From the March/April 2012 issue of NFPA Journal®
NFPA staff members offered their expertise at a recent meeting with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) federal advisory committee on manufactured housing, also known as the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC). Among the items considered were residential sprinklers in new manufactured homes, defined as a house with a wheeled chassis constructed off-site that’s transported to the intended dwelling site.
The MHCC discussed the best way to address how the federal standard for manufactured housing should consider the sprinkler issue. While an across-the-board mandate for sprinklers was not supported, the question ultimately came down to what criteria should be used when a system is installed. As part of the MHCC meeting held October 19–20 in Alexandria, Virginia, NFPA was asked to present findings from its 2011 Manufactured Home Fires report. The report indicates that, from 2005 to 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to 12,400 structure fires in manufactured homes per year, resulting in 234 deaths, 453 injuries, and $186 million in property damage annually.
Timothy Travers, NFPA’s regional fire sprinkler specialist, discussed home fire sprinkler benefits, as well as popular myths — sprinklers are expensive, a smoke alarm provides enough protection, and so on — disseminated by sprinkler opponents, who were also in attendance. “We are going through the same growing pains we experienced in the mid 1980s with smoke alarms,” says Travers. “I’m confident residential sprinklers will be as common as smoke alarms are in households today.”
Following all testimony, the committee deliberated on a range of issues, from the need to mandate the systems for new homes to what rules should be considered if the home is in a jurisdiction requiring sprinklers. The recommended language that was ultimately agreed to by the MHCC includes design criteria based on the requirements of NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. The language also includes a section that notes “fire sprinkler systems are not required . . . however, when a manufacturer installs a fire sprinkler system, this section establishes the requirements for the installation of a fire sprinkler system in a manufactured home.” This language marks the first time federal standards will address sprinklers in any form.
The next step is for HUD to determine if it will accept the MHCC recommendation and language. If it does, the new language will be processed through the federal rule-making system before it becomes part of the HUD criteria for manufactured housing.
“There has been a long-time awareness of residential fire sprinklers at the federal level,” says Travers. “HUD officials should look to the U.S. Fire Administration, which takes the position that all homes should be equipped with both smoke alarms and automatic fire sprinklers. NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative® will continue to assist those who advocate for home fire sprinklers at the federal, state, and local levels until there is universal adoption.”