Fire sprinklers may soon be required in all new single-family and multifamily residential home construction, in homes that undergo significant alteration and for properties with certain commercial uses — such as motels.
Brookfield’s assistant village manager, Keith Sbiral, at the village board’s Sept. 8 committee of the whole meeting gave trustees a heads up that in either late October or early November, he’ll be recommending that the village adopt the 2015 International Code Council as its building code.
The village presently uses the 1996 Suburban Building Officials Conference code to regulate building in Brookfield. According to Sbiral, that code is out of date.
“It will make it much more straightforward for developers,” said Sbiral. “The codes we’re using now are significantly dated.”
Once the building code is officially brought to the village board for consideration, the public will have 30 days to inspect the document before the board takes action on adopting it. Sbiral said his hope is to have the new code adopted by the end of November and to make it effective Jan. 1, 2015.
While the enormous code document covers all areas of building, the most controversial provisions concern broadening the requirement for fire sprinklers. Sbiral said he intends to recommend that the village board include a requirement for fire sprinklers in new residential construction.
In the past, residential home developers have balked at the requirement because of the cost of installation. However, said Sbiral, the cost for installing the sprinklers is lower now (about $1.75 per square foot) and that the benefits they provide outweigh the cost. Homes with fire sprinklers also have lower home insurance premiums, said Sbiral.
“The money you save in insurance and the confidence you get by having them is worth more than the cost,” said Sbiral.
While the code could allow the village to require commercial and residential building owners to retrofit their existing homes to accommodate sprinklers, Sbiral said that “would not be remotely prudent.”
However, any building that undergoes a significant alteration may trigger the need for fire sprinklers. However, the rules for such a trigger haven’t been determined yet.
“We’ll figure out where the balance is going to be,” said Sbiral.
In some instances, however, it may be necessary to retrofit commercial buildings for sprinklers, said Sbiral.
If a commercial building changes tenants from, for instance, an office to a restaurant or an auto shop, that could trigger the need for sprinklers.
Sbiral also said the village may require the owners of the village’s three motels to install sprinklers. The village would likely give motel owners a period of time to make the improvement, perhaps a year.
“They are the highest-density residential use and the most prone to the fire safety issue,” said Sbiral. “It’s probably the most stringent change we’d be proposing.”
Sbiral said that inspections over the years at the three motels have resulted in “significant fire code violations.”
“It’s a real concern,” he said. “The safety aspect can’t be discounted.”
But at least one of the motel owners, Madhu Parikh of the 19-unit Brookfield Motel at 8809 Ogden Ave., doesn’t believe sprinklers should be required.
In addition to the cost, Parikh argued that all of the units in his motel are on the ground floor and have doors that open into the parking lot.
“It’s very easy to exit the rooms,” Parikh said. “This isn’t a building like downtown. It’s not a 50-story building or something.”
Parikh, who has owned the motel since 1977, said he’s never heard of anyone being injured in a fire in any of Brookfield’s motels.
“It’s not legitimate to my sense,” said Parikh. “They’re creating a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Still, if the village ends up requiring sprinklers, Parikh said he would do his best to comply with the new code.
“We do what we have to do,” Parikh said. “We have no choice. We’d try to manage something.”