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posted: 6/20/2012 3:56 PM

Gurnee mandates fire sprinklers for new one- and two-family houses

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  • Robert Depke

    Robert Depke

  • Video: Fire sprinkler demonstration


Gurnee village trustees have ended an issue that lingered for two months by approving a local law requiring automatic sprinkler systems in new homes as part of an updated building code.

Officials said not having the requirement would have placed residents at risk of homeowner's insurance price hikes. However, opponents who made a last-minute pitch at Monday night's village board session contended the sprinklers should be a matter of personal choice and the mandate will drive up the cost of new homes.

Trustees, who considered the issue since April, voted 4-2 in favor of an ordinance mirroring the 2012 recommendations from the International Code Council, which include the sprinkler requirement for all new one- and two-family homes. The council is a private association involved with building-safety businesses and the construction industry.

Gurnee's building code was last updated in 2003. The existing code has mandated sprinklers only in subdivisions where driveways accommodate just one vehicle. Mayor Kristina Kovarik, Fire Chief Fred Friedl and other proponents said updating the building code with the sprinkler requirement for new homes made sense because the devices save lives. Proponents said they expect the move will keep Gurnee in good standing with Insurance Services Organization, a private company that helps determine the cost of a homeowner's policy based on property and casualty risk.

"Our residents who already live here could incur higher costs for their homeowner's insurance," Kovarik said, alluding to what might have happened without the sprinkler mandate.

But some local real-estate agents and property owners disputed the merits of requiring the sprinklers for new one- and two-family houses.

Gary Stittgen, a real-estate professional and Mainstreet Organization of Realtors board member, said the group received information that insurance rates wouldn't necessarily rise if the village didn't have the sprinkler requirement.

Stittgen added the requirement will be another example of increasing government regulation, because a homeowner should decide whether to install a sprinkler system. He informed Gurnee officials that full sprinkler installation can cost at least $10,000 depending on the square footage of a home.

Robert Depke, a property owner and former Lake County Board chairman, said one of his concerns is village officials may look to expand on the sprinkler mandate.

"I just think it's a bad move," he told the board.

Gurnee's move was praised by the Orland Park-based Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Board. Executive Director Tom Lia said Gurnee "has become a model community for fire safety" and joins 77 other municipalities and fire protection districts with the requirement.

Not all suburbs have embraced mandating sprinklers for new one- and two-family homes, as promoted by the International Code Council.

In July 2011, Arlington Heights trustees cited the lack of a good cost/benefit ratio in unanimously rejecting the sprinklers for houses. Mayor Arlene Mulder said at the time she didn't believe enough new houses will be built to make much difference in the safety for residents or firefighters.

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