Garrett could make sprinkler system decision later this month

Just two contractors working in county authorized to install
Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County Commission could decide as early as July 27 whether new homes built in the county should be required to contain automatic sprinkler systems.

The sprinkler requirement is included in the 2009 International Residential Code, adopted by the state of Maryland, which applies to one- and two-family homes. Counties can choose to adhere to the code as-is or to adopt it with local amendments.

That means it’s up to the commission to decide whether to adopt or opt out of the sprinkler requirement, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.

The commission heard public comment on the proposed change during its meeting Tuesday, but only a few individuals spoke on the issue, including contractor Roger Sines of Roger Sines Construction Inc.

“I think it’s going to hurt the construction industry,” Sines said. “People are going to say, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ ”

Sines and other opponents of the change have argued that the added cost of a sprinkler system will deter people from building new homes in the county.

But proponents of the measure say it will make homes safer for occupants and firefighters, and could lower the cost of homeowners’ fire insurance.

Dennis Mallery, president of the Allegany-Garrett Counties Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, wrote to association members in June that the sprinkler issue comes down to a question of safety.

“There should be no debate over this issue,” Mallery said in his letter to firefighters. “The WMHBA (Western Maryland Home Builders Association) continues to voice their concern that it is not the right time economically to require residential sprinklers in new 1-2 family homes. When is there a ‘right’ time? After a family member or firefighter is injured or killed?”

The cost of such a system could add anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 to the cost of a new home, Sines estimated.

Previous estimates have figured sprinklers at a cost of between $1.60 and $2 per square foot of space, meaning that a system for an average 2,000-square-foot home would cost between $3,200 and $4,000.

But many factors can drive up that cost. For example, homes relying on a private well could also be required to install a reservoir and fire pump to drive the sprinkler system. Even homes on public water could need a pump if the water pressure is not adequate to meet the required sprinkler output.

The revised code requires a minimum of two sprinkler heads to spray 26 to 30 gallons of water per minute for a 10-minute period, for a total of 260 to 300 gallons of water.

To complicate matters more, only contractors licensed by the State Fire Marshal’s Office can install the sprinkler systems — and only two such contractors have been operating in the county, according to Jim Torrington of the Garrett County Department of Planning and Land Development.

Torrington said his office had received only one written comment on the issue as of Tuesday, a letter from the Home Builders Association of Western Maryland requesting implementation of the sprinkler requirement be postponed to 2012. That would allow more time for homes now under construction to be completed as planned.

The commission will consider the sprinkler issue along with other building code changes adopted at the state level, including one that reduces the maximum steepness allowed for stairs in new homes.

The public comment period for the county ordinances will remain open until July 27. Comments can be submitted to the Department of Planning and Land Development.

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