IRC Sprinkler Rule
I find a couple of things disturbing about the decision by the
International Code Council to require sprinklers in new homes
(In the News, 12/08). First and simplest is the
apparent lack of facts involved. Sure, sprinklers will save
lives, but how many and at what cost?
It’s a cold calculus, but there is an accepted value
to a life: more if you’re rich, less if
you’re poor. Consider the payouts from the World Trade
Center settlement. One commonly accepted average figure is $5
million per life. Based on the average cost of a residential
sprinkler system cited in the article, $1.61 per square foot, a
cost of $3,000 per house is a reasonable figure for the sake of
argument. Dividing $5 million by $3,000, we get 1,666 houses
per life — that is, the cost of sprinkling 1,666
houses equals the value of one life.
Phrased differently, will sprinkling 1,666 houses save one
life? I doubt it. There just aren’t that many
significant fires these days and most of them are in existing
stock. Obviously, I’ve oversimplified: What about
severe fires mitigated by sprinklers and life-threatening
injuries made less severe? But the principle is
straightforward; the problem is that I see no evidence
it’s been applied.
If our country were infinitely rich, I wouldn’t worry
about the money, but as recent events have made clear, we are a
lot poorer than we thought and it’s time to start
prioritizing. Maybe that money would be better spent on safer
cars. Each year, 50,000 people die in cars — versus
the 3,000 fire deaths cited in your article.
Rain Screen for Cement Stone
It’s clear from his repair of the failed faux-stone
wall (“Rescuing a Manufactured-Stone Wall,”
12/08) that Mark Parlee is a skilled and conscientious
professional, but I wonder if a simpler approach might have
solved his problem.
Parlee used procedures specified by the stone’s
manufacturer. I count five layers of material (and subsequent
labor) to get to the point of adhering the stone. That
doesn’t include detailing the window opening, which is
even more complicated. It strikes me that his situation was an
ideal opportunity to use a so-called “rain
screen” wall, which is nothing but a fancy name for a
Why not protect the sheathing with felt, apply 1/4-inch-thick
PT furring strips over the studs, then fasten 1/2-inch cement
board (rough side out) to the studs? Parlee’s approach
depends on a drainage plane created by wrinkled building paper,
but that pales in comparison with a quarter inch of pure air.
That’s the beauty of the double-wall concept: No water
will leap across that space.
As for flashing the window opening, it’s really a
matter of common sense. The furring strips covering the taped
nailing flanges should be kept away from the casing, and the
furring strips above the window should stop short of the head
flashing. That creates a generous drainage channel all around.
Water runs downhill, so it’s really all about getting
out of the way.
Let It Drain
The article “Rescuing a Manufactured-Stone
Wall” (12/08) was well organized and written. I
especially appreciated the clear substrate and flashing
Given that there are many opinions on the subject, I did
notice a possible concern. The detail shows a continuous
sealant bead between the window flange and the FlexWrap at the
rough sill, and a layer of self-adhering flashing tape placed
over the flange onto the StuccoWrap. While the overall design
is intended to deflect liquid water from the opening, this
treatment at the rough sill could prevent drainage of any water
that might find a way past the flashings and into the rough