Two bills in the New Jersey have come to the fore, following the devastating fire at the Edgewater Apartment complex on January 21 that destroyed 240 of the complex’s 408 units.
One bill, drafted and proposed by Republican Assemblyman, Scott Rumana, would put a two-year moratorium on the approval and construction of multi-family dwelling using light-frame construction in NJ while the state reviews the safety of light-frame construction.
The bill’s proposed draft requires that the Commissioner of Community Affairs—the liaison between NJ state and municipal government—to “evaluate whether light frame construction is an appropriately safe method of constructing multiple dwellings…containing three or more dwelling units.”
Further, “The bill provides the commissioner up to two years to make his determination.”
It defines light-frame construction as “any method of construction utilizing metal-plate-connected wood trusses, metal-plate-connected metal-web wood trusses, pin-end connected steel-web wood trusses, wooden I-joists, steel bar joists, solid-sawn wood joists, or composite wood joists as floor or roof system structural elements.
The final paragraph of the draft says, “The bill is in response to the five-alarm fire that destroyed a 408- unit apartment building in Edgewater, New Jersey on January 21, 2015. The incident highlighted the extreme speed with which light frame construction, such as that used in the apartment complex that burned, can reach its failure point when exposed to fire. The fire chief in Edgewater blamed the wood construction and truss-style roof for the fire's rapid spread. Although the Edgewater fire caused no human fatalities, a sudden structural collapse caused by lightweight construction that quickly fails in a fire could have devastating results for residents and first responders.”
The second bill, The New Home Fire Safety Act, would require fire suppression systems –sprinklers—in single family homes that are connected to municipal water systems. On February, 9, 2014, the Senate’s Budget and Appropriations Committee fast tracked approval of the act; it’s next stop will be before the full senate. The sprinkler bill has been around for years and had already been vetoed once by Governor Chris Christie.
A representative of the New Jersey construction industry commented that the building industry will vehemently oppose both proposals.
Three questions—and we know you’ll have others—come to mind:
Is the suddenness of the lightweight construction moratorium and the revisiting of the sprinkler bill mostly a case of grandstanding politicians trying to appease their constituents after the devastating apartment fire?
Residential fire sprinklers are mandatory in Maryland and California. What do you think your pass-along costs to clients will be if you have to install them in your next project?
If so-called lightweight framing is banned, or subject to closer fire-code scrutiny, what are the alternatives?