Governor Chris Christie.

The proponents of the legislation argue that a residential sprinkler system, in general, is beneficial to the safety of homeowners and the public. In contemporary homes, fire can spread quickly when introduced to new construction materials, such as engineered wood joist and petroleum-based home furnishings which burn rapidly and in some products, emit toxic smoke. A fire sprinkler system counteracts these effects by slowing down the combustion process.

The opponents of the bill argue that the added cost of a sprinkler system outweighs the benefits. As one columnist wrote, “Yes, such a requirement would save lives. But so would parking a fire truck outside every home. So would putting a fire hydrant on every street.” The opponents of the bill do not argue the merits of fire sprinkler systems in hotels and apartment buildings, but state that a fire sprinkler mandate for private homes is expensive and excessive.

The proponents of the bill state that the cost of fire sprinkler installation is minimal when compared to the overall cost of construction for a new home. As one columnist stated, “it is equivalent to installing granite counter tops or new carpeting” or about $2 per square foot, for a new home in New Jersey. They also emphasized the potential financial benefit of “up to ten percent” discount to homeowner's insurance - minus the cost of sprinkler “leak” coverage.

With a new sprinkler system comes new responsibility: the homeowner should test the system regularly and give special care not to paint, damage, or obstruct the sprinkler heads. The system should be extended or modified during a new addition or renovation projects; if the project is extensive, it may require a sprinkler certified engineer to modify or design the sprinkler system.

Contrary to popular belief, the fire sprinkler system may not protect the building structure from failing. For example, the National Fire Protection Association's 13R code (NFPA 13R) provides ample time for resident to evacuate the building, and after which, the structure may fail – similar to the situation for the apartment complex in Edgewater, NJ.

Residents of sprinkler-free homes should take comfort in knowing that the residential building code of NJ provides enough time for the occupants to escape to safety in event of fire. In one and two family detached homes, each sleeping area is required to have two separate means of egress for the residents to evacuate; the bedroom door being one and an egress window being the other.

The residential building code restricts one and two family homes to a maximum of two stories and 4,800 SF per floor when not protected against fire. Mandatory, hard wired smoke and carbon monoxide alarms alert the resident to a potential danger and allow enough time for evacuation.

Due to the relatively small size of one and two family homes, the chances of occupants survival is high with or without a fire sprinkler system. The added benefits of an NFPA R13 sprinkler system in one and two family homes may be minimal and should be debated further by industry professionals. However, whatever Governor Chris Christie's decision, we at Space & Mark are prepared to meet the requirements of the law.

Please feel free to add thoughts in the comment section below!