Grand County officials weigh putting home sprinkler systems into code |

Grand County officials weigh putting home sprinkler systems into code

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County

After soaking up testimony regarding the safety of sprinkler systems in single-family homes, Grand County Commissioners postponed a decision until Oct. 27 on adopting the 2009 International Building Codes.

Fire sprinklers in single family homes, duplexes and townhomes are a new requirement in the 2009 codes, a provision due to go into effect by 2011.

As Grand County contemplates updating its codes from the 2000 version to the 2009 one, Grand County Building Official Scott Penson advocates taking out the section of the 2009 code that requires residential fire sprinklers.

“If someone chooses, that’s fine with me, but I don’t think it’s a requirement,” Penson told commissioners during Tuesday’s public hearing on the issue.

But fire chiefs throughout Grand County disagree.

According to them, a residential sprinkler system increases the chance of survival by about 80 percent during a fire, “and no responder has ever lost their life in a sprinkled residence,” said Fire Technician Adam Gosey, reading aloud statements signed by each fire chief in the district.

The sprinkler requirement is meant to save lives more than save homes, according to East Grand Fire Chief Todd Holzwarth. Today’s homes are many times made with lighter materials and engineered woods, which cause them collapse earlier in a fire – “as early as 8 minutes,” firefighters say.

What’s more, energy-efficient designs cause tighter indoor-air environments, which can more aggressively trap in smoke and heat during a fire. This means, occupants have considerably less time before deadly air overtakes the home.

“Today, the time in which the environment inside a home remains survivable during a fire is less than 3 minutes,” Gosey said.

But installing sprinklers in a home costs thousands of dollars more on the front end, the reason county planning commissioners in a recent decision along with the building department declined to make it law.

Gosey countered, saying studies show sprinklers pay for themselves and more due to home-insurance savings. And their up-front costs are not as significant as people think when factored into a 30-year mortgage, he said.

According to Todd Holzwarth, the amount of water needed on-hand for a residential sprinkler amounts to a “small hot-tub full.”

“An average plumber can run the system that the model building code is asking for,” he said.

Because of the fire chiefs’ position, commissioners held off on adopting the 2009 building codes in their entirety, buying more time for county building staff, fire fighters and the building community to perhaps find some common ground on the issue.

One idea, proposed by chiefs at the meeting, is to require sprinklers in single-family homes built larger than a certain amount of square-footage.

“You can’t put a firefighter in every room like you can by putting in a sprinkler,” Holzwarth said.

Or, the county could require them for homes located a certain distance away from fire responders.

“It’s life safety we’re interested in,” said Holzwarth. “Houses can burn down, we just don’t want people in them when it happens.”

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail