Monday, February 22, 2010

Norridge to consider revising residential building code

Adoption would require fire sprinklers in new construction homes

Following the lead of several near suburbs, the Norridge City Council is considering adopting a new residential building code, requiring fire sprinklers in new construction homes.

Norridge currently follows the 2003 version of the International Code Council’s Residential Code, according to Norridge Building Commissioner Brian Gaseor. The group issues new building codes every three years. Gaseor said he expects city council members to vote on whether to implement the ICC’s most recent residential code, which was issued in 2009, in the next 2-3 months. The major change in the code is the requirement of sprinkler systems in all new construction homes.

While Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Skokie currently require sprinklers, there are questions that they present.

George Met, a general contractor and remodeler from Met Builders, Inc. recently dealt with sprinklers at a home his company built in Skokie.

“The requirement was a surprise to us,” Met said, explaining that it was recently adopted when he submitted the blueprints to the Skokie Village for approval.

“My client wasn’t happy but we had to follow the rules. It was a five-bedroom home and cost him about $12,000 extra,” Met said, adding that cost was not the only issue they faced.

“The home had vaulted ceilings and with that you can’t install the sprinklers in the walls. You have to install the highest sprinklers in the attic and if you’ve ever been in an attic in the winter, it is like an icebox,” Met said. “You have to make sure the attic is properly insulated and also the pipes.”

That is a lesson Inverness resident Sam Francione learned the hard way –and somewhere pipes usually do not freeze – at his summer home in Scottsdale, Arizona where sprinklers are required. Francione, who was in Illinois at the time, arrived late one evening to his home in Scottsdale to what he described as “a disaster.”

“We arrived around 11:30 p.m. and water was running out the front door,” Francione said. “It was getting cold at night and my neighbor had turned on the heat for me that morning because he knew I was coming in. Everything was fine at that point. But by the time we arrived, it was a disaster.”

Francione said the one of the sprinklers in the ceiling had burst, either from the freezing temperatures or from a sonic boom caused by Air Force fighter planes that were training in the area. Either way, the result was a collapsed ceiling, extensive water damage to the master bedroom, two guest bedrooms, hallway, closets, living and dining room, furniture and Bose speaker system. He estimated the damage at $75,000.

“It was covered by my homeowners insurance but they tripled my rate after that,” Francione said.

Nathan Kriska, Supervisor of Building and Zoning in Skokie, said the cost to install the sprinkler systems can vary. “It is usually between $7,000 and $15,000 depending on the size of the home and the type of system. There are many options these days, including some with recessed heads that drop down.”

Kriska said that some residents complained about the initial cost but feels it is worth it for the added safety.

“It’s a life-safety issue more than anything. It just gives someone that much more time to get out of the home,” Kriska said. “They don’t typically save your home. If it doesn’t burn it may flood it, but it can save your life.”

He added that Skokie, like most villages, had public hearings about the sprinklers.
“There was no real opposition. The truth is, most people don’t attend public hearings,” Kriska said.

The building code that Norridge will vote on was issued by the International Code Council, which is a group consisting of state and local government agencies as well as contractors and elected officials. ICC spokesman Steve Daggers said that it is important to note that the code is just a set of guidelines and not set in stone.

“Villages can follow them, take stuff out or add to them,” Daggers said.

In 2009, 12 building permits were issued for new construction in Norridge, according to the Village Building Department. The number was down because of the slow real estate market and poor economy, according to department officials.

Park Ridge is one of the cities in the area that has a sprinkler requirement –implementing its requirement in March 2001, well ahead of the ICC’s 2009 code, according to Steve Cutaia, Building Administrator for the city.

“We have almost 600 homes with sprinkler systems in them and very few complaints,” Cutaia said. He explained that another concern, besides cost, that some residents had was whether the sprinklers will go off if a resident burns food in the oven.

“The sprinklers are set off by temperature sensors, not smoke sensors,” Cutaia said. “And they don’t go off in every room if only one room is hot.”

While some may view sprinklers as a tradeoff between water and smoke damage, Park Ridge Fire Marshall Kevin Plach credited them for saving a home on December 23.
“It was a basement fire and the sprinklers confined it to that area. The house was saved and the residents were back in their home for Christmas.”

Plach added that the sprinkler requirement was “one of the best things we’ve done, especially considering how quickly new homes burn because of a lot of engineered construction.” As for resident objections, Plach said the requirement “did not slow construction in the least.

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