Steven M. Williams contributed this post.
In December 2009, Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to require that fire sprinklers be installed in all new residential construction. The law took effect on January 1, 2010 for townhouses and is scheduled to become effective for one- and two-family homes on January 1, 2011.
Controversy Over Pennsylvania Sprinkler Mandate
This new requirement has been met with some controversy. Home builders and builders associations have strenuously fought the requirement, complaining that mandatory sprinklers would add significant costs to the construction of new homes. They argue that such additional costs should not be imposed on home buyers in an already sluggish economy.
Firefighters and sprinkler installation contractors have applauded the new requirement as a long-awaited step in the fight to save lives from home fires. They dismiss the cost factor argued by contractors, and maintain that the lives saved by sprinklers would far outweigh the costs involved. According to Gary Keith, vice president of the National Fire Protection Association:
The reality is if you have a smoke alarm in your house compared to nothing your chances of survival are improved by about 50 percent. If you have both smoke alarms and sprinklers, your chances are about 80 percent . . . We think that level of protection is completely warranted when you add in that extra benefit to keeping those fires small to minimize injuries and minimizing property damages.
HB 1196-Possible Delayed Implementation of Residential Sprinkler Mandate
The fight over sprinklers in one- and two-family homes is not over. In April 2009, House Bill 1196 (HB 1196) was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to address the implementation of the residential fire sprinkler mandate. HB 1196 floundered in the Pennsylvania General Assembly until mid-October 2010, when the Pennsylvania Senate, generally in favor of delaying the sprinkler requirement, inserted into HB 1196 a provision that would do just that. In its amended form, HB 1196 would delay the implementation of the sprinkler requirement for one year – until January 1, 2012 – in all new one- and two-family homes.
On October 14, 2010, the Pennsylvania Senate passed the amended version of HB 1196, and sent it back to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for a concurrence vote. However, the House recessed before it could take up the matter, announcing that it would not be back in session until after the election. After this announcement, it was reported that the House would not come back into session this year to consider any legislation. Subsequently, official reports indicated that the House would take up HB 1196 when it reconvenes after the election. More recently, however, the Democratic majority in the House notified House members that all remaining session days for 2010 were being canceled and that no bills would be considered. A small group of Democratic members have asked the leadership to reconsider so that the House can vote on outstanding legislation. Whether this will actually happen is not certain.
If the House does not approve the Senate’s amendment to HB 1196, it is almost certain that the sprinkler requirement will become effective on January 1, 2011. However, if the House does approve the Senate’s changes, the bill will go to Governor Rendell for consideration. While nothing official has come out of the Governor’s office, it is well known that Rendell generally favors delaying the sprinkler requirement and supports the Senate’s amendment to HB 1196. It remains to be seen, however, whether Rendell will, in fact, sign HB 1196 in the lame duck session.
Cohen Seglias will continue to monitor the progress of this pending legislation and update you on any developments.