June 4, 2018

CT’s proposed townhome-sprinkler rule nixed

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Nordic Builders of Tolland LLC erected these unsprinklered Manchester townhomes.

A legislative review panel has turned down a proposed state building-code change that would have mandated newer townhomes be equipped with expensive but potentially life-saving automatic sprinklers.

In the wake of the Legislative Regulatory Review Committee's late May decision blocking the code change, one Hartford area townhome developer who had delayed his project due to uncertainty over the state Codes and Standards Committee's sprinkler proposal says his planned 70-unit Suffield townhome community is back on track.

The review committee, in a May 21 letter to the Codes and Standards panel, cited, among other concerns, the lack of statutory authority to make the change.

The reviewers also said that, while the state fire marshal has statutory authority to require sprinklers to mitigate "special occupancy hazards'' in buildings, "there is no evident special occupancy hazard concerning a townhouse."

Plainville builder Johnny Carrier and his family erect single-family houses, condos and townhomes, and says striking the townhome-sprinkler requirement benefits not only he and his peers, but homebuyers, too.

Carrier said many sprinkler proponents falsely assumed he and other townhome builders were solely looking to protect their profits in public comments against the proposal. In reality, he said, the costs for installing sprinklers typically are "passed directly through to the customer'' in the form of higher prices.

"Most townhomes are entry-level homes for a lot of first-time buyers … we're able to keep it more affordable for them,'' said the principal of By Carrier Homes.

As previously reported, the Codes and Standards Committee, which is responsible for setting building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing and energy code requirements for all residential and commercial structures, ignited fears among U.S. townhome developers when it voted 11-1, with two abstentions, to require new townhomes be equipped with overhead water sprinklers that would automatically activate in a fire.

Some area homebuilders fretted that requiring sprinklers would add at least $10,000 per unit to build new townhouses, making them less affordable and appealing to buyers.

Suffield builder Mark O'Neill had delayed his planned 70-unit Brook Hill Village townhome project due to the pending sprinkler requirement.

O'Neill said his project will now move ahead.

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