When Hurricane Sandy left the previous home on the site of Sunset Green Home "substantially damaged" we knew we would be required to rebuild in compliance with current building codes. The old house stood at five feet above sea level. Current code would elevate the new home to 12 feet above sea level. But, having seen the destructive nature of the Hurricane Sandy storm surge, the Sunset Green Home team opted to go even further and to build the house at 14 feet above sea level.
So what does that have to do with fire sprinklers?
First, a bit of background...The International Residential Code (IRC) is a comprehensive building code that governs one- and two-family dwellings. The version of the IRC that was adopted in 2009 calls for homes to include fire sprinkler systems. While the IRC provides building code guidelines, states and local municipalities have the option of adopting the code in whole or in part.
New York State adopted the fire sprinkler recommendations for homes with three stories. Homes with two floors of living space may be characterized as three-story homes - requiring compliance with the IRC fire sprinkler requirements - if the first floor of livable space is high enough above grade that the basement area is considered a "story" itself (there are three "tests" - which you can read about here).
Sunset Green Home's elevation came within inches of the three-story home characterization, despite the home only having two floors of living space. While fire sprinklers were ultimately deemed unnecessary, our research led the team to go beyond the requirement and include a fire suppression system nonetheless. Building codes are changing, and we believe that eventually all new construction will include fire sprinklers. We would like the home to remain compliant even when the building code is changed.
More importantly, however, our reasons for electing to include the system include the desire to
- Provide extra time for occupants to exit the building in the event of a house fire and protect first responders who may have to enter a burning building. Because fire sprinklers activate immediately upon detection of a fire, they may contain a fire long enough for occupants to exit the building. Similarly, sprinklers may also reduce the intensity of a fire during the crucial period between a fire's outbreak and the arrival of fire fighters and other first responders.
- Reduce the amount of damage to the home should it experience a house fire. Fire sprinklers only activate in the vicinity of a fire (each head is individually activated by the heat of the fire), enabling fire suppression with minimal water damage.
- Protect the environment. A 2010 study by property insurer FM Global found that the volume of wastewater generated fighting a sprinklered fire may be 50% - 91% less than the amount generated in a non-sprinklered fire. The study also observed that "fewer persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals, and fewer solids were detected in the wastewater sample from the sprinklered test compared to that of the non-sprinklered test."
- Reduce the home's operating cost by earning insurance premium credits, which may be as high as 13% for sprinklered homes.
Having decided to include a fire sprinkler system, Sunset Green Home reached out to Uponor about its AquaSAFE system, which integrates into the cold water plumbing loop. Uponor's in-house Design Services group designed the system based on Sunset Green Home's architectural plans and water pressure data. Uponor offers this sprinkler system design as a value-added service to AquaSAFE clients. The company provides a 25 year warranty on the pipes and fittings. In addition, through its manufacturer's representative, Wales-Darby, Uponor provided its AquaSAFE Levels I and II classes with classroom and on-the-jobsite training to John M. Kubisa Plumbing & Heating, Sunset Green Home's licensed plumbing subcontractor.
As of this Progress Update, all of Sunset Green Home's sprinkler heads have been installed, and the plumbing loops have been completed. The local building inspector will conduct a pressure test before the ceilings are enclosed with fire-rated gypsum board by CertainTeed.
Stay tuned for additional updates as the installation and testing of Sunset Green Home's fire sprinkler system is completed.