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updated: 5/1/2013 1:43 PM

Buffalo Grove weighs mandatory fire sprinklers in new homes

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New single-family homes in Buffalo Grove would need to include a fire sprinkler system under a measure proposed to the village board this week.

The proposal, touted by Fire Chief Terry Vavra, would apply only to newly built homes, not existing, renovated or rehabilitated properties. The village already requires sprinklers in commercial and multifamily structures.

The cost of installing fire sprinklers wouldn't be cheap. Trustee Steven Trilling calculated that it could add as much as $12,000 to the price of a 4,500-square-foot home.

He questioned whether some detectors make a more cost effective solution since most fire deaths are caused by smoke rather than the fire itself.

But Vavra said sprinklers can prevent fires from getting large enough to create much smoke. He noted that sprinklers would create a cost savings in the case of a fire by not only reducing flames but preventing smoke damage throughout the home.

"You might as well strip all the walls down to the studs and start all over," he said. "That's a tremendous cost."

Both Trilling and Trustee Jeffrey Berman were concerned that the requirement would make Buffalo Grove a less competitive market for homebuilders.

"You're going to be asking, basically, the infill and incremental developers to bear this burden by making their new housing stock noncompetitive on a price point basis with either the existing housing stock or some of our neighboring communities," Berman said.

Trustees need a better understanding of how many homes it would impact and the cost versus benefit, he added

"I'm worrying about preserving the right of people to make choices about how they're going to spend their money," Berman said.

Vavra responded he is concerned about "preserving their lives. My job is to minimize the risk to these people. Why do we have smoke detectors in buildings?"

Vavra said he will come back to the board with more information to address trustees' concerns.

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