Fire sprinkler exemption remains for Sussex County

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 5/17/22

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County’s exemption of fire-suppression systems for certain residential construction will continue in its update of international building construction standards.

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Fire sprinkler exemption remains for Sussex County


GEORGETOWN — Sussex County’s exemption of fire-suppression systems for certain residential construction will continue in its update of international building construction standards.

However, after weighing both the cost of installing sprinklers and the public safety aspect, the door for amending that exemption remains open.

“I think there is certainly a lot of information that we need to further gather … to find out truly what the cost is,” said County Council President Michael Vincent. “There are questions out there about what can and what can’t, what should, what shouldn’t. We can certainly amend this ordinance at any point in time, next week, next month, next year.”

On Tuesday, council voted 5-0 to approve a proposed ordinance amendment that continues the smaller-scale residential exemption to the 2021 editions of the International Building Code and the International Residential Code.

The 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2021 editions of IRC, along with the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code and NFPA’s Building Code, all require installation of fire sprinklers in new homes.

Further, under the ordinance, where IRC and county code conflict, the “provisions contained in the Sussex County Code shall control.”

Sussex County’s last IBC and IRC update was in 2012.

Following a public hearing Tuesday, Councilman John Rieley asked for specific clarification on the exemption prior to the vote.

In response, Andy Wright, Sussex’s chief code official, said the exemption impacts residential single-family and duplex homes and town houses up to three stories.

“If they go over three stories in height, they have to install the fire sprinkler system. Anything commercial-wise, apartment buildings, it’s automatic,” he added.

Kent County, which is in the 2018 version of international code that it updates every six years, exempts the sprinkler requirement for one- and two-family dwellings, according to planning director Sarah Keifer.

There were two speakers at Tuesday’s hearing.

Rich Blake of Bay to Beach Builders presented data regarding cost.

“I am not here to comment on whether they do or do not save lives. I just want you to take consideration of the facts of the incurred costs,” he said.

Since 2017, Bay to Beach Builders has built 57 homes in Maryland counties that require residential fire sprinklers. Based on an average 2,500-square-foot home, the systems incur an additional cost of “upwards of about $10,000,” Mr. Blake said.

“If you are not on a public water system, you also incur the cost of a variable-speed well pump, which is approximately another $2,500.”

Angola-area resident Eul Lee said she believes the county should consider fire sprinklers, adding that it’s her understanding there is much less time to escape a fire nowadays given more petroleum-based materials used in construction.

“I think we need to think about the fire danger seriously,” Ms. Lee said. “I am thinking the fire danger is real.”

Councilman Vincent emphasized that the ordinance can be tweaked when more information is received.

Additionally, he said he has heard that some water companies may be considering running a second line into homes for sprinklers.

“Normally, if one line goes in your house and if you don’t pay your bill, they turn the water off,” he said. “Well, if you put sprinklers on that and turn the water off, and (a fire occurs in) the house, then you’ve got the liability.”

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