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Article updated: 10/10/2012 11:27 PM

Elgin considers residential sprinklers

By Tara García Mathewson

The Elgin City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approved to building codes that would require sprinkler systems in residential housing, but may not affect new construction for decades.

The council considered adoption of the International Code Council's 2012 model building and life safety codes during the committee of the whole meeting. But when it comes to residential sprinklers, the Community Development Department is recommending phasing in those requirements.

Existing homeowners will not have to change anything about their homes.

Builders wanting to develop properties that already have permits but no houses will have several options to avoid sprinklers by choosing specific building materials that limit fire damage -- as will homeowners doing substantial reconstruction on their houses. Only new properties that need to be annexed to the city will be required to have the sprinklers.

Marc Mylott, director of community development, said there are 1,900 lots available for permits right now and 6,100 lots available to builders willing to submit final engineering plans. The phased-in sprinkler requirements will serve as an incentive to build in the partially developed areas and avoid the costs of including sprinklers.

"We have a lot of capacity currently and we want to promote filling those in before we go about adding more," Mylott said.

Including a sprinkler system to a home adds about $8,000 to total construction costs.

Mylott said the current proposal is a compromise with builders and developers, giving people time to adjust to the requirements. It also ensures housing developments are consistent, eliminating the requirement that new homes be built with full sprinkler systems right next to homes that don't have them.

The phased approach also means developers will not have to replace water line infrastructure to handle the greater capacity needed for the sprinkler systems.

Councilman John Prigge mentioned his concern about the sprinkler requirement making Elgin a less attractive city in which to build and said it's not the government's place to force the issue.

"When it comes to this we need to stay out of people's lives," Prigge said.

Prigge was the only council member opposed to adopting the codes.

The city currently enforces the International Code Council's 2006 building and life safety codes, which did not require sprinklers. Fire Chief John Fahy said the 2009 and 2012 recommendations both included sprinkler requirements, an indication the suggestion is not going away. Fahy said Elgin's phased implementation of the codes is a nice compromise, though as fire chief he would prefer all houses have sprinklers now.

"It's proactive, it's responsible, it considers everybody's interests and it's the best option we have right now," Fahy said.

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