State will decide on code mandating fire sprinklers in new homes

In less than 24 hours, the state will decide whether all new homes in South Carolina must have fire sprinkler systems.

"The fact is residential fire sprinklers save lives," St. Lady's Fire District Chief Brice Cline said.

Cline joined dozens of firemen Tuesday to push lawmakers to make fire sprinklers mandatory in all new homes in South Carolina. In 2008, the state passed a law that would do that, but the legislature put a block on the law until 2014.

Those opposed to the law say the cost of sprinkler systems could price homes out of reach.

"While the housing stock has increased, fire deaths have taken a dramatic turn," state Home Builders Association Director Mark Nix said.

Nix says he's fighting to give home buyers a choice in purchasing fire sprinklers, instead of government telling them they have to.

"We believe in sprinklers. Sprinklers are an additional tool of safety," Nix said. "The problem is, it should be the homeowner's choice. More than 17,100 families in South Carolina alone will be priced out of the housing market every year if we're adding sprinklers to it."

The extra cost, Nix claims, could be as high as $10,000, but fire Chief Cline says not so fast.

"This code requirement is the only code requirement in a new home that will pay for itself through insurance premium reductions," Cline said.

That's true, but figures from the Home Builders Association show the sprinklers could take more than a lifetime to pay for itself.

An estimate from Farm Bureau says homeowners would save $48 a month, but would take 203 years to equal the cost of the system, another quote from State Farm says homeowners would save $35 a month, but it would take 278 years to pay for the sprinklers, and Allstate representatives say the system would save homeowners $9 a month and would take 1,000 years to pay off.

Opponents say sprinklers don't always work. Last month, a fire on Dewees Island in Charleston flattened two homes. One of those home, according to Nix, had a fire sprinkler system.

On Wednesday, The state Building Codes Council will decide whether to make fire sprinkler systems mandatory in new homes.

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