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Article updated: 2/28/2014 9:46 AM

Wheaton officials consider requiring sprinkler systems in new homes

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Wheaton officials are weighing the pros and cons of requiring sprinkler systems in new single-family homes as part of an update to the city's building code.

The city currently enforces codes from the 2003 International Code Council edition. It is looking to update its codes to the 2012 edition.

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During a planning session this week, Assistant City Manager Michael Dzugan said the city receives a grade from the Insurance Service Organization based on the effectiveness of adopted codes. That grade is used by insurance agencies to determine rates for private property owners.

"The city will receive a less favorable grade if we don't move to a more current building code requirement, so that's a major reason why we're looking to upgrade," he said.

One controversial item in the 2012 International Code Council edition is the requirement to install fire sprinkler systems in all new houses. The city council has the option, however, to modify or delete the requirement before adopting the 2012 codes.

A report presented to the council about sprinkler systems indicated the risk of death by fire decreases by 82 percent when smoke alarms and sprinklers are installed, compared to 50 percent with just smoke alarms.

Councilman Todd Scalzo pointed to that statistic during the meeting and said he sees the benefits of requiring a sprinkler system in new homes. He also noted survey results presented in the report show a clear lack of public support nationwide for residential sprinkler systems.

"Right now, I'm undecided. I think there really are good arguments on both sides and I'd like to get a little more public comment and then see where we're at in a month," he said.

Fire Chief William Schultz said it might make sense to require sprinkler systems based off square footage. Staff said that method has been adopted by some nearby towns.

"Ideally, obviously, full protection is the way to go. Realistically, though, anything's better than nothing and you've got to couple that with early detection, which is the smoke detectors," he said.

The report also said the cost to install sprinklers in new houses range from $1.35 to $4.21 per square foot. In DuPage County, 12 municipalities mandate residential sprinkler installation in some form. Sometimes, the installation is limited only to areas that are more prone to fire, including the kitchen and rooms where a furnace is located.

Councilman John Rutledge said he sees "all kinds of reasons" not to require sprinklers.

"I can see a very strong reason for saying, 'If you want this for your new house that is being built, if you want to put it in, great,' and our code will provide the specifications for doing that," he said. "I don't think we ought to require it."

Councilman John Prendiville said he believes sprinkler systems are an important safety issue, but doesn't think the city should require them in new homes.

"I would be inclined to support a requirement that it must be disclosed (in the ordinance) that you can have this added," he said.

The city council will discuss the issue again at a planning session on March 24. Any comments received from residents will be presented at the meeting. A first reading of the ordinance is scheduled for April 7 and adoption is scheduled for April 21.

Residents can review the report on updating building codes on the village's website. Questions or feedback can be directed to Joe Kreidl, director of building and code enforcement, at jkreidl@wheaton.il.us or by calling (630) 260-2050.

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