Texas Home Builders and Rick Perry Fiddle While Texans Burn
In Texas in 2009, the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Texas Fire Marshal’s Association petitioned Governor Rick Perry to veto Senate Bill 1410, which prevents a city from having a residential fire-sprinkler ordinance. They lost out to the well-heeled lobby from the homebuilders’ organization, the Texas Association of Builders.
The Texas law was clearly a misguided preemptive strike against the International Code Council’s International Residential Code, the 2009 edition, which required residential sprinklers in 2011.
S.B. 1410 was initially a rewriting of the plumbing code. It required that contractors who install multi-purpose residential plumbing and fire sprinkler systems must be licensed plumbing contractors. The contractors have to prove to the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners that they have been trained to install residential fire sprinkler systems, pass a test as devised by the board and pay a fee. Contractors would have to renew their licenses every three years.
But, due to the pressure put on Rick Perry by at least one of the lobbies responsible for his election and reelections – the Texas Association of Builders, the law prohibits local sprinkler mandates.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of state law, after Jan. 1, 2009, a municipality may not enact an ordinance, bylaw, order, building code, or rule requiring the installation of a multipurpose residential fire protection sprinkler system or any other fire sprinkler protection system in a new or existing one or two-family dwelling,” the law reads.
Did anyone in Austin research this issue? Granted, this happened before Rick Perry’s wizard behind the curtain gave him his new eyeglasses intended to make him look like a studious simpleton and not just your run-of-the-mill brainless politician. Nevertheless, someone could have read the research performed by the National Fire Protection Agency, the Underwriter’s Laboratories, the Insurance Research Council, the Fire Suppression Systems Association, et al. The top statistics at the time looked like this:
(1) 85% of fire deaths in the U.S. occur in the home. See: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/fire-prevention/fires-factsheet.html
(2) Fire sprinklers, when used in combination with smoke alarms, reduce the risk of fire deaths by 83%. See: http://www.nfpa.org/~/media/Files/Research/Research%20Foundation/sprinklerimpactfactsheet.pdf
(3) Fire hoses used by firefighters use 850% more water to suppress the same fire than fire sprinkler systems do. This is important in a state where water is becoming scarce. See: http://www.homefiresprinkler.org/newsletter/fall10/article5.html
(4) New, engineered building materials are lighter in weight than traditional sawn lumber. These members burn faster and fail structurally at a much more rapid rate. Fires now regularly flash over before the fire department personnel can even arrive on the scene.
No, the only statistics that were reviewed were the bloated and inaccurate estimates by the National Association of Homebuilders that fire sprinklers would cost an additional $2.94 per square foot to install in new houses. The actual figure at the time was $1.61 per square foot. See: http://www.nfpa.org/~/media/Files/Research/Research%20Foundation/Research%20Foundation%20reports/Suppression/HomeFireSprinklerCostAssessment2013.pdf
This would add a mere $4K to the average 2500 s.f. house. And, it is even less today. The average cost per s.f. is $1.35 or $3375 for a 2500 s.f. house. It is easy to spend that much on cheap Venetian blinds. Let’s agree not to even discuss those ubiquitous and passé granite countertops, or the downright counterintuitive (read harebrained) ideas like wood floors in kitchens and bathrooms. But wait, the builders charge a 300% markup on upgrades like these. They simply cannot charge for mandated safety systems like fire sprinklers. No profit, no interest.
Larger houses, townhouses, and condominiums in most North Texas metropolitan areas are required by local codes to have sprinklers anyway. So, the folks not being protected are the average homebuyers, like you.
You can bet that most of the meaningful statistics researched by Perry’s people were in the form of reading the checks sent to the right places (Rick Perry’s re-election campaign(s), by folks like HOMEPAC, the political action arm of the Texas Association of Builders (TAB) and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas PAC.
Money talks. Rick’s got his eyes on Washington, is not running for governor again (thankfully), and he and his big builder buddies could not care less if Texans burn.