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New homes in PA must have sprinklers

Effective January 1, 2011, all newly constructed 1 and 2 family homes must be built with sprinkler systems.  Pennsylvania is only the second state to have this requirement.  (California was the first.) This law took effect in 2010 regarding townhomes. Home builders objected to the new law because it increases costs in an environment where sales are difficult and they say that their profit margins are low.  Home builders argue that a sprinkler system adds $15,000 to the cost of constructing a home.

Firefighters support the new law because it improves safety.  In fires where there is a "flashover" it may be impossible for firefighters to arrive in time to save occupants.  A sprinkler system can contain or slow a fire and give occupants a better chance to escape.  They also contend that there is greater incidence of furnishings being made of materials that can spread far more rapidly making sprinklers more necessary, according this article in the Phoenix, a paper serving Chester and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania.

There is an interesting Frequently Asked Questions page on this from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.  The first question that came to my mind about putting sprinklers in a house would be whether there was a risk that the sprinkler would be set off from cooking smoke such as burnt toast or burning food in a pan or oven.  The FAQ indicates that sprinkler systems are designed to be set off by the heat of fire and not by smoke or steam.  On the question of water damage, the FAQ indicates that a sprinkler system emits only a fraction of the rate of water that firehoses do and since the sprinkler can help contain or limit the fire before firefighters arrive, the total amount of water used to put out the fire can actually be less than if the fire is unchecked until firefighters arrive.  This can reduce damage in the home from water as well as fire and smoke.

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