Commentary: opponent's claims on fire sprinkler costs only part of the problem

Blog Post created by freddurso Employee on Dec 3, 2018

The following commentary is from Steve Leyton, president of Protection Design and Consulting: 


I read your summary of the Geneva, Illinois, council action and Bill Webb’s comments regarding homebuilder misrepresentations of costs. Please remember that although most conversations are definitely corrupted by misinformation by the National Association of Home Builders and others in opposition [of fire sprinkler requirements], we (the sprinkler industry and advocacy community) have also been understating costs for many years. It is imperative that the sprinkler industry “pull its head out” regarding pricing gouging but it’s equally important that we look at the pricing formula holistically and describe it accurately.


Take a 2,000-square-foot-house with a 500-square-foot attached garage in California. Our state has by far the largest residential sprinkler market in the world and it’s highly competitive. Our pricing is likely the lowest in the nation. Most tract product and lower-cost multifamily products can be fire protected for $1.50-$1.75 per square foot in the dwelling units, but let’s use a conservative $2 per square foot for this equation. In California, the garage will be sprinklered, so $2 x 2,500 = $5,000. Two. Dollars. Per. Square. Foot. Right? Except it’s not because the builder is describing that house as a 2,000-square-foot house, not 2,500-square-foot home. The price immediately jumps to $2.50 per square foot. That’s a 25 percent price increase based on semantics. Many (too many, in my opinion) authorities having jurisdiction require audible alarms, so that’s another $350-$500. Now we’re approaching $2.75. And the water district may mandate a one-inch meter over a three-quarter-inch one because it’s a sprinklered home, then possibly charge a $7,500 uptick in the service and capacity fees for that larger service. That's an increase of $3.75 per square foot, bringing the total cost to $13,000, or $6.50 per square foot, an increase of 2.6 times the very generous starting budget quoted by the sprinkler industry. And those fees are often higher. 


I serve as chair of NFPA 14, Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems. I’ve been using and contributing to NFPA 13D and NFPA 13R since 1988. I have spoken to fire officials, building officials, city councils, homebuilders, contractors, water agencies, and just about any other stakeholder you can name in this conversation over the course of many years. I’ve met with the Association of California Water Agencies and others about meter pricing. I’m a new member of the American Water Works Association Fire Protection Committee, where I hope we can generate new energy to get the water works community on board with residential sprinkler advocacy and sane policy making.


I would love to be part of any effort that is being undertaken to push back on exaggerated claims such as those cited, but it’s important to acknowledge that in many cases the high cost of residential fire protection is due to archaic standards and associated fees that are incurred as direct costs by homebuilders that drive their seemingly institutionalized opposition.


What are your thoughts on Steve's comments? Let us know by replying directly to this post.