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Home builders, firefighters debate need for sprinklers

Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:43 p.m. CDT

CREST HILL – Home builders and fire officials are at odds over the Crest Hill City Council’s repeal of a fire code that mandated fire suppression sprinkler systems be installed in every new residential construction.

Home builders and Realtor associations are applauding the decision as a cost-saving move that would bring down the price of homes, while fire officials say the lack of a fire sprinkler system decreases the safety of homes. 

At the July 7 board meeting Crest Hill City Council members repealed Ordinance 1513. That ordinance, passed in December of 2009, was put in place to increase the safety of future homes built in Crest Hill.

However, since the ordinance passed, no new residential construction has taken place and commercial development has also taken a hit, according to Crest Hill Plan Commission member John Evans. 

“The sprinklers were one factor. The bad economy was another. But the fact is we haven’t had any new residential growth,” Evans said.

Evans and Illinois Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director Tom Joseph were both glad that Mayor Ray Soliman moved to repeal the code five years after advocating for and passing it through the city council.

“We commend him for his efforts to change this,” Joseph said. He said the cost of a fire suppression system is a conservative $10,000 for a 3,000-square-foot building, not including additional water and maintenance costs.

“It’s been smoke from fires that have killed people in Crest Hill, not the fires,” said Evans, who is the longest serving member of the plan commission. “And it isn’t feasible.”

But the Lockport Township Fire Chief Dave Skoryi said that the decision was unwise, and that the sprinkler systems are necessary for today’s homes.

“The real issue is the home builders associations’ misinformation,” Skoryi said.

Executive Director Tom Lia from the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board said the Illinois Association of Realtors and home builder groups presented the city with misinformation about the impact of fire sprinkler units in homes.

Lia said new lightweight construction and open construction designs are making homes susceptible to more dangerous conditions compared to older, lumber-based construction. 

“In the past, it took a long time for a room to get to flash point,” Lia said about the point when materials in the room reach combustion temperatures. “But today, everything reaches ignition temperature much sooner.”

Bill Basic, the outgoing president for the Home Builders Association of Illinois, refuted that statement, saying homes have never been safer from fires, and there was no attempt to mislead city officials.

“Why would a home burn quicker today when we have all the fire blocking techniques, like smoke detectors, compared to older homes,” said Basic, who has worked with Crest Hill on the ordinance in the past.

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