Kent County Commissioners Ponder Affordable Housing Concerns Raised By Sprinkler Mandate

A September 16, 2015, MyEasternShoreMD article reported that Kent County Commissioners are weighing the positive public safety benefits of fire sprinklers against the potential challenge sprinklers pose to affordable housing in rural areas of the state.

Commission President William Pickrum said a key to creating affordable housing would be elimination of the requirement for residential sprinkler systems. He said they can add as much as $40,000 to the cost of a new house.

Commissioner Bill Short said the requirement had radically reduced housing starts in other Eastern Shore jurisdictions.

Both commissioners were echoing a common theme at the Maryland Association of Counties meeting earlier that month. Officials from several counties criticized a requirement of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to install automatic fire sprinklers in new townhouses and one- and two-family dwellings, as provided by the 2015 International Residential Code.

The article also noted that while homebuilders also expressed concerns about the effect of the sprinkler mandate on rural affordable housing, State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci continues to support the requirement:

“In a recent study done in Caroline County for a home at 2,000 square foot the cost for the system was roughly $6,000,” Geraci wrote.

Geraci went on to put the costs in a larger perspective. “That would add about $30 to the 30-year mortgage and having the sprinkler system it would save the homeowner about $200 a year on his insurance policy. In the end it comes out to about $160 over the life of the loan,” he wrote.

“I can tell you that there has not been a single fire death in a sprinklered home or building in the State of Maryland,” Geraci wrote.

The article also covered an analysis by Kent County Director of Planning Amy Moredock indicating that effect of the sprinkler mandate on the number of residential building permits in the County remains unclear but that when the sprinkler mandate is combined with a State requirement to use best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems, it may place a difficult burden on new home buyers.