The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Fire Sprinkler Requirement Represents More Unnecessary Government Intervention

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There has been a growing trend nationwide to require fire sprinkler systems be installed in any new home.

The regulation comes from an International Code Council (ICC) vote in 2008 that would take effect in 2011.  The ICC publishes the International Residential Code – a document used by 46 states to regulate new home construction.

Many state legislatures have been taking up the issue. California passed a mandate echoing the ICC last week.

Given all the controversy surrounding airplanes, golf tournaments, and cigarettes during this year’s South Carolina legislative session, you might not expect something like sprinkler systems to raise much of a fuss.

Yesterday, the Senate sent H 4663 – which would prohibit the enforcement of building codes like the one in California – back to the House with amendments. The Senate version restricts the enforcement of fire sprinkler mandates until at least 2014. By contrast, the House bill would have set no end date.

Part of the Senate amendments include the creation of a study committee tasked with increasing participation in a tax credit program to offset the costs of fire sprinkler system installations. This study committee would include 6 members – 4 of whom are representatives from:

  • The South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Association
  • The South Carolina Home Builders Association
  • The South Carolina Association of Counties
  • The Municipal Association of South Carolina

This committee appears to be the legislature’s attempt at mediating the battle between home builders (who oppose the mandate) and fire sprinkler manufacturers (who support it). The Cato Institute recently pointed out that the fire sprinkler industry has been a driving force behind this legislation – more sprinkler systems means more business for them.  

For the ordinary citizen, the debate is simple: Should the government mandate new homes be built with fire sprinkler systems (at a cost of thousands to home owners)? Or should givernment continue to allow individuals to decide for themselves to have such systems installed?

A recent story in the Sun News quoted a state employee insinuating that the increase in costs to home production shouldn’t matter because there are “other ways to reduce the cost.” Is the official suggesting people should forgo installing other amenities – e.g., hardwood floors or tiles or a deck – so that they can install a sprinkler system? But since when does the government have the right to tell people what amenities they should have in their homes? And make no mistake about it – a sprinkler system is an amenity – and a very expensive one at that.

This is just another example of the state trying to protect people from themselves. If a homeowner does not want to install sprinklers – which, admittedly, carries some risk – then they should have the right to do so.

But to mandate that all homes have a sprinkler system is like requiring everyone to buy a car with anti-lock brakes. Sure, it may be safer, but it should be up to the individual to decide what risks they take in their own lives.

Individual responsibility is a key part of a capitalism. The more government acts like an all-knowing, omniscient parent, and the more people give up ownership over their lives, the worse for freedom, creativity and prosperity.

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Written by Geoff Pallay

May 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm

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