The debate over requiring automatic fire suppression systems in new houses has been going on for years. The 2009 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) included a provision that would require sprinkler systems in new houses, but most states have declined to adopt that portion of the model code.

However, firefighters are still advocating for the sprinkler rule, and in localities around the country, the debate goes on. Chuck Sweeny, senior editor at the Rockford (Illinois) Register Star, recaps the debate inspired by his recent column on the issue in this Register Star story ("Homebuilder, fire chief debate sprinklers proposal").

Builder and NAHB member Tom Stephani sent Sweeny this comment: ""The home building industry contends that residential fire sprinklers are an unnecessary and costly burden on new homebuyers. Sprinkler mandates have taken what was previously a consumer choice and forced it upon all buyers of new construction whether they want sprinklers or not. Surveys have shown that consumers have very little interest in installing residential sprinklers."

But Chief Joel Hallstrom of the North Park Fire Department repeated a common fire department assertion that new homes are more vulnerable to fire than older construction because of the use of lighter-weight structural assemblies. Wrote Hallstrom: "People will always have accidents that result in fire, and no matter how well built your home is, it will still burn. Residential fire sprinklers simply are the single most efficient means to prevent loss of life and control a residential structure fire available. It is also worth mentioning that new homes are constructed today using lightweight components that fail (i.e. collapse) much quicker than true dimensional lumber when exposed to fire, another great reason to have a sprinkler system to knock a fire down while it is still small."