Mark Cotter: Sprinklers debate littered with myths


I support residential fire sprinklers and oppose the attempt by some of our own legislators to allow for the weakening of this safety measure.

Since my perspective is that of one who deals with the fire tragedies sprinklers are intended to prevent, you can probably guess that I will here promote their many benefits.

Instead, I’d like to take the limited space I have to address the falsehoods being raised against this valuable protection.

(You can go to to find all the information you need about why sprinklers are a great idea.)

Residential Sprinkler Myths:

They are expensive.  In reality, the cost of installing them at the time of home construction averages $1.35 per square foot, less than many cosmetic upgrades (e.g., carpet, countertops, cabinets).  Also, most insurance companies will give a discount on premiums for a sprinklered home, offsetting this expense.

Backup generators and/or water tanks in the attic are required to allow the sprinklers to function during a power failure.  In fact, neither are required by the code.

Homes on wells will have difficulty meeting the water supply requirements.  Wrong.  Modern plumbing requires even more flow than sprinkler systems, so the capacity of any well and pump installed for a new home should be more than adequate.

The financial burden will stifle the building industry and/or drive homebuyers to areas that do not have this regulation.  This myth was debunked in 2009 by researchers at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).  “Comparative Analysis of Housing Cost and Supply Impacts of Sprinkler Ordinances at the Community Level” looked at similar jurisdictions with and without sprinkler mandates, and analyzed rates of new building construction.  (Of note, three were counties in Maryland.)  Their findings: “analysis did not reveal that the enactment of sprinkler ordinances caused any detrimental effects on housing supply and costs. The data reviewed indicates that sprinkler system requirements were a minor influence on regional housing costs compared to fees and other rules, population and job growth, and land availability.”

Modern construction is safer.  Not in the case of a fire.  Newer building components and contents allow for fires to more quickly grow, kill occupants, lead to structural collapse, and spread to nearby homes.

Sprinklers should be a local/personal choice.  They are a building code requirement, and have been since 2009.  When local jurisdictions strip away this particular feature, as the Wicomico County Council did in 2011 in response to lobbying from builders and realtors, or homebuyers are mislead by erroneous information and decline to have this protection installed, the resulting sub-standard housing stock negatively affects the entire community for many decades to come.

The arguments for and against the residential sprinkler mandate are complex and passionately made, with our local representatives having to determine which to heed.

The motives on one side are ease and profits, and on the other quality and safety.  Their choice should be an easy one.

Mark Cotter is a volunteer firefighter in Wicomico County.




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